Saturday, 28 March 2020

The Origin of Horse Names: The Wow Signal

It's funny how you can be watching TV, reading a book or chatting with a friend and a horse name pops into your head. 

That name, word, phrase sounds familiar. But what is the story behind it?

I remember the name of a beautiful thoroughbred horse called The Wow Signal

This horse may well be familiar to you as this son of Starspangledbanner out of an unraced mare proved a very talented two-year-old who sadly only raced four times. 

John Quinn trained this exceptional-looking colt for owners Al Shaqab Racing. He was a fantastic 2yo breeze-up purchase for Sean Quinn for £50,000. He was originally bought by Lynn Lodge Stud at the yearling sales for the paltry sum of 13,000 euros from vendor Glenvale Stud, Tipperary, Ireland. 

The Wow Signal started his 2yo racing career with a sparkling debut at Ayr on the 21st of May 2014. A five-horse race was turned into a procession when this February foal cruised to a nine-length victory. He relished the good-to-soft going, charging clear of the field over 6f to win ''readily'' backed from 7/2 - 5/2. 

His success came as little surprise to connections. 

QUOTES: John Quinn, trainer of The Wow Signal: ''We think he is very good and his next run will be in the Coventry Stakes. He is a very smart colt.''

True to his word [John Quinn] The Wow Signal made his next appearance at Royal Ascot's Coventry Stakes (Group 2) (17th June 2014).

He started 5/1 joint-favourite in a 15-horse field. The Wow Signal - ridden by Frankie Dettori - won by one-and-three-quarter lengths when leading into the final furlong, ran on strongly and asserted inside final furlong, ridden out. 

QUOTES: Trainer John Quinn: ''The Wow Signal has come and beaten the best colts available today and he has been up there all the way, he wasn't held up to run a race he was right there on the speed.''

Next start, this fantastic colt would cross the channel to race at Deaville, France, competing in the Darley Prix Morny (Group 1) on very soft going over 6f. Once again, he was ridden by his retained jockey Frankie Dettori. The 9/4 joint-favourite beat Wesley Ward's Hootenanny by half a length. He joined the leader at the furlong pole, ran on and led towards finish, pushed out firmly and asserted. The victory won the 1st prize of £166,658.33. 

QUOTES: John Quinn, trainer of The Wow Signal: ''At halfway I was quite worried, but once he got on terms with the leaders I always thought he had a chance because he has so much class and is so tough. We can run him over six, but he really needs seven or a mile. He is in everything, but we might bring him back to Longchamp for the Jean-Luc Lagardere.'' 

The Wow Signal proved a rare talent. He traveled back to France for his fourth race and sadly the last time he would compete.

John Quinn kept to his word and he was made 7/4f taking part at Longchamp's Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium) (Group 1) over 7f on good going. 

After leading, he was quickly beaten and weakened on the rail, dropped to last and eased by Frankie Dettori. 

There was a lot of speculation over this disappointing effort. 

Quotes: John Quinn: trainer of the Wow Signal: ''I think it was a combination of the lengthy year and a bit of stress maybe."

Subsequently, it emerged that he had provided a 'dirty scope' during a veterinary examination. 

The Wow Signal was being prepared for the 2000 Guineas (Group 1) Classic race to be held at Newmarket when he sustained an injury in May and retired from racing. 

John Quinn described this exceptional horse: ''He's a very tough horse with a great constitution and tremendous acceleration who run on all types of ground.''

In 2015, The Wow Signal began his career at stud at a stallion in Australia before returning to stand at Al Shaqab's Haras de Bouquetot at Clarbec in Normandy, France. However, like his sire, he was sub-fertile and sired relatively few offspring. Sadly he died in March 2018 after suffering laminitis. 

The Wow Signal had a brief racing career but made a big impression on racing fans. As with so many horses, we were left with wondering what could have been...

His total prize winnings £238,915

Also, he won the award of the top-rated 2-y-old colt in France (2014).

Regarding the origin of his name. 


The Wow Signal was a strong narrowband radio signal received on August 15th, 1977 by Ohio State University's Big Ear radio telescope in the United States, then used to support the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The signal appeared to come from the direction of the constellation Sagittarius and bore the expected hallmark of extraterrestrial origin.

It is an interesting story because of astronomer Jerry R. Ehman who reviewed the data a few days later. He was so impressed by the result of the reading on the computer printout [6EQUJ5] he wrote the comment: ''WOW'' on its side. 

This led to the widely used name: The Wow Signal

The signal lasted 72 seconds but has never been detected since. 

However, it remains the strongest candidate for an alien radio transmission ever detected.

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