The colours - displayed on the jockey's shirt, the 'silks' - worn by a jockey are the registered colours of the owner or the trainer of the horse he is racing; the colours to not represent the rider but those who hired him.
The tradition of colourful, flamboyant dress for sportsmen on horseback can be traced back to the chariot races in ancient Rome, when the drivers used bright capes to identify themselves to spectators in the distance of from great heights. The custom continued in midieval times when knights performed in jousting and similar contests in the bright colours of their order, house or otherwise representing their origins. Traditional horse races in midieval Italy also preceed todays tradition of racing colours; particularly the Palio di Siena. The Palio di Siena is still performed twice a year in modern times, on July 2nd and 16th August, in the historic town on Siena in Italy. A merciless and often brutal horse race of ten contenders around the Piazza del Campo, the town square, to this day sees the riders performing in bright colours representing the ten city wards of Siena.
Today the business of racing colours is still a serious one. Due to the growing number of owners and trainers a large number of colour combinations and patterns are taken, calling for inventive spirit or the will to look truly outrageous on the track. All colours have to be submitted and registered in order to avoid confusion on the track.
However, there are rare chances for owners and trainers to get their hands on simple and classic colours - Auctions. At silk auctions buyers have the opportunity to purchase colours which have become available again; including now rare two-coloured silks or tones which are no longer allowed.
Past auctions have included the Duke of Devonshire's "straw" silks (which began their racing career in 1762), the apricot silks of Lord Howard de Walden, Mrs Sue Magnier's plain navy blue silks and colours worn by recent race horses as well as contenders from the last century.
Currently the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) specifies a set of 18 colours and a limited number of standard designs which are allowed on the track. Still, the buyer can combine the colours on offer in any way he enjoys. If the option is still open, a owner can for example have his horses running in the colours and pattern of his favourite football club, his old boarding school or his family creed. However, very few of the newly assembled silks will have the flair and effortless style of the early days of horse racing; which is why the silk auctions are very popular.
Iconic and instantly recognisable colours include the green silks with red shoulder stripes and a green cap registered to The Aga Khan; the red, black and white of the Stewart Family; and the plain blue worn by Gondolphin's jockeys.