Horse racing, like so many sports, has its own language. If you decide the Sport of Kings is for you – in particular the betting aspect – it’s best to know the lingo. The terms below are some of the most frequently used and hopefully will make it easy to understand some of the finer points of horse racing.
They’ll also help you understand these other articles in OG’s “Betting 101” series:
ACROSS THE BOARD – Betting on a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse you select wins, you will collect three times. If your horse finishes second, you will win the place and show bet while losing the win bet. If your horse finishes third, you will lose the win and place bets while winning in the show pool. If your horse finishes fourth or worse, you lose all three bets.
ALL OUT – A horse giving his all. As fast as a given horse can run. Fully extended.
ALLOWANCE RACE – A third-tier race. Horses are not for sale (claiming race) and are not trying to earn their first lifetime win (maiden race). Not as high-class as a stakes race.
ALSO-ELIGIBLE – A horse officially entered but in need of another horse to scratch (decide not to run) in order to participate in the race.
ALSO-RAN – A horse who does not finish first, second, or third in a race. (He ran, but did not finish in the money.)
APPRENTICE – A young jockey, often given a weight concession before earning a certain number of career victories.
BACKSIDE – The stable area.
BACKSTRETCH – An area of the track; the straightaway between the two turns away from the grandstand.
BEARING IN (or OUT) – Failing to run straight. Darting in or out often because of fatigue.
BEYER SPEED FIGURE – An all-encompassing number that rates every race a horse runs in. The number factors in track bias, quality of the race, and how the horse ran. Offered in the Daily Racing Form. Named for longtime writer and handicapper Andy Beyer.
BLANKET FINISH – A very tight finish to a race. The horses finish so closely together they could be covered by a blanket.
BLINKERS – A piece of equipment that sits around a horse’s eyes and limits vision so that they focus on running straight. Prevents horses from looking around and being distracted.
BLOWOUT – A very strong final workout before a big race.
BOBBLE – Taking a bad or awkward step right after the starting gate opens.
BREAK MAIDEN – A horse winning his first career race.
BREEZE – An easy workout with the intention of just jogging and staying in shape.
BUG – An apprentice jockey. A jockey who is new to the profession and has not won a certain number of races yet.
BULLET (WORK) – The fastest workout at a given distance over a certain length among all horses working out that day.
CHALK – The horse with the lowest odds to win the race; the favorite.
CHECKED – When a horse is forced to pull up momentarily to avoid traffic of some sort.
CLAIMING – Purchasing a horse out of a race for the claiming price.
CLAIMING RACE – Races where horses are subject to being sold for a certain price.
CLASS – The quality of the horses in a race.
CLASS HANDICAPPING– A method of evaluating a race where the most important factor is the company a horse has been racing with.
CLASSIC – One of the biggest races of the year in a given category (age group, gender, distance, surface).
CLOSER – A horse whose style is to make a big run late in the race. He or she comes off the pace to try to win at the end.
CLUBHOUSE TURN – The first turn in a two-turn race. The turn bridging the home stretch to the back stretch. Horses encounter this turn when running away from the grandstand.
COLT – A young male horse under the age of five.
COMPANY – The class of horses in a race.
COUPLED – A betting entry where two or more horses are combined into one betting entity. If you “couple” two horses and either wins, you win your bet.
DAILY DOUBLE – A wager that requires picking the winner of two straight races; similar to a “two-race parlay”.
DAM – A horse’s mother.
DEAD-HEAT – A tie at the finish line.
DISQUALIFICATION (DQ)– A horse that breaks the rules and is punished by stewards by forfeiting placing and money earned.
DISTAFF (DISTAFF RACE) – A race for female horses.
DROPDOWN – A horse who has been running against more difficult competition and is now facing an easier challenge.
EASING – Intentionally slowing or stopping a horse during a race, usually to avoid injury.
EIGHTH – A furlong; 220 yards; 660 feet.
ENTRY – Two or more horses coupled as one betting entry in an individual race. Usually owned by the same person or trained by the same person.
EXACTA – A bet which requires you to pick the top two finishers in a race in the correct order.
EXOTICS – Any type of betting that is beyond the standard win, place, and show bets. See also: “horizontal” and “vertical” wagering. Exactas, Trifectas, Superfectas, Daily Doubles, Pick 3s, Pick 4s, Pick 5s, and Pick 6s are all common examples of “exotic bets”.
EXTENDED – When a horse is giving all he or she has. A taxing race or portion of a race.
FAST TRACK – An ideal condition for a dirt racing surface. No wetness or give on the track.
FAVORITE – The horse that starts a race with the best/lowest odds. (Fun fact: favorites win about one-third of all races!)
FENCE – The extreme outside of a race course. The area that separates fans and horses.
FIELD – The entire group of horses running in a race.
FILLY – A Female horse under the age of five.
FIRM – An ideal condition for a grass racing surface. No wetness or give on the grass track.
FLATTENING OUT – When a horse tires and drops his or her head, usually towards the end of a race.
FRACTIONAL TIME – The pace of a race at varying points (e.g. quarter, half-mile, three-quarters)
FRESHENED – Used to describe a horse returning from time away from the track or a horse that has been resting.
FRONT-RUNNER – A horse whose strategy is to be near the lead from the start and try to hold on for the entire race.
FURLONG – One-eighth of a mile.
GELDING – A male horse that has been castrated.
GOOD TRACK – The second-most ideal track condition. Not perfectly fast, but better than slow, wet, sloppy, and muddy.
GROUP RACE – A top quality race in Europe.
HALF – Half a mile; four furlongs.
HANDICAPPER – Someone who employs a strategy to bet on horse races, generally relying on past performances as a major tool towards trying to pick winners.
HANDILY – Used to describe a positive workout or race while putting forth normal effort.
HANDLE – Amount of money wagered on a race, during a day of racing, or in a season.
HAND RIDE – A jockey that urges a horse without using a whip. Often used with a horse who doesn’t need any motivation.
HEAD – Used when the margin that one horse is ahead of another is roughly the length of the animal’s head.
HEAD OF THE STRETCH – Start of the final straightaway in a race.
HEAVY – A track that is difficult to run on. Worse than muddy. A slow surface.
HORIZONTAL WAGERS – An exotic bet that requires picking the winner of several races. (Like a “parlay” in other sports betting.) A two-race sequence is known as a Daily Double. A three-race sequence is known as a Pick-3. A five-race sequence is known as a Pick-5 (and so on).
HUNG – Used to describe a tiring horse that is able to hold its position.
IN THE MONEY – A horse that finishes among the top-three in a race.
IN HAND – When a horse is restrained by a jockey to prevent him from running too fast too early in a race.
INQUIRY – When stewards review a race to see if a penalty will be required. Inquiries result when there is an incident that occurs in a race that may violate the rules.
JOCKEY – The rider of a horse.
JUVENILE – A two-year-old horse.
KEY – A betting term for a horse that can be utilized in and around several wagers. An “exacta key” may mean you have a certain horse on the top and bottom of several bets with multiple other horses. If the key horse fails to run well, all bets will be lost.
LASIX – An anti-bleeding medication given to horses. Outlawed in some jurisdictions.
LENGTH – Roughly eight feet, or the size from nose to tail of a horse. Often used as a measurement of how far ahead or behind a horse is in a race.
LONGSHOT – A horse whose odds indicate he or she has a slim chance to win. A horse who will pay a lot if he or she wins.
LUG – A tiring horse either bearing in or out.
MAIDEN – A horse that has never won a race.
MAIDEN RACE – A race involving only horses who have never won.
MARE – A female horse over the age of four.
MORNING LINE – An estimate of what the odds at post time will be, put together 24 to 48 hours prior to a race being run.
MUDDY TRACK – A track that has been soaked by water and is running slowly.
MUTUAL FIELD – When two or more horses are combined in the betting. You get a small group of horses for one bet. Any of the field that wins is considered a victory for the bet.
NECK – Roughly a quarter of a length, or the size of a horse’s neck. Used to measure how far back or ahead a horse is.
NOSE – Roughly the smallest margin a horse can win by.
OBJECTION – When someone, frequently a jockey, claims a foul has been committed during the running of a race and should be looked at to see if a penalty should be assessed.
ODDS-ON – Used to describe a big favorite, usually less than even-money.
OFF TRACK – A track that is not fast.
ON THE BOARD – A horse that finishes among the top-four in a race.
ON THE NOSE – Betting on a horse to win.
OVERLAND – A horse that has had been forced to run wide throughout the majority of a race.
OVERLAY – A value horse. A horse going off at a higher price/longer odds than it should, given past performances.
OVERWEIGHT – Extra weight that a horse carries because a rider failed to make the assigned weight. If the jockey is allowed to weigh 115 pounds but weighs in at 116, the horse is one pound overweight.
PADDOCK – The area where horses are saddled and walked around about ten minutes before a race.
PAST PERFORMANCES – A complete list of stats and running lines for a horse. Often a horse’s entire racing history.
PHOTO FINISH – A race in which the outcome cannot be determined until looking at the photo at the end of the race.
PICK-6 – A wager that requires picking the winner of six consecutive races. See also: horizontal wagers.
PLACE – Finishing second in a race.
PLACE BET – Betting on a horse to finish first or second.
POLE – Various places along the track that mark the distance until the finish line. The quarter pole indicates one-quarter of a mile to run until the end of the race.
POST – The location of the start of the race.
POST PARADE – When the horses walk by the grandstand and are introduced to the crowd five to ten minutes prior to the start of a race.
POST POSITION – Where each horse starts from in the starting gate. “Number one” is on the rail; number two is next to number one, and so forth.
POST TIME – The time of day a race is slated to begin.
PREP – A workout or race that is designed to get a horse ready for a specific future race.
PURSE – The total pool of prize money to be awarded in a race.
QUARTER POLE – The portion of the track that is one-quarter of a mile until the finish line.
RABBIT – A horse entered into a race specifically to ensure a fast pace. Generally, rabbits are not entered to win and are often completely outclassed; the horse is in the race to tire out “front runners”. Usually, an owner or trainer will enter a rabbit to help another horse that they own in the race.
RAIL RUNNER – A horse that prefers to run along the inside fence for the majority of a race.
R.O.I. – Return on Investment.
ROUTE – A race that is at least one mile.
ROUTER – A horse who prefers to run long distances.
SCRATCH – When a horse is removed from a race.
SECOND CALL – A second engagement of a jockey who is already riding in a race. The jockey will ride the second call if the first call scratches.
SEX ALLOWANCE – A race in which females run against males and are allowed to carry less weight.
SHADOW ROLL – A piece of equipment used to keep a horse from seeing his own shadow.
SHORT – A horse that needs more workouts or races in order to contend. Often a young horse or a veteran returning from a layoff.
SHOW – Finishing third in a race.
SHOW BET – A bet that pays out if a horse finishes first, second, or third.
SILKS – The rider’s outfit for a race, often in the colors of the owner’s stable.
SINGLE – A term that exotic bettors use to indicate a horse that is their lone selection in a single race. In effect, a horse that a handicapper is very confident in.
SIRE – A horse’s father
SIX FURLONGS – Three-quarters of a mile.
SLOPPY – A track that is wet on top and firm down below.
SLOW – A track that is slower than “fast” and “good” but faster than “heavy”.
SNUG – A horse that is being held by a rider, but not “tightly”.
SPREAD – A term exotic bettors use to indicate that a race is wide open and they will need to pick several horses to make sure they have the winner on their ticket.
STAKES-PLACED – A horse that has finished first, second, or third in a stakes race.
STAKE – A quality race where an owner generally must pay a fee for his or her horse to run. Fees can include nomination, entering, and starting, and those fees add to the purse of the race.
STARTER RACE – A restricted allowance or handicap race that limits the entrants to horses who have not won races at too high a level.
STARTING GATE – The device that houses the horses at the start of a race. All the gates open simultaneously when the starter hits the button to begin the race, ensuring a fair start.
STATE-BRED – A horse bred in a particular state; such horses are eligible for races that are restricted to equine from that jurisdiction.
STEADIED – When a horse in close quarters must be held tightly and hand ridden by his jockey.
STEPPING UP – When a horse is scheduled to race against more experienced or higher quality horses than he or she has been typically been up against.
STEWARDS – Officials that monitor races and penalize horses when necessary.
STICK – A piece of equipment a jockey uses to whip a horse.
STRETCH – Final portion of the race. The last straightaway.
STRETCH RUNNER – A horse who does his or her best running at the end of a race.
STRETCH TURN – The last bend before the finish line.
TAKEOUT – The percentage of money taken off the top of betting pools that is shared by the track and local governments. The takeout varies depending on the track and type of wager.
TAKING UP – When a horse that is in very tight quarters is forced to be pulled up by his or her jockey.
TRACK BIAS – A racing surface that favors a certain running style or position.
TRAINER – A horse conditioner; the person who decides when and how horses will work out, what horses eat, and which races they will run in.
TRIFECTA – A type of wager which requires picking the top-three finishers in exact order.
TRIP – The specifics of how a horse ran during a race. A “clean trip” means he or she did not experience trouble. A “wide trip” means he or she traveled a long route around the track (away from the rail).
TRIP HANDICAPPING – A betting strategy that involves evaluating how a race will be run. Common inquiries for trip handicappers include: Who will be ahead early on and how fast will they run? Who will make the first move? Which horses will be best late and will their efforts be good enough to win?
TURF COURSE – A grass track.
UNDERLAY – A horse that goes off at shorter odds than would normally be expected given past performances.
UNDER WRAPS – When a horse is seriously restrained during a race or workout.
VERTICAL WAGERS – An exotic bet that requires picking the sequence that horses will finish in an individual race. An “exacta” requires picking the top-two finishers; a “trifecta” requires picking the top-three; a “superfecta” requires picking the top-four (all in exact order).
WALKOVER – A race with only one horse remaining because of withdrawals.
WASHY – A horse that is sweating significantly prior to the start of a race.
WEAVING – Encountering trouble throughout a race and moving around to find clear room to run.
WHIP – Piece of equipment a rider uses to strike a horse, encouraging him or her to run faster.
WORK – A training jog or run.
YIELDING – A very wet turf course.
Photo credit: Paul [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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