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Horse Racing Terminology Explained

If you’re thinking about having a flutter (making a small wager) you may be a bit intimidated by the seemingly secret language of horse racing. In this article, we demystify horse racing vocabulary with a categorized list of common horse racing terms. Read on to learn more.

Horse Vocabulary

  • Broodmare: This is a thoroughbred mare who is used just for breeding.
  • Broodmare dam: This type of broodmare is identified as producing more good broodmares.
  • Broodmare sire: This is a stallion identified as siring good broodmares.
  • Colt: A male horse under five years of age.
  • Dam: A horse’s mother.
  • Filly: A young female horse (under five years of age).
  • Foal: A newborn colt or filly.
  • Gelding: A male horse that has been castrated.
  • Stud or Stallion: A male horse that has not been castrated.
  • Horse: Male horses over five years old.
  • Mare: A filly past the age of five.
  • Juvenile: A two-year-old.
  • Half sister/brother: Two fillies or colts who share the same dam but have different sires are said to be half sisters or brothers. If they share the same sire but have different dams, this is not the case.

Track Terms For Horses

  • Maiden: Horses who have not yet won a race are “maiden”. There are also maiden races set up just for horses who haven’t won yet.
  • Scratch: When a horse is withdrawn from a race, he is “scratched”.
  • Also Eligible (AE): These are horses on standby in case those already listed to run are scratched (removed).
  • Form: This term may refer to a horse’s physical condition, or it may refer to a racing form publication.
  • Look of Eagles: A confident-looking horse.
  • Miler: Horses who do well in mile-long races.
  • Rank: Horses that cannot be rated (reined in) early in a race.
  • Shipper: When a horse has been shipped between tracks to run one race after another.
  • Spit the bit: An overtired horse who slows down.
  • Break Maiden: This is the first win for either the horse or the jockey.

Jockey Terms

  • Apprentice Jockey: This is just what it sounds like, a jockey in training. These jockeys may be given various weight allowances based on experience.
  • Bug Boy: This is another term for an apprentice or student jockey.
  • Jockey agent: A person who sets up jobs (rides) for jockeys.
  • Silks: The jockey’s uniform

Racing Equipment

  • Blinkers: This is an item of tack used to block the horse’s side vision and redirect focus to the track.
  • Shadow roll: This is a cloth or fleece roll placed on the horse’s noseband to block his view of the ground directly in front of him. This prevents having him spook at shadows.
  • Irons: Stirrups

Betting Terms

  • Having a flutter: Making a small wager
  • Shut out: Players who don’t make it to the window in time to place a bet are shut out.
  • Minus pool: If a great deal of money is bet on a single horse, the betting pool may be insufficient to pay winning ticket holders at the minimum legal odds (after the track take). When this is the case, the track must front the difference so that the bettors can be fully paid.
  • Track take: The track’s share of the wager pool.
  • Morning line odds: The track sets these odds before the pools are opened.
  • Bridge jumper: This is a bettor who makes large bets on “odds-on” favorites in the Place or Show pools.
  • Buy the race: This is a term used for an exotic wager made on every horse running.
  • Across the board: Use this term to bet on a horse to win, place and show.
  • Carryover: This is money left over from the “Pick Six” pot if no one places a winning bet of all winners. The pot is then carried over to the next race.
  • Consolation: This term is used to refer to a payout to Pick Six bettors who do not have a full winning ticket. If the bettor picks a high percentage of races correctly (e.g. 5 out of 6) he or she may receive a small consolation payout.
  • Daily Double: With this bet, the player must choose the winners of two races in a row on one ticket.
  • Exacta: The bettor strives to choose both the first place and the second place winners in a race on a single ticket.
  • Handle: The total amount of a bet on a race or a whole day’s bets.
  • In the money: Horse owners who finish in the top four may receive a share of the purse and are said to be “in the money”. Bettors whose bets finish in the top three are also “in the money”.
  • Parimutuels: In this French betting system, the winners receive all of the money that has been bet by the losers, but first the track takes a cut (the Take Out).
  • Odds: A horse’s chances of winning a given race based upon the general public’s pari-mutuel wagers.
  • Overlay: This term is used when a player determines that the horse’s real chances of winning are greater than the stated chances. If a horse’s odds are 4/1 according to the player, but the track offers 10/1, the horse is termed an “overlay”. This is a positive connotation. To be termed an “underlay” is a negative connotation.
  • Underlay: If you think a horse should fetch a particular price, but that price isn’t met then you would conclude that the horse is undervalued and should not be wagered on.
  • Pick (3,4,5,etc.): This is an exotic wager in which the bettor picks the winners in several successive races.
  • Superfecta: This is a difficult wager in which the player tries to determine the first-through-fourth place winners. Because it is so hard to get this right, a successful superfecta usually gets high winnings.
  • Trifecta: A challenging wager in which the player tries to determine the first-through-third place winners.

Racing Rules And Procedures

  • Stewards: This is a panel of three who judge whether rules have been broken in the course of a race.
  • Handicap: Weight assignments made by the racing secretary are called “handicaps”. The purpose of these weights is to give all the horses in the field an equal chance to win. The secretary determines the weights by studying the horses’ records.
  • Inquiry: If the jockey or the horse are suspected of committing a foul, the stewards will conduct an official investigation or inquiry.
  • Objections: If a jockey claims a foul after a race, it is called an objection.
  • Conditions: Used as a noun, this means the circumstances of the race (e.g. eligibilities, purse, distance, track surface).

Types Of Races

  • Graded Race: The American Graded Stakes Committee assigns grades (I, II or III) to some races. The grading is based upon the strength of the race in question when compared with all other horse races.
  • Claiming Race: Horses running in these races are for sale. Those interested in purchasing must make a valid claim before the race.
  • Optional Claimer: In this sort of race some horses may have a claiming price while others do not.
  • Tag: This is another term for the claiming price.
  • Fire Sale: A greatly reduced claiming price.
  • Allowance (Race): In this non-claiming event, the racing secretary will condition weight allowances by considering the horse’s past wins and purse earnings.
  • Baby Race: This is usually an early season race for two-year-olds.
  • Marathon: Any race that is more than a mile and a quarter in length.
  • Middle distance: Races that are greater than 7 furlongs but less than 1 1/8th miles in length.
  • Oaks: This is a stakes race established for fillies three years of age.
  • Route: This is a race run on a track with two turns.
  • Sprint: A race that measures no more than 7 furlongs.

Track Terms And Conditions

  • Odds Board: This is the tote board, which is usually located on the infield.
  • Clubhouse Turn: This is the first turn of races starting on the frontstretch or homestretch.
  • Backstretch: This area of the track is located directly opposite the stables or finish line. It is a straight section of track.
  • Bull Ring: This is a small, oval track of under a mile that has extremely tight turns.
  • Dark: A day when there is no live racing at a track.
  • Derby: Three-year-olds run this stakes race.
  • Distance of ground: A race run or route race with two turns.
  • Furlong: A length of measure peculiar to horse racing equaling 1/8th mile.
  • Post: The starting gate
  • Quarter pole: This is a post placed on the rail in the infield indicating that there are two more furlongs to go before the finish line.
  • Dog: An obstruction (cone or other object) put a specific distance from the turf course rail. It is intended to prevent horses from running on the grass and causing damage to the turf.
  • Going: Used as a noun, this term refers to the condition of the track. It is used in conjunction with a variety of adjectives. For example, a dirt track may be said to be:
    • Fast Going
    • Good Going
    • Muddy Going
    • Sloppy Going

A grass track may be said to be:

    • Firm Going
    • Good Going
    • Yielding Going
    • Soft Going
    • Heavy Going
  • Off-track: Racing surfaces other than the established fast track (dirt) or firm track (grass or turf).
  • Fast Track: A dry, hard dirt track is rated a fast track.
  • Heavy Track: When a grass track has gotten a lot of rain.
  • Muddy Track: A wet, soft, sticky dirt track.
  • Turf course: This is a track covered in grass.

Training Terms

  • Breeze: This is a light workout in which the horse is allowed to run easily without urging.
  • Handily: In this type of workout, the jockey urges the horse but doesn’t use the whip.
  • School: Used as a verb refers to training a horse in the paddock or at the post.
  • Fractions: This term may be used to refer to either a workout or a race. It is used when clocking speed in increments of a quarter-mile.
  • Clocker: The person who times and rates workouts.
  • Condition: Used as a verb, this means training of a horse.

Running The Race

  • Eased: When a horse is stopped or slowed before the finish line.
  • Front Runner: Horses who like to run in the lead or near the front.
  • Hand ride: When the jockey urges the horse by vigorously rubbing the animal’s neck rather than using the whip.
  • In-hand: When a horse is restrained while running, he is said to be “in-hand”.
  • Lug In: When a horse is tired it may hug the rail in the final stretch. It is said to lug in.
  • Off the board: If a horse doesn’t finish “in the money” he is off the board.
  • Off the pace: If a horse lags early in the race, he is off the pace.
  • Pace: The leaders in a race set the pace or speed at each stage.
  • Rate: When the jockey keeps the horse “in-hand” early in the race for the purpose of conserving energy.
  • Trip: This term is used to describe the experience of the horse and jockey in the course of the race. If they had problems, they had a bad trip. If they had no problems, they had a good trip.
  • Under wraps: When the jockey holds the horse back and purpose and prevents him from running full out, the horse is under wraps.
  • Washed out: When a horse is anxious and drenched in sweat, he is washed out.
  • Shake up: When the jockey urges the horse forward by hand or whip.
Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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