Horseracing Lingo

Horseracing – jargon – Horseracing lingo

These horseracing terms will be used in all race commentary and writeups. Read over them now to get used to things you’ll hear around the racetrack, or come back to this list later to look up new words.

Also Ran: A horse that does not finish among the first three.
Asterisk(*) :When used with a jockey’s name or beside the weight a horse is to carry it denotes an apprentice rider. In breeding publications where it appears with a horse’s name it means the horse was imported to the U.S.
Backstretch: The straightway on the far side of the race track. Also used as a reference to the stable area.
Bandages: Bandages or cloth wrappings on a horse’s legs to not necessarily denote lameness or infirmity. Many trainers keep their horses in standing bandages at all times as a protection. They are also used in racing for protection and support.
Barrier: The starting gate is sometimes referred to as the barrier.
Bill Daly: A horse that breaks in front and sets the pace is “on the Bill Daly.” This manner of running was said to be the principal tactic drilled into jockeys developed by “Father Bill” Daly, a colorful trainer prior to the turn of the century.
Blanket Finish: One which finds several horses finishing noses and heads apart or so closely grouped that they could be covered by a blanket in a figurative sense.
Blinkers: Once called the “Rogue’s Badge,” blinkers are a common piece of racing equipment today. The eye cups on the blinkers, depending on modifications, block side and rear vision in either or both eyes. The use or disuse of blinkers must be approved by the stewards and the change reported on the official program.
Blow Out: A brief last workout (usually three furlongs or a half mile) given a day or two prior to a race and designed to sharpen or maintain a horse’s condition.
Bottom Wheel: Bottom wheel is a wagering strategy in which a selection in an exacta is wagered in the “bottom” or “place” position, while all the other horses in the field are used in the win position. To win in this wager your selection must finish second. To get a feeling about how much you might be about to win you can check the possible payoffs grids that are shown on your tv monitor. To wager a bottom wheel you need to tell the mutuel clerk that you want to “wheel the (whatever your horse number) on the bottom.”
Breakage: The calculation of the return on a $2.00 wager is made to the nearest .10 in most states. For example, if the actual division of the pool comes out to $8.64 the official payoff is $8.60.
Bug: Or “bug boy;” an apprentice jockey so-called because of the “bug” or asterisk in the official program to denote that the weight carried includes the apprentice allowance.
Bug Waive: Apprentice jockeys have traditionally been referred to as “bug boys”, since they have historically had their names printed in the program with an asterisk or “bug” to denote that they are not yet journeyman riders. When one of those “bug boys” comes off a mount and is replaced by a journeyman rider, the weight concession extended to the apprentice is relinquished, hence the “bug is waived” in that case.
Cast: When a horse is down in confined quarters, such as his stall or the starting gate, and unable to regain his feet–he is “cast.”
Chalk: Or Chalk Horse: the favorite or most heavily played horse in a race. The term originated in the days of bookmakers when the odds were chalked on slates.
Chute: A straightaway extension of either the homestretch or the backstretch used for distances which would otherwise necessitate starting on a turn.
Climbing: A fault in a horse’s stride in which, instead of reaching out, his action is abnormally high.
Clubhouse Turn: The turn to the right of the grandstand, so called because he Clubhouse is usually to the right of the general stands.
Colors: The jockey’s silk or nylon jacket and cap provided by the owner. Distinctive colors are registered by the owner with The Jockey Club and with the state racing authority. The practice of using individually registered colors was introduced at Newmarket, England in 1762.
Condition Book: A booklet issued periodically by the racing office describing conditions of upcoming races so that trainers can plan in which races to enter their horses.
Coupled: Two or more horses belonging to the same owner or trained by the same person are said to be “coupled” and they run as an “entry” comprising a single betting unit. Their program number regardless of post position would be “1” and “1A.” A second “entry” in the race would be listed in the program as “2” and “2A.” A bet on one horse of an entry is a bet on both.
Cushion: The loose, top surface of the race track.
Dead Heat : Where the photo-finish camera shows two horses inseparable at the finish, the race is declared a “dead heat” or tie.
Dogs: Wooden barriers used during workout periods to close off a portion of the race track near the inner rail when the track is sloppy or muddy.
Driving: When a horse is running under extreme pressure he is said to be driving.
Dwelt: A horse that is slow in breaking from the starting gate is said to have “dwelt.”
Eighth Pole: The pole one eighth of a mile before the finish line.
Entry: Two or more horses in a race, owned by the same stable, or trained by the same trainer are termed an “entry” and coupled as a single betting unit, a bet on one being a bet on both.
Excused: To be withdrawn from a race after the regular time for scratches a horse must be “excused” by the Stewards.
Extended: A horse running at top speed under extreme pressure by the rider.
Farrier: A blacksmith specializing in the shoeing, or plating, of horses. In early days he was also a horse doctor.
Far Turn: The turn off the backstretch.
Fast: A race track at its best condition is said to be fast.
Field: This word has two meanings in racing which could be confusing. The entire group of starters in a race is known collectively as the “field.” However, a “field horse” is one of a group designated by the track handicapper in a case where there are more starters than there are betting units provided by the pari-mutuel equipment. Rightly called the “pari-mutuel field” this group runs as a single betting unit. For example in the Kentucky Derby of 1951, while there were only 12 betting units, 20 horses started. Seven started as individual betting units; four stables had entries of two horses each; the remaining five ran as the “field” and one of these, Count Turf, was the winner.
Flat Race: Originally a race without obstacles such as hedges, hurdles or fences. Today more often used as opposed to harness racing although the trotters also race on the flat.
Fractional Time: The running time at various points between the start and finish of a race.
Furlong: One eighth of a mile. Originally a “furrow long” or the length of a plowed field.
Garrison Finish: A late rush resulting in a narrow margin of victory, so called because Edward “Snapper” Garrison, a prominent rider at the turn of the century, specialized in such finishes.
Gelding: A castrated male horse.
Ginney: A groom; a corruption of the English “Guinea,” which in days past was the traditional award to the groom of a winner.
Halter: A piece of equipment placed on a horse’s head similar to a bridle but lacking a bit and reins. A long leather shank is attached to the halter for walking the horse. Also an expression used for claiming a horse deriving from the fact that when the representative of the new owner takes the horse he must have with him his own halter. A trainer who frequently claims horses is called a halter man.
Hand: A unit of four inches by which a horse’s height is measured, placing one hand above the other from the ground to the withers or the point where the saddle sits. A horse that measures 16 hands is 5 feet 4 inches tall at the withers.
Handicapper: One who assigns the weights to be carried in a handicap race. Also one who makes selections in a race based on a thorough study of the past performance of each horse.
Handily: A horse working or racing with ease and without urging is said to be going “handily.”
Handle: The aggregate amount of money wagered on a race, a day, a meeting or a season.
Holy Ghost: Holy Ghost is a wagering theory that is used by numerologists. The suggestion is that good things happen in threes (reference to the Biblical Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). Players of the Holy Ghost theory believe that when a certain jockey, saddle cloth number, post position, trainer, etc., scores two wins, then it follows that there will be a third success, since good luck tends to run in groups of threes.
Homestretch: The straightaway leading to the finish.
Hot Walker: A stable hand who leads a horse around the shed row or walking ring in the “cooling out” process following a race or a workout. Walking hots is usually the first job given a novice stable employee.
Infield: The area within the inner rail of a race track.
Inquiry: An inquiry is an action taken by the track stewards following a race to check for a possible infraction that might have been noticed during the actual running of the race. In the inquiry the stewards will replay the race on videotape and review the incident, deciding eventually whether or not punitive action needs to be taken.
In the Money: A horse finishing first, second or third is “in the money.”
Irons: The stirrups are referred to as irons.
Juvenile: A 2-year-old horse is called a “juvenile.”
Key Horse: A single horse used in multiple combinations in an exotic wager.
Lead Pad: A piece of equipment under the saddle containing thin slabs of lead used to bring a rider’s weight up to that assigned to the horse.
Length: The measurement corresponding to the average length of a horse and used to describe winning, or losing, distances. A horse can win, or be beaten, by a length or more, or by fractions thereof — 3/4 of a length, half-length, 1/4 length, neck, head or nose. These terms are more descriptive than scientific.
Minus Pool: When an outstanding horse is so heavily played that, after the deduction of the state tax and commission, not enough money remains in the pool to pay off the legally prescribed minimum, it is called a minus pool and the racing association makes up the difference.
Morning Line: The approximate odds usually printed in the program and posted on the totalisator board prior to the betting. This is a forecast of how it is believed the betting will go in a particular race.
Mud Caulks: These are small cleats inserted on the back end of a horse’s shoe or racing plate. The caulks are used most when the track surface becomes muddy or sloppy. this will enable the horse to have better racing traction on an “off” surface.
Near Side: The left side on which a horse is led, mounted and dismounted.
Odds-On: Odds of less than even money ($1 to $1). A winner at a payoff of under $4.00 is “odds on.”
Off Side: The right hand side of a horse.
Overlay: An overlay occurs when a horse that is placed at a certain price on the morning line receives considerably more play than one might have expected. That horse is said to be “overlaid”. It tells you that there is money being played on this horse that was not anticipated and the payoff price will be smaller than originally expected.
Overnight: A race for which entries close 72 hours (exclusive of Sundays) or less before the post time for the first race on the day the race is to be run. Also, the (usually) photocopied sheet available to horsemen in the racing secretary’s office showing the entries for the following day.
Overweight: Depending on conditions each horse carries an assigned weight. When the jockey cannot make the weight, overweight is allowed but not more than 5 pounds. The overweight is either posted on an information board or announced on the public address system prior to the race.
Paddock: The area at the race track where the horses are saddled and viewed prior to a race. A fenced off field on a farm.
Placing Judge: Officials from the Racing Secretary’s Office are in charge of the official placing of horses during and after the running of a race. Two of the judges call the view of the race to a third judge who feeds the information by computer to the tote board. The judges determine the official order of finish by viewing a still negative film of each horse reaching the finish line, proceeding to the last place finisher. Their viewing stand is located on top of the grandstand, at the finish line.
Plater: A term for a horse that runs in cheap claiming races. Also the farrier who makes or fits the horse’s shoes or plates.
Post: The starting point for a race.
Post Position: A horse’s position in the starting gate from the inner rail outward which is decided by a drawing at the close of entries the day prior to the race.
Post Time: The time at which all horses are required to be at the post and ready to start.
Preferred List: A group of horses having priority in the event that a race draws more entries than can be accommodated.
Public Trainer: One who trains for more than one owner, usually on a per diem basis.
Quarter Horse: A type of horse recently established as a breed which is extremely fast at short distances. While so-called “quarter horse” racing was popular in Colonial times it has in recent years had a renaissance in the West.
Quarter Pole: On a one-mile track, the pole at the turn into the stretch a quarter of a mile before the finish.
Racing Secretary: The official who makes up the conditions for the races and assigns the weights for handicap races.
Ridgeling: A colt with one or both testicles undescended.
Route: A race of more than one and one-eighth miles is considered a route.
Savage: In racing parlance “savage” is a verb. A horse that tries to bite another horse or a man is “savaging” the horse or the man. A chart footnote or an account of a race may mention that a horse tried to savage another.
Scale of Weights: An arbitrary set of weights to be carried by horses of a certain age at a certain time of year at a certain distance.
Scratch: To scratch a horse is to withdraw him from a race. There is a deadline for scratches after which permission must be obtained from the Stewards.
Set Down: A jockey who has been suspended has been “set down”
Sex Allowance: In all races other than handicaps or where conditions state otherwise, fillies and mares are allowed weight below the scale, usually 3 pounds for 2-year-old fillies and 5 pounds for fillies and mares 3 and up, prior to September 1, and 3 pounds thereafter.
Shadow Roll: A thick noseband of sheep’s wool used to prevent a horse from seeing shadows directly in front of him which might cause him to jump or shy away.
Short: A horse that drops out of contention in the stretch or close to the finish is said to have been “short”, the inference being that with more work or preparation he might have lasted to the finish and perhaps have been the winner.
Silks: See colors. The jacket and cap worn by a jockey.
Sophomore: A 3-year-old horse is referred to as a sophomore.
Stayer: A horse that can run well at longer distances.
Stick: A jockey’s whip.
Stickers: A type of shoe with calks to provide better purchase under adverse track conditions.
Stud: A stallion used for breeding. Also a breeding farm.
Tack: The saddle and other equipment worn by a horse during racing or exercise.
Three-Horse Box: To make a three-horse box you simply take the three horses that you prefer in a race and wager them in each possible combination. Three-horse boxes are available in exactas and trifectas. When you wager a three-horse box in an exacta, two of the horses you use must finish first and second in exact order. When you wager a three-horse box in a trifecta the three horses you use must finish first, second and third. A three-horse exacta box gives you six possible winning combinations (a-b, a-c, b-a, b-c, c-a, c-b) and a three-horse trifecta box also gives you six possible combinations (a-b-c, a-c-b, b-a-c, b-c-a, c-a-b, c-b-a).
Top Wheel: Top wheel is a wagering strategy in which a selection in an exacta is wagered in the “top” or “win” position while all the other horses in the field are used in the “place” position. To win in this wager your selection must finish first. To get a feeling about how much you might be about to win you can check the possible payoffs grids that are shown on your tv monitor. To wager a top wheel you need to tell the mutuel clerk that you want to “wheel the (whatever your horse number) on top”
Totalisator: An intricate piece of electronic equipment which records each wager in each betting pool as the pari-mutuel ticket is sold by a manually operated vending machine. This equipment calculates the odds on each horse, according to the amount wagered at given intervals.
Totalisator Board: A display board in the infield on which is posted electronically, data essential to the race goer such as approximate odds, total amount bet in each pool (on some boards), track condition, post time, time of day, result of race, official sign or inquiry or objection sign if a foul is claimed, running time and payoff prices after the race is declared official.
Track Variant: Track variant is a measurement of the speed of the horse according to how performances on the track measured up to one another during the course of an entire day’s racing program. There are a number of ways to calculate a variant and professional handicappers normally subscribe to one of these primary theories in order to get a feeling for how impressive a particular running time really was. It is clear that six furlongs in 1:10 on one day can be significantly more impressive than the same time on a different day. The track variant gives a player a chance to make those comparisons with some ease.
Under Wraps: A horse running under restraint is “under wraps”
Valet: An employee who takes care of a jockey’s equipment, sees to it that the right silks are at his locker, that the rider has the proper weight in his lead pad, carries the saddle and equipment to the paddock and helps the trainer in saddling the horse, meets the rider after the race and carries saddle and equipment back to the jockey’s room.
Walkover: A rare occurrence in which only one starter goes to the post and is required only to gallop the distance of the race to be declared the winner and collect the purse or a prescribed portion thereof depending on the rules in effect.
Washy: A horse that breaks out into a heavy sweat prior to the race is said to be “washy”
Weight-For-Age: A type of race in which horses carry scale weight or weight assigned arbitrarily according to age, distance and month of year. (See Scale of Weights.)
Work Tab: A list of morning workouts according to distance and time.
Yearling: A one year old colt or filly, just one year away from racing age.