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Guide to Racing

Horse Racing Terms and Jargon Buster

The world of horse racing contains plenty of confusing words, some of which may mean very little to the unseasoned horse racing fan. This handy jargon-buster can help you understand some of the common horse racing terms, so you can join in with the horse-talk next time you’re at the races.

  • Abandoned - The status of a race or racecourse described as closed, usually as a result of bad weather.
  • Age - The age of a horse.
  • All-weather - A synthetic racing surface usually made from sand, which generally is not affected by the weather.
  • Allowance - The deduction in the weight a horse must carry. This can be a result of the age or the gender of the horse or the type of jockey (amateur).
  • Ante-post - A bet placed in advance of the final declarations of a race. Bookmakers usually offer better odds, but no refunds are given in the event of a non-runner.
  • Banker - A supposedly certain bet.
  • Betting ring - The on-course bookmakers, often close to the running rail, who compete against one another for trade. Traditionally an integral part of the racing experience, bookmakers with names like Jolly Joe, loud check jackets, and voices like foghorns used to shout the odds and hand our colourful cards as receipts. While their clerks entered the bets in their ledgers and tic tac men, standing on orange boxes, waved their white gloved hands in signals of the trade, communicating changes in the horses’ prices.
  • Bit - A bar (usually made of stainless steel) that sits in the horse’s mouth and is attached to the bridle.
  • Black type - A race which is of Listed or Group class.
  • Blinkers - A type of headgear fitted to a horse that limits its field of vision, mainly from each side. Blinkers are designed to help horses concentrate in races.
  • Bloodstock - A term used to describe the part of the racing industry which deals with racehorse breeding, be it at the sales, stud farms or elsewhere.
  • Boxed in - When a horse cannot obtain a clear run during a race due to other horses being in close proximiity.
  • Breeze-up - A sale in which unraced two-year-olds are ridden, galloped or ‘breezed’ along the racecourse. Most of the horses have been purchased as yearlings, and are then broken in and ridden in preparation for them galloping at the sale.
  • Bridle - A piece of tack that fits over a horse’s head and to which the bit and reins are attached.
  • Broodmare - A mare (female horse) at stud who is kept with the aim of producing a foal.
  • Brought down - Used to describe a horse who falls because of another horse, rather than falling independently.
  • Bumper - Also known as a National Hunt Flat race, and usually run over two miles without any obstacles. Commonly used as a way to give horses race experience before tackling hurdles and fences.
  • Chase - A race run over fences.
  • Cheekpieces - A form of headgear which consists of pieces of sheepskin placed on either side of the bridle and performs a similar job as blinkers in helping the horse to concentrate.
  • Claimer - A jockey who takes weight off a horse to compensate for their relative inexperience as a rider. Their claim is reduced the more winners they have.
  • Classic - Grade 1 contests confined to three-year-olds only in Britain. There are five Classics in Britain: 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby, St Leger.
  • Clerk of the course - The person responsible for the overall management of a racecourse on a raceday.
  • Colt - An uncastrated male horse aged four years old or younger. A colt older than four is referred to as an entire or horse (if still racing) or stallion (if at stud).
  • Connections - A term often used in place of a horse’s owners and trainer.
  • Dam - Mother of a horse.
  • Dead-heat - When the raceday judge cannot split two or more horses at the finishing-line, the prize is split between the horses and a dead-heat is called.
  • Declared - A formal notification from a trainer that notifies the racing authorities they intend to run a horse in a certain race. Horses are commonly declared at either the 24-hour or 48-hour stage prior to a race.
  • Draw - A term in Flat racing denoting a horse’s position in the starting stalls.
  • Fences - The type of obstacle jumped during chase races. There are different types of fence, including an open-ditch, the water jump and a plain fence.
  • Filly - A female horse aged four or younger.
  • Foal - A horse aged younger than one.
  • Form - A horse’s race record which is denoted by figures next to its name in a racecard. The form may also include some letters, for example F denoting a fall.
  • Furlong - An imperial unit of distance measurement in horseracing. A furlong is an eighth of a mile or a little more than 201 metres.
  • Gallop - A training strip used to exercise horses. Trainers have access to either their own private gallops or public gallops.
  • Gelding - A horse who has been castrated, often to improve its temperament.
  • Going - The underfoot conditions at the racecourse.
  • GoingStick - A device used to measure the underfoot conditions at the racecourse.
  • Graded race - The highest quality of race. Grade or Group 1 races are the highest quality, with Grade 2 and Grade 3 races a slightly lower quality.
  • Hacked up - A phrase used to describe a horse who has won comfortably.
  • Handicap - A type of race in which horses carry different weights depending on their overall rating, which is determined by the handicapper.
  • Handicapper - An official who assesses how horses should be rated, based on their previous performances.
  • Hood - Another type of headgear fitted over the horse’s head to cover its ears and muffle the noise of a raceday.
  • Hurdles - The obstacles jumped during a hurdle race. They are smaller than fences and therefore take less jumping. Sometimes referred to as flights.
  • In-running - Refers to anything that happens during a race, and could refer to in-running betting markets or in-running race comments.
  • Juvenile - A two-year-old horse.
  • Length - The length of a horse from its nose to the start of its tail, and a measurement used to describe the distances between horses at the finish line.
  • Listed race - A race type one step below Grade 3/Group 3 contests.
  • Maiden - A horse who has yet to win a race.
  • Mare - A female horse aged five or older.
  • Nap - A bet considered to be the most likely winner of all bets during the day.
  • National Hunt - Known as jumps racing. One of two racing codes, the other being Flat. National Hunt racing is best known in Britain and Ireland.
  • Neck - A measurement used to describe a winning margin in a close finish. A short head is the smallest winning margin.
  • Non-runner - A horse withdrawn from a race for which it had been declared.
  • Noseband - A strap that goes over a horse’s nose to secure the birdle. They can help prevent the horse from getting its tongue over the bit which can obstruct its breathing.
  • Novice - A race for horses who are in their first season in that code of racing. Can have age specific conditions, particularly on the Flat.
  • Nursery - A handicap race for two-year-old horses.
  • Odds - The chance offered for a selection to win. Also known as price.
  • Off the bridle - A term to describe a horse not travelling well.
  • On the bridle - A term to describe a horse travelling well.
  • One-paced - A term used to describe a horse who cannot quicken when the tempo of the race increases.
  • Open ditch - A fence with a ditch on the take-off side, forcing the horse to make a longer jump than at a plain fence.
  • Outsider - A horse whose chance of winning is considered unlikely by the market.
  • Pacemaker - A horse who races with the aim of ensuring the even tempo of race, thus helping a stablemate who would benefit.
  • Paddock - The area of a racecourse where horses are paraded before each race. Often referred to as the parade ring.
  • Parade ring - The area of a racecourse where horses are paraded before each race. Also referred to as the paddock.
  • Photo finish - A close race finish, requiring the raceday judge to consult a photo before declaring the winner or a dead-heat. A photo can also help determine the placings behind the winner.
  • Pulled up - A horse who is brought to a halt during a race by its jockey.
  • Pulling - A horse who is keen during a race and wants to go faster than its jockey is allowing. Often described as pulling for its head.
  • Punter - Someone who has had a bet on the outcome of a race.
  • Pushed out - A term to describe a horse who has gone clear of its rivals in a race after minimal urging from its jockey.
  • Racecard - A programme giving information about the races scheduled during a race meeting and the horses set to run in them.
  • Schooling - A term to describe a horse being trained and getting practice over obstacles.
  • Silks - An owner’s colours.
  • Sire - Father of a horse.
  • Sprinter - A horse who competes in races run over a short distance, usually over six furlongs or less.
  • Stallion - A male horse used for breeding.
  • Stalls - The box from which horses begin Flat races.
  • Staying on - A phrase frequently used by race commentators or in post-race comments referring to a horse who finished strongly during the closing stages.
  • Stewards’ inquiry - An inquiry held at the racecourse on a raceday after any given race. The panel is advised by the stewards.
  • Stud - An establishment set up for breeding of horses. Stallions are based at studs and are sent mares to breed with.
  • Tattersalls - The main auctioneer of racehorses in Britain and Ireland.
  • Thoroughbred - The breed of horse best known for its use in horseracing.
  • Tongue-tie - A strap or piece of stocking used to tie down a horse’s tongue to prevent the tongue getting over the bit which affects a horse’s breathing.
  • Triple Crown - To win the Flat Triple Crown in Britain, a horse must win either the 2,000 or 1,000 Guineas, either the Derby or the Oaks, and the St Leger. There is a staying chasers Triple Crown for jumps horses consisting of the Betfair Chase, the King George VI Chase and the Gold Cup.
  • Turn of foot - A term to describe marked exceleration during a race.
  • Under starter’s orders - Before a race, the starter brings the field of horses into order to prepare them for the start of the race.
  • Undulating - A track that does not have a flat terrain. Cheltenham is often referred to as an undulating track.
  • Visor - A type of headgear, much the same as blinkers, which limits a horse’s rearward vision to aid concentration. A visor differs from blinkers as it has a small slit in the eye cups.
  • Weighed in - Every horse in a race has to carry a certain amount of weight. To ensure it does, all jockeys must weight out both before and after a race. The ‘weighed in’ announcement made after the race means the result stands.
  • Whip - An instrument used by jockeys to help keep horses under control and to encourage them.
  • Yard - A term that refers to a trainer and their horses. Also referred to as a stable.
  • Yearling - A young horse between the age of one and two.
Racing Post staff
Published on 8 February 2023Last updated 09:27, 8 February 2023