Across the board: A bet on a horse to win, place and show. If the horse wins, the player collects three ways; if second, two ways; and if third, one way, losing the win and place bets.
Age: All horses’ birthdates are considered January 1, no matter the actual date of birth. Horses can begin racing at age 2, typically in the spring or summer of that year. Many races are restricted to particular age groups for competitive balance.
All out: A horse who is trying to the best of his ability.
Allowance: Race classification in which the horses competing cannot be purchased by other owners. These races typically are a stronger level of competition at any track.
Also-eligible: A horse entered in the race but who cannot start unless another horse is scratched.
Apprentice: A jockey who has just begun his or her career, and has yet to win an established number of races to leave the apprentice ranks. Apprentice jockeys are allowed to ride at lower weight allowances than established jockeys, between 5-10 pounds less. Sometimes nicknamed a ‘bug’ rider for the asterisk (*) that denotes an apprentice jockey in the program.
Backstretch: The straightaway on the far side of the track. Also, the area where the horses are stabled often is referred to as the backstretch.
Back-Wheel: Betting term that means you’re including all horses in a race in a particular wager and putting them in front of your key horse. For example, an ‘exacta back-wheel all with 1’ means that you are betting every combination of exacta with any horse finishing first and the number 1 finishing second. The cost of the ticket will include every combination purchased.
Bearing in (or out): Failing to maintain a straight course, veering to the left or right. Can be caused by injury, fatigue, outside distractions, or poor riding.
Blanket finish: When the horses finish so close for the win you could theoretically put a single blanket across them.
Blinkers: Equipment worn to restrict a horse's vision on the sides to help focus attention and avoid distractions.
Blowout: A short, fast workout, usually a day or two before a race, designed to sharpen a horse's speed.
Bobble: A bad step away from the starting gate, sometimes caused by the ground breaking away from under a horse and causing him to duck his head or go to his knees.
Bolt: Sudden veering from a straight course.
Box: Betting term that describes having covered combinations in any order. An exacta box, for example, means you have bets on the 1-2 and 2-1 combination. A trifecta box of 1-2-3 means you have all 6 combinations that could evolve from those runners (1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2, 3-2-1).
Breakage: In pari-mutuel payoffs which are rounded out to a nickel or dime, those pennies that are left over. Breakage is generally split between the track and state and, in some cases, breeding or other funds, in varying proportions.
Breeze: Working a horse at a moderate speed; less effort than ‘handily.’
Bridge Jumper: Nickname for someone who bets a large sum of money on a horse to show. As the saying goes, if they lose, they’ll be looking for the nearest bridge.
Broodmare: Female horse who has entered her breeding career.
Bullet work: The best workout time for the distance on a given day at a track. Often depicted in past performances with a dark black dot, resembling a bullet-hole, hence the name.
Bull ring: Small racetrack layout that is less than one mile in circumference.
Bute: Phenylbutazone a commonly used analgesic for horses, legal at proper doses.
Carousel: Race scenario where the order of horses does not change throughout the running, most often because of a slow tempo that does not fatigue the horses at the front of the pack.
Caulk: Horseshoe that includes a projection on the bottom to give a horse better traction, especially on a wet track. Chalk: Another name for a horse who is the race’s betting favorite. Derived from days of old, when chalkboards displayed the wagering totals.
Chart: Statistical recap of a race similar to a box score in team sports, depicting all the details of a race. One who performs the duty of assembling is known as a chart caller. Checked: A horse pulled up by his jockey for an instant because he is cut off or in tight quarters.
Chute: Extension of the backstretch or homestretch to allow a longer straight run at the start. Claiming: Classification of race in which any of the horses entered can be purchased by another owner. These races typically are among the lower level of racing at a track.
Clocker: Person who hand-times workouts in the morning training hours. Races are timed electronically.
Closer: A horse who runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace or ‘closing’ ground. Clubhouse turn: Generally the turn immediately after the finish line and closest to the clubhouse. Sometimes called the first turn. Colors: Racing silks, the jacket and cap worn by jockeys. Silks can be generic and provided by the track or specific to one owner.
Colt: Male horse under 5 years of age.
Company: Multiple uses include company describing the competition in a race (i.e. ‘He’s battled in top company.’). Also company is used to describe a morning workout in which multiple horses are paired together (i.e. ‘The two stablemates worked a half-mile in company.’).
Conditions: The parameters of a race that determine which horses are eligible to compete. These can include things like age, previous accomplishment, gender and more).
Coupled: Two or more horses running as an entry in a single betting unit, most often due to common ownership.
Cuppy: A track surface that is loose and breaks away under a horse's hoof. Cut-back: Expression used when a horse is racing a shorter distance than previous races.
Daily double: Bet type in which you must select the winners of two consecutive races.
Dam: Mother of a Thoroughbred.
Dead-heat: Two or more horses finishing in an exact tie at the finish.
Dead on the board: A horse who was expected to be bet stronger by the public than is currently being played.
Dead track: Racing surface whose condition is producing slower times.
Dime Super: Slang term for the superfecta bet type that most often has a minimum wager amount of 10 cents per combination. You must pick the first four finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, to collect.
Distance: How far horses in a race will compete, typically for Thoroughbreds between five-eighths of a mile on the short end, and one mile and one-half on the longer end. Harness races are contested almost always at one mile.
Distanced: Well beaten, finishing a long distance behind the winner.
Dogs: Wooden barrier (or rubber traffic cones) placed a certain distance out from the inner rail, to protect the inner part of the track (usually the turf course) from traffic during workouts to save it for racing.
Driving: Strong urging by rider.
Dropping, dropping down: Situation where a horse is racing against easier competition today than in the past. Such a horse sometimes may be called a ‘dropper.’
Eased: When a horse does not complete a race after the jockey pulls him up due to a physical or equipment problem.
Easily: Running or winning without being pressed by the jockey or opposition.
Entry: Two or more horses owned by the same stable or (in some cases) trained by the same trainer and running as a single betting unit. Same as ‘coupled’ or ‘coupling.’
Evenly: Neither gaining nor losing position or margin from the leaders during a race.
Exacta (or perfecta): Bet type in which the first two finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, must be picked in order to collect.
Fair odds: Personal estimation what odds you think a horse should offer in a race. By comparing the fair odds to the actual odds in a race, you can determine if a horse is an ‘overlay’ or ‘underlay.’
Faltered: Used for a horse that was in contention early and drops back in the late stages. It is more abrupt than ‘weakened,’ but less drastic than ‘stopped.’
Fast track: The optimum condition for a dirt track, dry, fast and even.
Filly: Female horse up to and including the age of 4, often grouped together in races for competitive balance.
Firm: An optimum condition for a turf (grass) course, similar to ‘fast’ on a dirt track.
Foal: Newly born Thoroughbred, male or female. Most foals are born between January and May annually.
Form: Multi-use term that can be shortened slang for the long-time past performance publication Daily Racing Form, but also be used to generically to describe a horse’s series of past races/performances (i.e. “His form has been littered with good and bad efforts).
Fractions, Fractional Times: The internal splits of a race time, typically measured in quarter-mile increments.
Front-runner: A horse who usually leads (or tries to lead) the field for as far as he can. Also called a ‘speed’ horse or ‘pacesetter.’
Furlong: Distance of measure equaling one-eighth of a mile (220 yards/660 feet). Races are measured in furlongs up to one mile, i.e. 6 furlongs, the most common distance (three-quarters of one mile).
Gelding: Castrated male horse, most often the surgery performed with hopes of improving behavior.
Good track: Condition between fast and slow, generally a bit wet.
Graded Stakes: Highest level of race classification in North America. There are less than 500 of these races in any given year, and they are categorized as Grade 1 (best), Grade 2 or Grade 3 at the start of the season by a national committee.
Graduate: Winning for the first time, also known as ‘breaking his or her maiden.’
Granddam (second dam): Grandmother of a horse. Grandsire: Grandfather of a horse.
Half-brother, half-sister: Horses out of the same dam (mother) but by different sires (fathers). Thoroughbred siblings must share the same dam; horses by the same sire, but not the same dam, are common and are not considered siblings. If two horses share the same sire (father) and dam (mother), then he or she are considered full-siblings (full-brother or full-sister).
Handicapping: The process of selecting horses upon which to wager.
Handily: Training in workouts or racing with moderate effort, exuding more effort than ‘breezing.’
Hand ride: The jockey urges a horse with the hands and arms without using the whip.
Handle: Amount of money bet in sum total, i.e. “The Preakness Day handle at Pimlico reached nearly $100 million.”
Head: Unit of measurement, the length of a horse’s head, used to determine the margin of distance between horses. Head of the stretch: Beginning of the straight run for the finish, also called ‘top of the stretch.’
Heavy: Condition of track when wet; similar to ‘muddy,’ but even slower.
Homebred: A horse bred by his owner.
Hung: A horse holding the same position in a race, unable to make up distance on the winner.
In hand: Running under moderate control, at less than his or her fastest pace.
In the money: Finishing first, second or third.
Inquiry: Judges’ review of a race immediately after its conclusion to check into a possible infraction of the rules. Also, the sign flashed on the toteboard on such occasions is called the ‘inquiry’ sign or light. The judges can decide to change the ‘official’ order of finish if an infraction has been ruled to have occurred.
Juvenile: Two-year-old horse, the youngest eligible to race. A race for juvenile horses is sometimes called a ‘baby’ race.
Lasix: Commonly used brand name for the medication furosemide, which in most cases is legally used in racehorses to treat pulmonary bleeding.
Leg: Beyond its obvious definition, a ‘leg’ in racing parlance also is synonymous with the individual races in a multi-race wager. For instance, a pick four bet has four legs (‘I was convinced this horse would win the opening leg.’).
Length: Length of a horse from nose to tail, about 8 feet. Unit of measure that indicates the distance between horses in a race.
Live: Slang expression for a horse who is taking more betting money than expected (i.e. “This horse is live on the toteboard.”) Also used in racing slang to express a multi-race bet in which you have successfully progressed through (i.e. “I’m live in the pick four after two races.”)
Lobster: A large payoff. Lock: Slang for a "sure thing" winner.
Lug (in or out): Action of a tiring horse, bearing in or out, failing to keep a straight course.
Maiden: A horse who has yet to win a race in his or her career. Also the race classification in which such horses compete against one another for competitive balance. Maiden races are divided into maiden special weight (horses entered cannot be purchased by other owners) and maiden claiming (horses entered can be purchased by other owners).
Mare: Female horse 5 years old or older, often grouped together in similar races for competitive balance.
Minus pool: A mutuel pool caused when one horse is so heavily played that, after deductions of state tax and commission, there is not enough money left to pay the legally prescribed minimum on each winning bet. The racing association usually makes up the difference.
Morning glory: Horse who performs well in morning workouts, but does not carry success over to his or her races.
Morning line: Approximate odds quoted before wagering begins, set by a track official as a projection of how the public will bet a race.
Mudder: A horse who has had success racing on a muddy surface. Sometimes passed down as a pedigree trait.
Muddy: Deep condition of racetrack after being soaked with water. Horses who run will on wet tracks are generally referred to as ‘mudders.’
Mutuels: Synonymously used with payouts, i.e. “Here are the mutuels…”
Neck: Unit of measurement, about the length of a horse's neck (one-quarter of a length), used to determine the margin of distance between horses.
Nose: Unit of measurement, smallest advantage a horse can win by, used to determine the margin of distance between horses.
Objection: Claim of foul lodged by jockey. If lodged by a racing official (steward), it is called an inquiry. A successful claim of foul may result in a change in the order of finish. The offending horse, generally by rule, will be placed behind the horse that was interfered with in the official results and for payout purposes.
Odds: Mathematic probability of each horse winning, created by the amount of money bet on each horse to win. The more money bet on a horse, the lower the odds. The horse with the most money bet on him has the lowest odds and is deemed the ‘favorite.’ The less money bet, the higher the odds (“longshots”). Odds change every 30-60 seconds as more money is bet. A bettor receives the odds for the horse bet when the race begins and wagering closes, not the odds of the horse at the time the actual bet was made.
Odds-on: Often misused term, it specifically refers only to having odds of less than even money. An odds-on favorite would have odds of 4-5, 3-5, 1-2, 2-5,1-5 or 1-9, for instance.
Official: Sign displayed on toteboard when result is confirmed. Also can refer to a racing official (administrator).
On the bit: Expression used when a horse is eager to run, also ‘chomping at the bit.’
On the nose: Betting a horse to win only, a display of confidence.
Optional Claiming: Classification of race in which some of the horses entered can be purchased by other owners (like a claiming race) and others may be protected from purchase (like an allowance race). These races tend to be of similar quality to an allowance race.
Overlay: A horse going off at higher odds than he appears to warrant based on his past performances. Such wagering opportunities are welcomed by horseplayers.
Overnight: List of entries for upcoming days of racing, typically released 3 or more days ahead of time (i.e. ‘The overnight shows 12 races for this Saturday.’)
Overweight: Surplus weight carried by a horse when the rider cannot make the assigned weight, which is typically between 110-126 pounds. Additional weights are carried in the saddle pad to make up the difference.
Pace: The tempo at which a race is contested. “Pace makes the race” is a frequent phrase that means an early pace helps horses at the front of the pack; conversely a fast pace may help horses starting near the back of the pack.
Paddock: Area where horses are saddled and kept before post time, often a popular gathering place for on-track customers to congregate and observe the horses.
Parimutuel: System of betting used throughout North America in which customers bet against one another, and not against the house. All winning tickets are paid out by the losing tickets, with a percentage of each bet (‘takeout’) used to pay the racetrack operator, horsemen competing (‘purses’) and state tax agencies.
Part-Wheel or Partial-Wheel: Betting term that means you’re including multiple horses in a wager. For example, an exacta part-wheel 1 with 2,3,4 means that you are betting 1-2, 1-3 and 1-4 combinations, ‘wheeling’ a part or portion of the field with your key horse. The cost of the ticket will include every combination purchased.
Past performances: Tabulation and presentation of a horse’s previous races, listed from most recent on top, and including hundreds of data points. Often printed and included in the track program or sold online and in publications like Daily Racing Form.
Photo finish: A result so close it is necessary to use a finish-line camera to determine order of finish. Photo finish margins are typically a ‘nose,’ ‘head’ or ‘neck.’
Pick Three, Four, Five or Six: Bet types that span over multiple races in which you must have each race’s winner in order to collect, similar to a parlay in sports betting.
Place: Bet type in which your horse must finish first or second in order to collect. An easier, conservative wager.
Pole: Colored markers (usually striped) at measured distances around the track, marking the distance from the finish. The quarter pole, for instance, is a quarter-mile from the finish, not from the start. Pole colors generally are red for quarter-mile designations, green for eighth-mile designations and black for sixteenth-mile designations.
Post: Starting point of a race, i.e. “The horses are at the post.”
Pool: Also mutuel pool, meaning the total sum bet on a race or a particular type of bet. The total of all the pools comprise the total betting ‘handle.’
Post parade: Procession of horses past the grandstand while heading toward their pre-race warm-up on the track.
Post position: Position/stall in the starting gate from which a horse begins a race. In nearly all races in North America, this assignment is made by random draw at the time of horses being entered in a race (3 or more days before scheduled). The No. 1 post position is often called the ‘rail’ for its proximity to the inside rail of the racetrack.
Post time: Designated time for a race to start.
Prep: A race that is a steppingstone to a bigger race. For example, the Fountain of Youth Stakes is a prep race for the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Prep races often are shorter in distance than the destination race and less prestigious.
Presser: Running style in which a horse typically is racing second or third early in the race and applying pressure to the early leader.
Purse: The prize money offered to the horsemen (owners, trainers, jockeys) competing in a race. Generally speaking, the larger the purse, the more important and difficult the race. Purses can range from a few thousand to a few million dollars.
Quarter Horse: Breed of horse separate from Thoroughbreds, and bred to excel at distances around one-quarter of a mile. Several North American venues race Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, but very rarely against one another.
Quinella: Bet type similar to an exacta box, in which you must pick the first and second-place finishers within the same race, but they can finish in either order.
Rabbit: A horse who is expected to jump right to the front of the pack and set a fast pace for another horse in a race owned or trained by the same connections.
Rider’s up: The call out from the paddock judge that summons the jockeys to mount and the horses to make their way toward the racetrack.
Ridden out: Continued urging from a jockey to the finish line despite a comfortable lead in a race.
Route: Any race distance at 1 mile or longer, the converse to the sprint.
Running style: A horse’s natural preference in the pack of a race. Some horses are most comfortable leading, others tucked behind horses and others farther back in the pack in the early going. Assessing the running styles of each horse can help a handicapper determine the potential ‘pace’ of a race and how it may be won or lost.
Saddle cloth/towel: Cloth under the saddle on which a horse’s designated betting number is displayed. At most all North American Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse venues they are color-coded for viewers’ ease. 1-red, 2-white, 3-blue, 4-yellow, 5-green, 6-black, 7-orange, 8-pink, 9-light blue, 10-purple, 11-gray, 12-lime green et al.
Scratch: Withdrawing a horse who has been entered in a race. Derived from the common practice of scratching the name off of a program.
Shadow roll: Piece of equipment, usually a lamb's wool roll, half-way up the horse's face to keep him from seeing his own shadow.
Sealed track: Maintenance measure to compress the racing surface and make it more difficult for water to soak into it when anticipating rain. A sealed track can produce fast times as the horses remain on top of it and don’t sink in.
Sheets: Numerical performance figure that measures each race of each horse, creating a pattern over their career. Unlike speed figures, these performance figures take into account more variables in each race (such as weight carried, the amount of ground a horse lost on the turns, etc.). And the lower number, the better. Well-known proprietary performance figures/sheets include the Ragozin Sheets and Thoro-Graph.
Show: Bet type in which your horse must finish first, second or third in order to collect. The easiest, most conservative wager and one that often returns the smallest payout.
Silks: The jacket and cap worn by jockeys. Silks can be generic and provided by the track or specific to one owner. Simulcast: The broadcast of horse races to locations away from the track, whether its online platforms, racetracks in other cities or off-track betting operations.
Single: Expression used when a horseplayer includes only one horse in a particular race of a multi-race bet like the pick four, etc. (i.e. “American Pharoah is my pick four single in the 10th race.”)
Sire: Father of a horse. Typically the most successful male racehorses will be retired to stud to become sires in hopes of reproducing their success.
Sloppy: A track that is wet on the surface with a firm bottom.
Sophomore: Another name for a three-year-old horse, who is in his or her second season of eligibility for racing.
Speed Duel: Race scenario in which the early lead is hotly contested by multiple horses. Such races take an exceptional effort to be won near the front of the pack and can sometimes provide come-from-behind horses with their best chance to succeed.
Speed Figures: Numerical rating given to the relative fastness of every horse in every race, including considerations for the race clocking as well as the condition of the racing surface (how fast or slow, known as the ‘track variant’). Higher numbers equal faster races/horses. Proprietary measures often used by horseplayers include Beyer Speed Figures, Equibase Speed Figures et al.
Speed Horse: A horse whose style is to run to the front of the pack often is referred to as ‘speed’ or a ‘speed’ horse. Sometimes the fastest of the early pace runners is deemed by handicappers as ‘the speed of the speed.’
Spread: Slang term used by horseplayers who are including multiple horses in a bet, sometimes when they lack a strong opinion and sometimes when they hope to catch a longshot winner. Sprint: Any race distance less than 1 mile, the converse to the ‘route.’
Stakes: Name for a race classification that features some of the best horses at any track. Typically offers a large purse and requires owners to put up an entry fee (stake) in order to compete.
Stalker: Running style in which a horse is not at the front of the pack early, nor at the back of the pack. Typically a few lengths behind the leader in mid-pack.
Standardbred: Breed of horse known for pulling a sulky and competing in harness racing. Many racetracks throughout North America offer Standardbred racing, but those horses do not compete against Thoroughbreds.
Starter Allowance/Handicap: Classification of race in which the horses entered may not be purchased by other owners, but these horses are only eligible to compete if they have previously raced in a claiming race during a designated previous period of time (typically within 1 year). These races are a higher quality than most claiming races, but a lower quality than most allowance races.
Starting gate: Mechanical device with stalls for horses to stand in until the starter simultaneously releases the doors in front to begin the race. Wagering on a race closes electronically when the starting gate opens.
State-bred: Designation where a horse was foaled (born), and also a race classification that’s used to match up horses from a particular state to compete against one another. Generally speaking, state-bred races are not as strong as ‘open company’ races that have fewer restrictions.
Steadied: Action within a race when a horse is taken in hand by his jockey, usually because of being in close quarters to another runner.
Stepping up: Situation where a horse is racing against stronger competition than in the past.
Straight: Betting slang with multiple meanings, can describe a win-bet only (i.e. “Straight bet on the 5.”) or an exotic bet only one direction (i.e. “Played the 4-6 exacta straight”).
Stretch or Homestretch: Final straight portion of the racetrack from the final turn to the finish line.
Stretch-out: Expression used when a horse is racing at a farther distance than previous races.
Stretch runner: Horse who finishes fast in the stretch. Also called a ‘closer’ or ‘come-from-behinder.’
Stud: Male horse used for breeding. A stud fee is the amount of money a breeder will pay to have a mare bred to a particular stud.
Superfecta: Bet type in which the first four finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, must be picked in order to collect. Difficult to hit, but often lucrative when you do.
Super High 5: Bet type in which the first five finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, must be picked in order to collect. The most difficult single-race wager to hit, but often produces a large payout.
Synthetic Surface: A man-made racing surface that differs from natural dirt and turf footings. Sometimes called an ‘all-weather’ surface for its advertised qualities of maintaining consistency throughout various climatic changes. Limited tracks in North America operate with synthetic surfaces, but include venues such as Golden Gate Fields, Woodbine, Turfway Park and Presque Isle Downs.
Takeout (or take): Commission deducted from each betting dollar, shared by the track, the horsemen’s prize money and local and state governing bodies in the form of tax. Typical takeout on wagers are between 12-25 percent depending on the bet type and the host venue.
Taken up: A horse pulled up sharply by his rider because of being in close quarters to another runner.
Tongue tie: Cloth or rubber strap used to tie down a horse's tongue to prevent it from choking in a race or workout.
Toteboard: Physical structure that displays the betting odds, typically inside the racetrack oval’s configuration.
Tout: Person who publishes and/or sells handicapping and betting tips. Can also be used in the context of giving a tip. “I was touted on the 4-horse in this race.”
Track bias: Occurrence when the racing surface becomes uneven and can favor particular running styles or can flatter or unflatter horses running over particular parts of it. Track bias most often is caused by changes in moisture (weather or track maintenance).
Track record: Fastest time ever recorded for a distance at a particular track. Records on dirt are called track records; records on turf (grass) are most often called course records.
Trifecta: Bet type in which the first three finishers in a race, in exact order of finish, must be picked in order to collect.
Trip Handicapper: One who studies video of past races in order to make selections.
Turf course: A venue’s grass course. Not all racetracks have turf courses in North America, and many are restricted to use them during seasons of the year where weather permits. Some horses have a pedigree or natural affinity for turf courses more so than dirt, and vice versa.
Under wraps: A horse who is under stout restraint in a race or workout.
Underlay: A horse going off at lower odds than he appears to warrant based on his past performances. Such wagering situations are best avoided.
Washy: Horse breaking out in nervous sweat before race, sometimes visible on the neck, shoulders and belly. Also deemed ‘washed out’ or ‘lathered.’
Wheel: Betting term that means you’re including all horses in a race in a particular wager. For example, an ‘exacta wheel 1 with all’ means that you are betting every combination of exacta with the 1 finishing first and any horse finishing second. The cost of the ticket will include every combination purchased.
Win: Bet type in which your horse must finish first in order to collect. The most traditional, and still most popular, bet.
Workout: Timed morning training session to prepare for a race. Horses typically will have a morning workout every 7-10 days when getting ready for an upcoming race. Untimed, less strenuous morning exercise like jogs and gallops take place almost daily.
Yearling: Thoroughbred aged one-year-old, dated between the first New Year's Day after being born and the following January 1. Common age that horses are sold at public auction.
Yielding: Turf (grass) course condition that is softened by excessive moisture.