Horse Racing Betting Terms

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Horse racing is has a long history, is specialized, and is detailed -- so many of the terms we use within the sport are colloquial and very often abbreviated.

Some of the terms we’ll take you through here are about the sport and/or the animal and not always specific to betting, but wagering is synonymous with this great sport and as such all pros need to know what horse racing terminology truly means as a way of making sure they are fully informed regarding what they essentially see as their business.

Why Is Understanding Horse Betting Terminology Important?

There is such a lot of information floating around in this sport and none of it is useless.  By understanding what a handicapper, trainer, commentator or even your online horse betting company is telling you it means you will not be caught out.

Before even having a bet if you are new to the sport, you should attempt to learn any of the abbreviations and terminology associated with the horse racing to gain a fuller understanding.  The intricacies of this sport are many and so keeping this list for the medium to long term is also advised.

Glossary of Horse Racing Terms


ACROSS THE BOARD: A wager on a horse to win, place and show.  If your selection is successful, you will receive payouts for all three bets.  If the horse is second, you receive payouts for place and show and if it is third you will receive only the show payout.  As this is essentially three bets in one, a $2 unit stake becomes a total bet of $6.

ADDED MONEY: Money added to the total purse of the race, either by a sponsor, racing association or a breeding fund.

AGENT: Someone licensed to conduct transactions in breeding on behalf of an owner or trainer, or someone able to get rides for a jockey.

ALL OUT: Used in race descriptions, meaning the horse showed signs of giving its utmost in terms of energy and willingness.

ALLOWANCE RACE: A race in which weights are determined by conditions, other than claiming, set by the racing secretary.

ALLOWANCES: A reduction in racing weight carried by a horse because of the conditions of a race; because an apprentice jockey is on board, because the horse is female against males or because the horse is a younger animal against more experienced horses.

ALSO ELIGIBLE: A horse that is entered but is not permitted to start unless the field is reduced to a certain number by scratches.

ALSO-RAN: A horse finishing outside the money places.

APPRENTICE: A jockey who has not ridden a certain number of winners in a specified time period, also known as a bug boy.

APPRENTICE ALLOWANCE: The weight concession given to an apprentice jockey; commonly 10lbs until he or she rides 5 winners, 7lbs until their 35th winner and 5lbs for one calendar year from the 35th winner onwards.


BABY RACE: A race for 2-year-olds, more commonly known as a Juvenile Race.

BACK SIDE: An area often at the back of the track for stable employees featuring dorms, kitchens, stables and the likes.

BACKSTRETCH: The straight part of the track between the turns, on the far side opposite the stands.

BANDAGE: Cloth worn around the lower portion of a horse’s legs for support or injury protection, such as clashing heels in the race or knocking ankles on the gates as the race starts.

BAR SHOE: A horse with a bar to protect an injured foot, such as cracks or bruised feet.

BAY: A horse whose color varies from a yellow tan to a bright auburn.

BEARING IN/OUT: Coming off a straight line/deviated from a straight course during running.

BIT: A metal or rubber bar attached to the bridle which fits into the horse’s mouth used by the jockey for guidance and control.  When this is not needed and the horse is at full stretch, commentators often say they are “off the bit”.

BLACK: A horses color including the muzzle, flanks, tail and legs and described as such unless white markings are in evidence.

BLANKET FINISH: A colloquial term; when horses finish so closely in a finish you could “throw a blanket over them.”

BLEEDER: A horse who tends to bleed due to a ruptured blood vessel during or after a race or a workout.

BLINKERS: Worn on a horse’s head to limit side vision, an aid for concentration.

BLOWOUT: A short final workout a day or two before a race to keep the horse in prime fitness.

BOARD: Totalisator board on which betting pools and other information is displayed.

BOBBLE: A slip or a duck from a horse in the starting gates, often caused by the surface giving way under the feet and causing a bad step away from the gates.

BOLT: A sudden veer from a straight racing line, usually to the outside rail.

BOUNCE: A poor run directly following a career best run, or when running badly second run after a long lay-off.

BOXED-IN: A horse racing on the rail and surrounded by other horses, unable to gain a clear passage through.

BREAK: To train a horse to wear a harness, usually when still a yearling.  A broken horse will accept a saddle, a bit and a rider on its back.

BREAK MAIDEN: A horse winning a race for the first time.

BREAKAGE: Money left over (pennies) after pari-mutuel payoffs have been given to the nearest nickel or dime.  The amount is usually split between the track and the state in most cases.

BREAKDOWN: A horse going lame or suffering an injury.

BREATHER: A jockey easing off on riding a horse vigorously during a race to conserve its energy.

BREEDER: Owner of a dam at the time a horse is foaled.

BREEDING FUND: A fund set up, usually state by state, to provide bonus money to state-bred horses.

BREEZE: Working out a horse at a moderate speed.

BRIDLE: Equipment that fits over a horse’s head usually made of leather or nylon.

BROODMARE: A female thoroughbred used for breeding.

BUG: An apprentice jockey.

BULL RING: A small race track, usually less than one mile round.

BULLET: The best time for the distance on a given day during workouts at a track.

BUTE: Shortened word for phenylbutazone, the common non-steroidal medication legal in most territories.


CALK: A projection on the heels of a horseshoe similar to a cleat.

CARD: Similar meaning to a program or meet, i.e. “there are 14 races on the card” means there are 14 races at the track that day.

CHUTE: An extension of either the homestretch or backstretch, used as a start point for races of a certain distance.

CLAIMING: Buying a horse out of a race for the agreed upon price.

CLAIMING RACE: A race in which horses are entered subject to claim for a specific sum.

CLASSIC: A race of high importance or of great tradition.

CLOCKER: A person who times races and/or workouts.

CLOSER: A horse who tends to come from off the pace, better in the latter parts of a race.

CLUBHOUSE TURN: Generally the turn closest to the clubhouse.

COLT: A male horse, 4 years of age or under.

COMBINATION WAGER: A bet involving two or more horses.

CONDITION BOOK: A book issued by the racing secretary setting the conditions of races to be run.

CONDITIONS RACE: A race with conditions limiting the type of horse taking part, i.e. fillies only, 3-year-olds, maidens, etc.

CONTRACT RIDER: A jockey who has a retainer with a specific stable or trainer.

COUPLED: Two or more horses running as an entry in a single betting unit.

COVER: Meaning to “cover a mare”, when a stallion is sent to mate with a broodmare.

CUPPY: A track surface which breaks away under a horse’s feet.

CUSHION: A layer of a track surface.


DAILY DOUBLE: A wager on two specific races on the card in which bettors have to pick both winners.

DEAD TRACK: A racing surface lacking resilience.

DEAD-HEAT: Two or more horses finishing in an exact tie at the wire, unable to be separated on a photo finish.

DISQUALIFICATION: A change of order in a race made by officials for a perceived rule violation.

DISTAFF: A race specifically for fillies, mares or both.

DISTANCED: Beaten a long way, a horse finished well behind the winner.

DQ: Abbreviation for disqualified.

DRIVING: Strong riding and urging from the jockey.

DROPDOWN: A horse taking a drop in class to race against horses of a lesser ability than before.


EASED: Description of the jockey slowing the horse down, perhaps when well beaten or to prevent injury or harm to the horse.

EASILY: Used in results descriptions, usually meaning a horse winning without being ridden aggressively or overly pressed by its opposition.

EIGHTH: One furlong, 220 yards, 660 feet or 1/8 of a mile.

ELIGIBLE: Qualified for a specific race according to its set conditions.

ENTRY: Two or more horses with the same trainer or ownership, thus running as a single betting unit.

EQUIPMENT: Any gear carried by horse or jockey, such as blinkers, the whip etc.

EQUIVALENT ODDS: Mutuel price horses pay for each $1 bet.

EVENLY: Not gaining or losing position during a race.  Also to break evenly, when no horses have gained a significant advantage or disadvantage as the gates open.

EXACTA: A bet meaning to pick the first and second in a race in the correct order.

EXACTA BOX: Meaning to ‘box’ the Exacta, i.e. your chosen two horses can finish first and second in any order but you pay double to place the bet.

EXERCISE RIDER: A jockey employed not for race riding, but for exercising and working out horses in the morning.

EXOTIC WAGER: A bet that involves two or more horses or various combinations.

EXTENDED: A horse forced to run at full speed.

EXTRA WEIGHT: More weight than conditions of a race require.


FALSE FAVORITE: A horse bet down to favoritism by the public, but who perhaps is not the best in the race.

FALTERED: A horse in contention before dropping back rapidly in the late stages, sometimes due to tiredness or sometimes due to unfortunate injury.

FAST TRACK: When a track is dry and even leading to fast times.

FIELD: The declared horses in a given race.

FIELD HORSE: Two or more starters running as a single betting unit.

FILLY: A female horse of four years of age or under.

FIRM: A dry turf course, equating to ‘fast’ on a dirt track.

FLATTEN OUT: When a horse drops its head, often an indication of exhaustion.

FOAL: Newly born thoroughbred.

FRACTIONAL TIME: A time recorded between two distances or at a certain distance from the start; quarter, half, three-quarters etc.  Used by handicappers as an indication of ability.

FRESH: A horse that has been rested for a significant amount of time.

FRONT RUNNER: A horse who likes to lead the field where possible.

FURLONG: One furlong is an eighth of a mile, 220 yards or 660 feet.


GAIT: The ways in which a horse moves in a walk, a trot, a canter, a gallop and a run.

GALLOP: A fast canter, not quite full speed.

GATE: The starting stalls used to keep all horses in line at the beginning of a race and which open mechanically all at once.

GELDING: An incomplete male horse, one who has been castrated.

GOOD BOTTOM: A track that is firm under a surface which may be sloppy or wet.

GOOD TRACK: Condition between fast and slow, the usual racing surface when it’s not overly affected by particularly hot or wet weather.

GRADUATE:  A horse winning at a certain class then moving up the ranks.


HALF-MILE: Four furlongs, 880 yards, 2640 feet.

HAND: A unit of measurement, equivalent to four inches.  Horses are measured in ‘hands’ from their withers to the ground.

HAND RIDE: A jockey urging a horse with the hands and not by using the whip.

HANDICAP: A race handicapper assigns weights to be carried by all runners on the basis of a rating gained by their past performances.

HANDICAPPER: A race official who assigns weights, also a person who makes selections based on performances and other factors.

HANDILY: Working or racing with moderate effort.

HANDLE: The amount of money wagered in the pari-mutuel on a race, a meeting or a whole year.  The ‘total handle’ at a meet is the sum of all the money wagered in the pari-mutuel across every race.

HEAD: A margin between the horses; one horse ahead of the other by the length of its head.

HEAD OF THE STRETCH: Beginning of the stretch run home to the wire.

HEAVY: Condition of the track, slower even than muddy.

HORSE: A male thoroughbred who is an ‘entire’, i.e. over 5 years old, no longer a colt but still a full horse and not a gelding.

HUNG: A horse now tiring but holding its racing position.


IMPOST: Weight carried or assigned by a horse.

IN FOAL: When a broodmare is pregnant.

IN HAND: Running under moderate control at lower than full pace.

IN THE MONEY: Usually referring to horses running first, second or third.

INQUIRY: When stewards review a race to check on a possible violation of the rules.

IRONS: Stirrups, i.e. “his feet are in the irons.”


JOCKEY FEE: A riding fee, a sum paid to the jockey for taking a ride.

JOG: A slow, easy gait.

JUVENILE: A two-year-old horse


LASIX: A medication for the treatment of bleeding in horses legal in North America, but not in Europe.

LATE DOUBLE: A second Daily Double offered on the later part of the race program.

LEAD PONY: A horse which heads the parade of the field to the starting gate, also a horse that accompanies a starter to post.

LEG UP: Helping a jockey to mount his horse.

LENGTH: From nose to tail, around 8 feet, used as a measuring distance between horses in racing (also ¼ of a length, ½ a length and ¾ of a length).

LOCK: Term used to describe an apparent sure thing.

LONG SHOT: A horse with big odds, perceived to not have a great chance of winning.

LUG IN/OUT: Similar to ‘bearing’, the action of a tiring horse.

LUNGE: A horse rearing or plunging.


MAIDEN: A horse that as yet has not won a race.

MAIDEN RACE: A race exclusively for horses who have not previously won.

MARE: A female horse of 5 years old and over, or any female who has been bred.

MEDICATION LIST: Kept by the track veterinarian and published for bettors to see.

MINUS POOL: A pari-mutuel pool when one horse is so heavily wagered that after deductions there is not enough money left to pay the prescribed minimum on each bet.

MORNING GLORY: A horse who performs well in workouts but fails to reproduce that form on the track.

MORNING LINE: An approximation of expected odds in a race, quoted before actual odds are determined.

MUDDER: A horse who performs well on soft, muddy tracks.

MUDDY TRACK: Describing the deep condition of a racetrack soaked with rain.


NECK: A unit of measurement between two horses in a race.

NOD: Lowering the head.

NOSE: The smallest distance a horse can win by.


OBJECTION: Claim of a rules violation lodged by a jockey, i.e. perceived dangerous riding by an opponent.

ODDS-ON: Odds of less than even-money, i.e. 4-5 ($5 bet returns $9 in total).

OFF TRACK: An off track is a wet racing surface, but also ‘off-track’ as in off track betting means betting away from the race course.

OFFICIAL: A racing official, i.e. administrator, but also a sign displayed when a result is confirmed.

ON THE BOARD: Finishing in the first four.

ON THE NOSE: Betting a horse to win only.

OVERLAY: A horse going off at bigger odds than his recent form would suggest he should be.

OVERNIGHT LINE: Odds quoted the evening before a race.

OVERNIGHT RACE: A race in which entries close a specific time before the race, such as 48 hours, as opposed to big races which often close weeks or months before post time.

OVERWEIGHT: Extra weight carried by a horse when its jockey cannot make the required weight.


PADDOCK: The area where horses are saddled.

PADDOCK JUDGE: The official in charge of the paddock and the saddling routine.

PARI-MUTUEL: A pool style wagering system with its origins in France, wherein all money is divided among those with winning tickets save for taxes and deductions which are reinvested in the sport.

PATROL JUDGES: Officials who observe the progress of races from different viewpoints around the track.

PHOTO FINISH: A result so close that a camera is needed to capture the horses right at the wire and decipher which got there first.

PICK 3: A wager involving the bettor picking the winners of three consecutive races.

PICK 4: As above, but with four consecutive races.

PICK 6: As per the Pick 3, but involving six races.

PLACE: Second position in a race.

PLACE WAGER: A bet in which to collect, your horse must finish in the first two.  Even if it wins, you are paid the same.

PLACING JUDGES: Officials who determine the final finishing positions and make the result official.

POCKET: Also referred to as boxed in.  A horse running in a position with horses around it and not giving it any racing room.

POLE: Markers measuring distances around the track from the finish.  The eighth pole for example is one eighth of a mile from the finish, not from the start.

POOL: The total sum wagered in the pari-mutuel.

POST: Starting point for a race.

POST PARADE: Horses moving from the paddock to the starting gates past the stands.

POST TIME: The published time a race is due to begin.

PREP: Or prep race, an event used to prepare a horse for a bigger future engagement.

PURSE: The total prize money on offer in a race.


QUARTER: One quarter of a mile, 2 furlongs, 440 yards, 1320 feet.

QUARTER POLE: The marker placed a quarter-mile from the finish.

QUINELLA: A wager involving the first two finishers in either order.


RABBIT: Also known as a pacemaker; a horse with no real chance of winning but which is place in the race to go fast and ensure a solid pace, usually for the benefit of a fast-finishing stable mate.

RAIL RUNNER: A horse who prefers to run next to the inside rail.

RESERVED: A horse held off the pace.

RIDDEN OUT: A horse who was ridden reasonably vigorously right to the line, but not being whipped.

RIDGLING: Otherwise known as a Rig, a male horse with an undescended testicle.

ROMP: Winning a race with extreme ease.

ROUTE: A race distance of a mile or longer, for horses with stamina as well as speed.

ROUTER: A horse that prefers races of a mile or longer.


SADDLE CLOTH: A cloth under the saddle on which a horse’s racing number is displayed.

SCALE OF WEIGHTS: Fixed weights horses must carry according to age, sex and time of year.

SCRATCH: A horse taken out of a race is ‘scratched’.

SECOND CALL: A second engagement for a jockey already due to ride in a race.

SET DOWN: A suspension of a jockey.

SEX ALLOWANCE: Fillies and mares are allowed to carry less weight that their male peers with the amount dependent on time of year, age and distance.

SHOW: Third position in a race.

SHOW WAGER: Betting on a horse to finish in the first three.

SILKS: The jacket and cap worn by the jockey and featuring the colors of the owner.

SLOPPY: A condition of a race track, wet on the surface due to rainfall with a firm bottom.

SLOW: A track condition between good and heavy.

SOLID HORSE: A recognized contender in a race.

SOPHOMORE: A 3-year-old horse, so named because this is their second racing year, known in Europe as the classic generation.

STAKE: The amount wagered on a bet.

STAKES: Monies paid by owners to enter their horses in recognized quality races.  Stakes Races are known as better class.

STAKES HORSE: A horse deemed good enough to compete in the above events.

STAKES PLACED: Finishing first, second or third in a stakes race, often important for breeding reasons.

STALLION: An entire male horse.

STARTER RACE: An allowance or handicap race restricted to horses who have started for a specific claiming price or less.

STARTING GATE: A mechanical device, split into stalls (or gates) in which each of the starters in a race stand until the gates open and let them leave.

STATE-BRED: A horse bred in a particular state and thus eligible to race in restricted state-bred races.

STEADIED: A horse being taken in hand by their jockey.

STEPS UP: A horse moving up in class.

STEWARDS: Officials placed at every meet whose job it is to enforce the rules.

STRAIGHT WAGER: Any bet only involving one horse.

STRETCH: The final straight portion of the track, after the final turn and up to the wire.

STRETCH CALL: The position of the runners at the eighth pole, about halfway down the stretch.

STRETCH RUNNER: A horse who is known for finishing fast.

STRETCH TURN: The bend of a track leading to the stretch.

STUD: A male horse used for breeding.

STUD BOOK: Registry of the breeding of thoroughbreds.

SUBSCRIPTION: The fee paid by the owner to nominate a horse for a stakes race.

SUPERFECTA: A wager involving picking the first, second, third, and fourth horses in a race in the exact order.

SUSPENSION: A punishment, usually of a jockey, for a rules infraction.


TACK: A jockey’s racing equipment.

TAKE: A commission deducted from pari-mutuel pools.

TAKEN UP: A horse pulled up sharply by the jockey, usually when he feels something has gone wrong.

TOPWEIGHT: The horse with the highest assigned weight in a race.

TOTALISATOR: An on-track machine selling and recording wagering tickets and showing odds.

TOUT: A person giving tips on racehorses.

TRACK BIAS: A racing surface that favors a certain running style or gate position.

TRACK RECORD: The fastest times ever recorded over the various distances raced on a given track.

TRIAL: A workout or breeze.

TRIFECTA: A wagering involving bettors picking the first, second and third horses in the exact order.

TRIFECTA BOX: Boxing the Trifacta means a bettor’s nominated three horses can finish first, second or third in any order to win.

TRIP: A horse’s race from beginning to end, i.e. “he had a good trip.”

TRIPLE CROWN: In the US; Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.  In England, the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger for males and the 1000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger for females.

TURF COURSE: A racing track made of grass rather than dirt or synthetic fibres.


UNDER WRAPS: A horse under restraint from the rider in a race or a workout.

UNDERLAY: A horse going off at lesser odds that it apparently warrants based on performance.

UNTRIED:  A horse not yet raced, or not raced in certain circumstances.


WALKOVER: Very rare; a race with all but one horses scratched leaving that one entrant to gallop the required distance and take the whole purse.

WARMING UP: Galloping a horse.

WASHY: A horse sweating up, usually because of nerves as much as heat.

WEANLING: A horse of less than 1-year-old now separated from its dam.

WEIGHT-FOR-AGE: A fixed scale of weights to be carried by horses according to age and sex and determined by the time of year and the distance of the race.

WINDED: Breathing with difficulty after a race or a workout.

WORK: Exercising a horse.


YEARLING: A thoroughbred between the first New Year’s Day after being foaled and the following January 1.

YIELDING: A turf course condition usually meaning rain-affected, correlating roughly to slow on a dirt track.

Applying Your Horse Racing Knowledge

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