Understanding the Jargon

Horseracing jargon can be both forbidding and exclusive. It need not be, however. It doesn’t take an Enigma machine to crack the code and master the language. Just a little homework should do it, allowing you to start feeling more at home at the racetrack while enjoying the sport’s intricate nuances. Here are a few racing terms to help get you out of the stalls and started on the right track.




A multiple bet, made across more than one race. A single stake is put on the opening race then, if successful, the stake and winnings pass to a pre-determined second race. If any selection loses, though, the whole bet is lost. Accumulators are also known as doubles, trebles, four-folds, five-folds etc.


All thoroughbreds count January 1 as their official birth date.


Horses are granted reductions in the weight they carry under certain circumstances, e.g. when they are being ridden by an apprentice jockey, a female horse is racing against males or a two-year-old or three-year-old is racing against older horses.


A non-professional rider. Identified on the racecard by such titles as Mr, Mrs, Ms, Captain etc.

Ante Post

Bets placed in advance. In return for the chance of better odds, punters accept they may lose their stake if their horse is pulled out of a race through, say, injury.



A physically immature horse. With all northern hemisphere-born thoroughbreds taking January 1 as their birthday, a horse born in April will be backward compared to one born in early February.


A betting term. Denotes that all runners not listed in the betting market are at the bar price or at longer odds.


A horse with a brown body and black mane and tail.

Black Type

Bold type is used in a horse's pedigree to highlight Group and Listed winners.  Lots of black type therefore means a family with good winning credentials in high-class races.

Breeze Up

Breezing is a gentle canter and the pace most exercise is done.  Knowledgeable observers can judge a horse's action and athleticism at this pace.



An apprentice Flat race jockey (who claims a weight allowance due to his inexperience). 


There are five British Classics – the QIPCO 1000 Guineas, QIPCO 2000 Guineas, Investec Derby, Investec Oaks and Ladbrokes St Leger. They are exclusively for three-year-olds.


The shirt or ‘silks’ worn by a jockey, identifying their horse’s owner.


A male horse aged four or younger.


Such factors such as the number of runners in a race or the ground conditions. Different conditions suit the physique and running style of different horses.


Anyone connected with a horse, from the spouse of a syndicate owner to the horse's lad.

Course and distance winner

When a horse has won before on a particular racecourse or over a particular distance.

Cut in the ground

A description of the ground conditions, when there is ‘give’ in the surface. Also called ‘soft going’. Racetracks vary from heavy to soft, good to soft, good, good to firm and firm.



A horse's place in the starting stalls. Stall numbers, which can have a big effect on race results, are drawn at random.



A horse that has not been gelded (castrated).


A wager where you pick the first two finishers in a race and in the right order.



A female horse four years old or younger.


A horse's record in previous races, each result denoted by a figure next to its name on a racecard.

Front running

A style of racing, where a horse tries to lead from start to finish. Contrast with ‘pressing’, which involves closely following the leader, and ‘held up’, where a jockey tries to conserve the energy of his horse before making a late bid for victory.


One eighth of a mile – that’s 220 yards or 200 metres.



A horse which has been castrated. A stallion’s temperament is usually not suited to an extended racing career

Get the trip

When a horse copes with a particular distance, as opposed to “failing to get home” due to lack of stamina.

Group race

See ‘Pattern Race’ below.



A span of four inches, from the thumb across to the little finger. A horse's height is traditionally measured in hands and inches from the top of the shoulder (withers) to the ground. Thoroughbreds typically range from 15 to 17 hands.


A handicap race, where horses are allotted weight to carry by the official handicapper according to past performances (the better the horse’s form, the more weight he must carry), theoretically giving all runners an equal chance of victory.  See also “Rating” below.

Hands & heels

Riding a horse without using a whip. Win like this and you did so comfortably.


When a horse does not run in a straight line it is said to hang to the left or right.


A winning margin between horses – the length of the winner’s head.



A two-year-old horse on the Flat (or a three-year-old horse over the jumps).



The length of a horse from its nose to the start of its tail (about 8 feet), this is a term used to describe margins between horses (although winning distances are given out in lengths, they’re actually measured by time. Over the Flat, 1 second equals 5 lengths).

Listed Race

A race just below a Group/Pattern race in terms of quality.


Maiden Race

A race for horses which have not previously won.


A female horse five years and over.


Betting slang for £500.



The strongest selection of the day or meeting, made by racing correspondents and tipsters (reputed to stand for 'Napoleon').


Unit of measurement, about the length of a horse's neck, to describe a margin of victory.


To win by a nod, a horse extends its head to touch the finish line ahead of its competitors.


Smallest winning advantage.


A horse in the early stages of its career. Can also refer to a rider.


On The Nose

A bet on a horse to win rather than be placed.

On/Off the bridle

A tired horse reduces its effort and is said to be `behind or off the bridle". A horse that is full of running and still communicating with the jockey via the bit and reins is `on the bridle'.


Paddock/Parade Ring

The area where horses can be viewed prior to a race.

Pattern race

Elite races, divided in Flat Racing into Group 1 – the best races – Group 2 and Group 3.


Slang for a £25 bet.


A horse that is unsettled in the early part of a race and is wasting  energy fighting the jockey by pulling against the bridle.



The programme of the day's racing, containing information on all the runners and their form.

Racing Plate

A very light horseshoe, made of aluminium.


When a horse wins a race or has raced three times, it is given a rating by the Official Handicapper. Everything relating to handicapping is done on a weight basis. The rating range is 0-140 where each point is equivalent to 1lb. So horse A, rated 131, is better than horse B, rated 125. For them to finish in a dead heat, horse A would in theory have to carry 6lbs more.

Restricted Races

Races for which only certain horses are eligible.



A £20 bet.

Selling Race

A race after which the winner is sold immediately by auction.

Short Head

Another winning distance, a bit bigger than a nose and a bit less than a head.

Shortening odds

When the odds of a horse decrease before a race, usually because a lot of money has been wagered on that horse by punters expecting it to win.


Father of a horse.

SP or starting price

The official price of a horse at which bets are settled in betting shops.

Stakes race

Races where owners usually pay a fee to run a horse.


A male horse used for breeding.


A horse with stamina and which contests long-distance races.


Effectively ‘race referees’ who make sure that no rules are broken.

Stewards' Enquiry

An enquiry by the stewards into a race. If a jockey makes a complaint, it becomes an objection.

Stiff track

One requiring a lot of stamina with, say, a long home straight or an uphill finish.

Sweating Up

A horse that becomes so nervous that it sweats heavily before a race. Also known as "lathered up".

Switch Leads

When a horse shifts his weight to one side or the other. Horses change their leads in a race, starting, say on the right lead then switching to the left around the turn then changing back in the finishing straight. Horses are trained to change their leads but jockeys sometimes tap them on the shoulder to make them change leads at the right point in a race.


A group of people who share the ownership of a racehorse.



The colloquial term for Tattersalls, the main auctioneers for racehorses in the UK. They are based in Newmarket.


A Thoroughbred is a horse breed best known for its use in horse racing and best known for agility, speed and spirit. It was developed in 17th and 18th century England, when native mares were crossbred with imported Arab stallions. Later, thoroughbreds were exported around the world. Millions exist today.


Sign language used by bookmakers at races to indicate movements in the price of a horse. Rarely used now that modern technology has taken over.

Tight track

A narrow track with tight turns suiting smaller horses.



Runs horseracing’s central register, detailing everything from owners colours to pedigrees and horse names.  Race entries are also made through Weatherbys.

Weigh in/out

Weighing the jockey before and after the race to ensure his horse carried the right weight. The ‘weighed in’ announcement means the result is official so that all bets can be settled. 

Weight cloth

A cloth with pockets for lead weights, placed under the saddle.  In every race, a horse is allocated a specific weight to carry which comprises the jockey, his saddle and additional pieces of lead as required to bring it up to the correct weight.



A horse that has passed its first birthday.

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