Guide to Racing – Jargon. If you’re a Rookie, going to the races can sometimes feel like you’ve been transplanted into a foreign country – and you don’t undertand the language!
Here’s a list of lingo the racing set use to chat to each other. Sprinkle these words into your conversation with other racegoers and no one will ever know you are a Rookie!
Practise them in front of the mirror at home, then engage one of the regulars in conversation and blow your friends away. And the good thing is that the regulars, even if you use the words in completely the wrong context, are very unlikely to take the Mickey!
However, the list of jargon is enormous so those below are just a selection to get you started. If you really want to impress the natives you may need to do some more homework…
For a true Bluffer’s Spiel begin your day by listening to other people’s comments. E.g. “Three-Legged Pony looks well today”. Then relay that comment in your next conversation and listen for the answer, e.g. “Yes, and the soft going is ideal for him.” Introduce this next comment to someone else and again listen for the answer, e.g. “Going by his win at Haydock last month the distance should suit too.” By the start of the race you will have a whole spiel to spin to your neighbour – and then you can start collecting remarks for the next one!
Backward – describes a horse that needs time to mature. It’s a favourite with trainers when they are trying to explain to the horse’s owner why it came last in its race.
Bay – a horse with a brown body, black mane and black tail, which is most of them in fact.
Blinkers – eye-pieces attached to the bridle to stop a horse seeing sideways or backwards as an aid to concentration in a race (don’t worry, the horse can still see forwards).
Broken down – a horse with an injury.
Brown – an almost-black horse with a brown muzzle (nose).
Chestnut – a horse with an orange-coloured body, mane and tail. Which is nearly all the rest of the ones that aren’t Bay or Brown.
Colt – a male, ungelded horse less than four-years-old. Still has all of his, erm…attitude.
Dam – a horse’s mother.
Filly – a female horse that is less than four-years-old.
Foal – this is how you refer to a horse from the time of its birth until the following 1 January (which is usually very nearly a year). Most Flat breeders try to get the foals to be born as close to 1 January as possible to give them the best chance to be mature when they start racing; talk about Planned Parenthood. Horses bred for Jump racing start later, so are often born later in the year.
Gelding – a castrated male horse. No more testicles. Poor thing.
Green – an inexperienced horse is ‘green’ or ‘running green’. Again, this is a favourite with trainers when explaining why a particular horse didn’t win to its slightly naffed-off owner.
Hand – a horse’s height is measured in hands to the shoulder. One hand equals four inches, and horses have to be over 14 hands 2 inches to qualify as a horse, otherwise they are ponies. Most racehorses are considerably taller than 14.2hh!
Juvenile – In Flat Racing a Juvenile will be a two-year-old horse. In Jump Racing it will be a three- to four-year-old horse.
Maiden – this is either a horse that has not won a race or a female horse that has never had a foal.
Mare – a female horse aged over five years (when they stop being fillies, they become mares).
Novice – an inexperienced horse – generally younger horses in their first season either over hurdles or fences. Or a horse that has never won a race.
Plate – a kind of lightweight horseshoe that is worn specifically for racing.
Schooling – teaching a horse to race or Jump. A ‘well-schooled’ horse is less likely to show signs of being ‘green’. This is what owners tend to demand more of from their trainers when their horse has just lost.
Scope – refers to the physical measure of athleticism in a horse – a horse can be ‘Scopey’ meaning that it is built right for its job. A horse can even be ‘Scopey and Backward’ at the same time, meaning that it has a good build, but has not yet reached full physical maturity.
Sire – a horse’s father.
Stallion – this is a male horse, aged five years and over (when they stop being colts), still having all its bits.
Spread a plate – when a horse loses a shoe.
Stayers – horses with stamina that can run the longer-distance races.
Yearling – this is a horse of either sex from 1 January to 31 December of the year following its birth (so say they are born 1 Jan 2009, they will be referred to as ‘Foals’ until 31 Dec 2009, then as ‘Yearlings’ until the following December. After which the horse will be referred to as a Filly or a Colt, depending on its sex. And the male horse will be a Colt or a Gelding depending upon the equipment it still has).
All-weather racing – Flat racing on an artificial surface. This racing will go on all year round and is (as the name suggests) not weather-dependent.
Allowance – a weight concession a horse is given to compensate for a rider’s inexperience. The horse gets to carry less weight if its jockey is inexperienced.
Badge – when you present your ticket you are given a badge (usually a cardboard disc on a piece of string) that you need to attach to your clothing. This shows officials which enclosure you are eligible to enter as you move around inside the course.
Blown up – A horse that runs out of steam during a race.
Bumper – A Flat race for young NH (National Hunt) horses designed to get them used to racing before their Jumping careers begin. In the race card it’s described as a ‘NH Flat Race’.
Card/Race card – the programme for the day.
Chase – a race where the horses Jump fences that are a minimum of 4½ feet high. Also known as a steeplechase.
Claimer – the horses that are running in a Claimer are for sale immediately afterwards.
Classics – a series of five Flat races that are for three-year-old colts and fillies only. The five races are: The 2,000 Guineas (colts), The 1,000 Guineas (fillies) – both run at Newmarket in May; The Oaks (fillies), The Derby (colts and fillies) – both run at Epsom Downs in June; and The St. Leger (colts and fillies) run at Doncaster in September. If a horse wins The Guineas, The Derby and The St. Leger, it also wins the Triple Crown – this has not been achieved by any horse since Nijinsky in 1970.
Colours – the racing silks (jackets and caps) worn by the jockeys.
Course and distance winner – a horse that has won before on a course in a race over the same distance as an upcoming race.
Course specialist – a horse that runs well at a particular racecourse.
Cut in the ground – soft going (AKA ‘a bit muddy’).
Declare – when a trainer confirms a horse is running in a race. Typically, the trainer will only ‘declare’ the day before a race happens. Many more horses are entered into races than actually run, even entered in more than one race at once, in different places.
Horse trainers may choose not to run a particular horse because it is not fit, or because it is more likely to win another race elsewhere – possibly because the horse that was expected to win that race was pulled out.
Distance – the race distance. Five furlongs (see below) is the shortest and the 4.5 mile Grand National the longest.
– The margin between one horse and the one in front or behind. The distance can range from ‘a short head’ to ‘by a distance’, which is more than 30 lengths (again, see below).
Draw – the starting stall for a Flat race; the positions in the ‘draw’ are drawn randomly.
Field – all the runners in a race.
Furlong – 220 yards or an eighth of a mile.
Galloping track – a wide-open track suiting bigger horses, like Newbury or Ascot.
Get the trip – a horse that can run the race distance.
Going – track conditions from heavy (muddy) – soft (a bit muddy) – good to soft (a bit springy) – good (‘ideal’ conditions) – good to firm (a bit dryer or colder) – firm (dry or cold) – hard (a bit slippery, as the horses can’t dig in as they go round the corners). Measured using an official Going Stick – prodded into the ground to see how far it sticks in.
Hacked up – an easy winner.
Handicap – a race in which the weight each horse carries is set against past performance to level out racing abilities (better horses carry more weight).
Hands and heels – riding a horse without using a whip.
Handy – a horse taking up a good tactical position in a race.
Hurdle – the smaller of the obstacles in Jump racing, generally about 3’6” high.
Length – measuring a horse from its nose to the start of its tail. Also the winning margin.
National Hunt rules – the rules that govern Jump racing.
Objection – complaint between jockeys about breaching rules during a race; mostly the jockeys are very professional, but there are a few that don’t play by the rules all the time.
Off the bit or Off the bridle – a horse that has lost contact with the bit in its mouth. That means it’s not pulling to go faster which is generally not a great sign when racing. The bridle is the leather strapping on the horse’s head and the bit is the metal part placed in the horse’s mouth.
On the bit or On the bridle – this refers to a horse running within its capabilities, still having a grip on the bit and hopefully therefore having the energy to keep up the pace and/or go faster.
Open ditch – steeplechase fence with a ditch on the take-off side; the horse has to clear the ditch, then the Jump, which calls for a lot more power.
Over the top – a horse past its peak for this season.
Pace – the speed at which a race is run. ‘Up with the pace’ is keeping with the leaders, and ‘off the pace’ means that a horse is lagging behind.
Paddock/Parade Ring – the viewing area prior to a race.
Pattern – the top quality Flat and National Hunt races.
Pecked/Nodded – when a horse’s nose nearly hits the ground after Jumping a fence.
Penalty – extra weight added to a horse’s handicap weight if it wins after the handicap is published (works the same way as a golf handicap: the better you are, the less help you get).
Photo finish – a close race decided by images from a camera on the finishing line.
Ping – a ‘pinging’ horse is one Jumping stylishly.
Refused – a horse stops instead of Jumping a fence; if a horse refuses, a Jockey can be thrown off.
Run free – a horse going too fast early in the race.
Seller – A race where the winning horse will be sold at auction afterwards.
Starting stalls – gates at the start that open at the same time in a Flat race, so no horse has any advantage over another.
Steeplechase – this is a race over 2–4½ miles where horses are required to Jump fences. The name comes from the course, which was traditionally run between two churches (steeples) covering farmland, ditches and rivers along the way.
Stewards’ enquiry – an investigation into a race held by the course officials. The Stewards are very on-the-ball and will hold an enquiry if they think that interference has taken place during a race. If it has the placing in the race will often be changed (the horse who came first will be relegated to second and vice versa). Alternatively, if they suspect that there is anything dodgy going on, there will be a Steward’s enquiry.
Stiff track – a track that requires horses to have stamina, like a long home straight or an uphill finish, such as Cheltenham.
Tight track – This is a narrow track with tight turns that suits smaller horses; Kelso is a good example of a tight track.
Weigh in/weigh out – weighing a jockey before (out) and after (in) a race to ensure that the correct weight has been carried.
Weighed in – the signal the race result is confirmed and all bets can be settled.
Weight cloth – cloth with pockets to carry lead weights under the saddle.
Weights – lead strips placed in a weight cloth to increase the weight the horse carries in a handicap, or Point-to-Point where the weight to be carried is higher.
(Types of bet, odds terms etc)
Ante-post – this refers to a bet placed days, weeks or even months before a raceday.
Jolly – a race favourite.
Monkey – betting slang for £500.
Pony – betting slang for £25.
Springer or steamer – a horse whose odds shorten quickly in the betting.
SP or starting price – the price at which bets are settled by the bookies.
Tic-tac – relaying odds on the racecourse with hand signals.