A Dictionary Of Horse Racing Terms


When there is a photo finish and the judge still cannot determine the winner – this is said to be a “dead heat”. Frequently before the days of photo finish, there would be mayhem when a dead heat was declared by a judge but everyone else could see there was an outright winner.

Often it would be the angle of the finishing line that gave an impression of an outright winner, meaning the mayhem was not justified. However oftentimes it would be the judge who had got it wrong and the chaos was entirely justified.

Punters, trainers, owners would all be outraged by the judge’s poor decision and eyesight (or lack of it); obviously where there is a dead heat the prize money about a horse is substantially reduced.

The first record of a decision being determined by a “dead heat” was at Doncaster in October, 1947, between the horses Phantom Bridge and Resistance. More dead heats occur in Sprint Handicaps than in any other race, this is as one would expect, i.e. short unpredictable races with weights set to reduce advantage. These races often have “blanket finishes”


• This is generally recognized as being a point 240yds from the winning post. Not officially marked on the racecourse, but always referred to in form summaries and the formbook i.e. went well clear after leading at the distance. Courses are all marked with furlong markers indicating how far one is from the finishing post, so it can be seen that the distance is 20yds before the final furlong marker is reached.

• Sometimes horses may be judged to have won by a distance (more often at jumps meetings rather than flat). Although this is supposed to be 240 yards it usually means that the distance is so large that the judge cannot be bothered to estimate it.

• The actual distance of a race. The shortest distance for a race is 5 furlongs. The longest flat races are around 2 miles in practice. The longest event of the racing calendar is the Queen Alexander stakes at Royal Ascot over 2.75 miles. National Hunt races are much longer with no chase or hurdle being less than 2 miles, with the longest jumps race being the Grand National at 4 miles 856 yards.

• Winning distance. This can be defined as a “short head”, the finest of margins on a photo finish, then a “full” head, then a neck , then half a length etc etc.


This is a hurdle whose primary purpose is to signal direction during a national hunt race, for example when a section of the course is waterlogged, that part of the course would be said to be “dolled off”.


Before a flat race there is a “draw” to decide which place in the stalls each horse will occupy. The draw is made the day before the race at the overnight declarations office by lots. National hunt races don’t draw for places.

The extreme left position is number one, with the number being indicated over the stall front, horse two takes stall two etc. Punters should consider stall position as part of their form study, as certain stalls are known to have advantage or disadvantage at certain courses, at certain times of year, especially in big fields.

Punters had to lobby hard to get access to the draw information which is now widely available in newspapers and the numbers board and on Betfair. The information has proved very valuable to trainers and jockeys in determining race strategy.

Making the draw overnight allows various aspects of the race to be considered, and has made considerable difference in flat racing, particularly to off course punters.


When a horses price moves out considerably in the market i.e. starts at 3/1 and moves out to 8/1 it is called a “drifter”. The bookies may have expected it to be backed; possibly they heard rumours from trainers or stablehands. However the money never came and the short price gradually “drifts” out to longer odds.

Usually this is bad sign for the punter, although recent evidence has suggested that this may not always be the case, with some smaller stables often coming good on their original “rumour”.

On the other side of the coin are “springers” or the more recent term “steamers”. These may for example start out at 7’s or 8’s, and when the money starts to roll may return 6/4 favourite.

There is a huge market that has developed on Betfair and the other exchanges, trading on steamers. The theory being that these horses can be backed early on at a long price and laid to lose later on as the price steams, locking in a guaranteed profit. Trading is explored meticulously on my website.

It is a hopeful sign for the punter as prices move in and the momentum can produce some dramatic shifts which make FSTE movements look like gentle gradients.

The best steamers are in two year old races, especially ones who haven’t been raced before.

The worst steamers are in poor or small fields, where there is a weak betting market and small amounts of money can be presented by heavyweight traders attempting to cause dramatic price fluctuations to their own advantage.

Even with the advent of exchange trading, it will normally be the case that in a strong market, when the price about a horse steams in, that the horse has a good chance of winning, but this is by no means guaranteed.

However, you can be sure that it is generally fancied by its owners and trainers and other experts, and the money is actually coming in.


A horse is said to have “dwelt at the start” when it falters in the stalls. It becomes less important to the final outcome of a race if the race is a long one.