Dictionary Of Horse Racing Terms


Horses all have the same birthday no matter the exact date of the foaling.

This is set in order to allow the configuration of races according to age groups. The date is set as 1 January each year in the northern hemisphere.

Until 1834, the fixed date was 1 May, in line with the end of the foaling season.

The next year the official date was shifted for New market horses, to the present one, which occurs before the foaling season has properly started.

The majority of races on the flat are for two year olds only, or for three year olds only, with a fair proportion also confined to three year olds and four year olds only, or three year olds and upwards.

A horse of either sex before its first birthday is known as a foal; between that date and its next birthday it is called a yearling.

All Weather:

Not exactly All Weather in that horses still cannot race in fog. The surfaces are synthetic and the courses are currently at Lingfield, Southwell and Wolverhampton. They do provide protection against the frost.

Introduced in 1990 it was mainly aimed at offsetting the losses made by the Levy, which were being caused by the canceling of race meeting through the winter periods.

There was a problem early on with the number of horses killed during hurdles races, but since then it has become well established and has its own set of followers and advocates.

The performances are generally not as good as on turf, but some horses really appear to do well on it.

The surface at Lingfield is made up of hard graded sand which is then covered by a polymer and this produces a sort of cushioning effect. It is known as Equitrack and allows water to run off of it, as oppose to more traditional All Weather surfaces which allow rainwater to run through them.

Ante post betting:

This is a type of betting which occurs days, weeks or months before a big race, as oppose to the traditional sort of betting which takes place only in the few hours before a race.

There have been various suggestions for the origins of the term, but when one looks at early pictures and studies the history of races, one can see that bets were usually struck on New market Heath around what can only be described as “Betting Posts”.

So, to transpose one could say that betting “ante-post” was to make a bet similarly as one would today but before the normal betting which occurs in the few hours before a race.

The sort of races that generate a lot of betting pre race are the big races, the classics, for example the spring and autumn doubles, or the real classics like the Grand National and the Ascot week, big festivals at Goodwood, York, Cheltenham.

Bookmakers put up their prices long before these events and they attract plenty of trade.

With some races such as the Derby or the Guineas, wagers are made up to a year before the race itself. A large attraction is that the odds available can be much longer than what is offered on the day.

It seems however that even though ante-post betting is beneficial to punters, bookmakers still find it a profitable form of betting to employ, despite the losses, otherwise they would not do it.

A new form of ante post betting is where bookmakers offer “early prices” on the day of a big race. Like the more traditional ante post betting the attraction appears to be that a lot of these “early prices” are longer than what are available immediately before the race.

This has given rise to a new form of betting known as arbitrage, whereby, utilizing the lay facilities of Betfair, early back prices can be taken with online bookmakers offering longer odds, and then laid off on the betting exchanges as the price contracts in the immediate pre race offering a risk free bet which can then be greened up.

This strategy tends to work only with strong favorites but can be quite profitable.
It’s a little slow for me.

Apprentice allowance:

Jockeys who have ridden fewer winners are allowed a weight allowance to compensate for their lack of experience. This weight is then removed from the total weight a horse is set to carry in a handicap, except in races which are allocated for apprentices only.

In big handicaps trainers are always on the lookout for talented apprentice jockeys, because they can give a horse a huge advantage. Their inexperience is more than offset by their weight allowance.

They do not do particularly well against senior jockeys on courses that are tricky to negotiate and require a certain level of experience and skill. Race meets at Epsom or Ascot and Goodwood never appear to be great hunting grounds for apprentices.

At the post:

When a horse arrives at the point from which the race is set to be started then the horse is said to be “At the Post”

Auction race:

These races are reserved for two year olds only where they have never yet won a race. They are bought as one year olds from a set of specific public auctions.

Used in the formbook, this phrase is used to indicate when a horse renews its effort after dropping back in a race.

Introduced officially 30th June, 1960 at Newmarket.

Originally, cameras just photographed the latter stages of a race from varying different angles, often head on. Later the coverage was extended to provide a complete visual record of a race using a mobile camera.

The objective is to obtain evidence for use when an objection is filed, or when there’s a Steward’s inquiry. There is now extensive usage of closed circuit television on race courses, and the video replay is used to back up the evidence from the camera patrol.

The combination of the two has been instrumental in recent years in reducing underhand practices at race meets, that had been occurring for many years.

Short for race card, the official runners and riders program which is on sale at race courses.

The “Card” also appears in newspaper headings, for example “The Chepstow Card” or the “Card for Uttoxeter”.

Phrases may read for example “The best bet on the card” or “going through the card”, which refers to selection or association with all the winners on the card.

For anyone who doesn’t understand John McCririck’s presentation of betting on C4, specifically the slow motion tic tac, and odd betting terms he uses, the phrase “carpet”, a favourite of his, is derived from convict slang for a three month prison term.

In other words “carpet” is three to one in the betting. John O Neill (RIP) had a huge repertoire of betting terminology and his return of the starting prices in the press room at the Northern race courses is badly missed.

Sometimes when a horse lays down in their traveling horse box or stable loose box, they can have problems getting up again off the straw. They are said to be “cast in the box”. This is obviously not very beneficial on race day.

Until a rider is successful i.e. has ridden a few winners, they don’t justify having their name painted onto the jockeys and riders boards, which fit into the numbers board at the racecourse.

Therefore their names are chalked or whitewashed onto a blank board and they are referred to as a “Chalk Jockey”

The number of winners ridden, or the biggest amount of prize money won in a season determines Trainer and Jockeys championships.

There is no real recognition of championships, in fact these titles are purely a remnant of tradition, although it is still possible to wager on the outcome of these championships.

Otherwise known as steeplechase. The derivation is from an event in Ireland, 1752, when Mr. O Callahan accepted the challenge from Mr. Edmund Blake to race four and a half miles from Buttevant Church to St. Ledger across country, with the steeple of the latter representing the winning post.

This was the origin of National Hunt Racing, which is now the basis for modern steeplechasing, except obviously without the steeples.

Todays chases are races over fences between two and four miles, usually around three. The fences are made from birch, and are open ditches, water jumps or plain fences.

The water jumps are often considered rather dangerous nowadays, but provide great spectacle. However their days may be numbered due to frequent deaths.

Horses are not supposed to be raced over fences until July of the year in which they are four years old, by law. Usually such horses do not appear in public till they are five or six, usually after having had a career in hurdles.

These races allow the horses to be “claimed” post race, for an advertised sum of money. Often known as “a claimer”.

If a horse’s owner requires it to race with less than the maximum weight then the claiming price is reduced accordingly. The racing rules determine that the median price at which a horse can be claimed out of a claimer is the amount published next to the horses name on the race card.

The weight carried by a horse during a race is dependent on the minimum amount for which in may be claimed, so therefore it is the trainer who in effect handicaps his own horse.

Post race, all claims have to be made in writing. All claims have to be equal or higher to the race “claiming” amount.

Friendly claims may be proposed by a runner’s connections in a race. This is usually an effort to keep a charge by making a bid which is in effect higher than the competing claims. Claims must all be sealed and placed into the claims box on the clerk of the scales table, no later than ten minutes after the ok signal has been given by the Stewards.

Claims cannot be altered or withdrawn with the horse going to the individual who submits the highest claim above the minimum price. In the event of a tie, lots are drawn.

The owner takes 15% of any surplus over the published minimum claiming price plus 90% of that minimum. The racecourse receives the remaining 85% of the surplus and 10% to a published minimum.

Connections who submit a “friendly” claim have to pay 85% of the surplus and 10% of the minimum to keep the horse if their bid is successful.


Flat race classifications are from Class A through to Class G. This determines the methodology for framing conditions races.


Reference to a horse race that has been around for a very long time. These races of longstanding tend to attract the best horses and have become regarded as the highest quality of racing. The classics are open only to 3 yo’s and above and there are 5 of them in England.

The Classics are currently:

New market, spring, 2000 guineas colts and fillies, first run in 1809
New market, spring, 1000 guineas, fillies only, first run 1814
Epsom 1.5 miles, summer, derby colts and fillies, 1780
Epsom 1.5 miles, summer, oaks, Fillies only, first run 1779
Doncaster 1 ¾ miles, autumn, st ledger, Colts and Fillies, first run 1776

Fillies rarely contest the 2000 guineas or the oaks nowadays with trainers tending to run them only in the classic equivalents for Fillies only: the oaks (fillies) and the 1000 guineas.

Originally nobody set out to establish a set of classic races, they merely evolved, and became universally acknowledged as a pattern sometime around the middle of 19th Century.

Classic winners have had a major impact on the overall development of the thoroughbred. They have achieved high prestige and have proved that they are best of their breed and age.

The classics tend to provide excellent betting opportunities, as the form advertised tends to work out quite accurately; horses which are well backed tend to do very well, and given the strong ante post markets there are opportunities for overly long prices.


When a horse wins more easily than the winning distance suggests it is said to have won “cleverly”. Alternatively he or she may be said to have won with “Something in hand”.

Often flat jockeys will do just enough in order that their charge wins. This means that the full distance by which a horse would have won is never actually known to the public or the handicapper, who then has no real way of judging a horse’s true capability.

Professional punters and Betfair professionals can benefit from making notes regarding this sort of evidence. It will be noted in the form book and in the detailed comments in Raceform and Chaseform. Other analysis worth noting will be in the Racing Post and Superform or Timeform.

Other comments worthy of note may include “not extended” or “won with his head in his chest”


Thoroughbred males between the age of two and five.


Any race that is not a handicap.

The weight each runner is assigned to carry is determined by the conditions of a race. These “conditions” may be based on value, age, sex and status of previous winning races, and various other factors. Weight allowance being made, for example, for never having won a race in the past.

The weight for age races are the most important categories. An older horse has to concede less and less weight to a younger horse as the flat and national hunt season progresses.

Application of the weight for age scale determines the precise weights, but overall there are various other kinds of conditions races.


National Hunt riders with little experience, who are under the age of 26, are called conditional jockeys. They may claim allowances as follows. 7lbs until he has won 15 races, then 5lbs, up to a total of 30 races, thereafter 3lbs until 65 races have been won.


Racing in the UK has an outstanding reputation largely due to the huge diversity and variety of its racecourses which provide entirely different tests of horse’s abilities both over flat and jumps, and this variety provides constant pleasure and opportunities for enthusiasts and betting professionals alike.

There are 15 courses that stage flat racing and jumps, 17 stage only flat races and 24 cater purely for jumps.

Lingfield and Southwell have racing on turf and artificial surfaces, and Wolverhampton has a purely artificial surface. The Racing Post has full descriptions of relevant course details with maps and statistics.

Many courses particularly the jumps only courses are small friendly country courses, as oppose to the large principal flat places. This adds hugely to the diversity and variety of the racing with entirely different atmospheres ranging from the National Hunt Mecca at Cheltenham to the pomposity of Royal Ascot to the tiny little flat only course on the downs above Bath.

From Perth and Kelso in Scotland to Bangor in Dee in Wales, Sedgfield in County Durham to Plumpton in Sussex, Market Rasen in Lincolnshire to Newton Abbot, Devon, Exeter and others in the West Country, the entire land is never far from a day at the races.

There are right handed courses, left handed ones, many are actually oval, and there is huge variation in shape:

Windsor and Fontwell are figures of eight while Ascot is triangular; Chester is circular while Brighton is in a big U shape with a kink at the bottom; Epsom, suitably, is like a big horseshoe with one straight side; Goodwood resembles a bent hairpin, while Salisbury is like a straightened one; Hereford is almost a square while Carlisle is totally pear shaped.

Most UK race meets last between 1 and 3 days with the longest race meet being Ascot in June and Goodwood in July/August with both meetings carrying on over 5 days.


After being castrated a male or colt horse is said to have been “gelded”. There are a variety of reasons behind this seemingly rather harsh practice.

By taking a horses mind off sex it becomes more amenable, and calm. A horse becomes less temperamental due to the shift in hormonal balance, which occurs with all neutered animals, including humans.

After gelding, horses are generally regarded as being easier to train and concentrate more readily on their racing.

Even more practical for National Hunt, gelding can prevent the extreme discomfort experienced by “entire” horses when jumping over hard fences, historically made from birch.

Irish horses intended for chasing are gelded automatically at an early age.

Most chasers are in fact geldings.

For a long time, many big flat races were not open to geldings, but this has now changed with most of the classics now being opened up to them.

One obvious financial argument against gelding is that after winning a major, a colt is instantly worth millions to big stables or stud syndicates.

Whereas “The Arkle” who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 65, and 66, was valued at the same price the day after the races as he was the day before.

National Hunt racing would not work without geldings, who are much admired by racegoers, regardless of stud decisions made by prejudiced breeders.


Advance forecasts in newspapers and the formbook advertise the state of the ground for a race meeting.

• Hard
• Firm
• Good to Firm
• Good to Soft
• Soft
• Heavy

“Soft with heavy patches” in the formbook indicates muddy patches.

Sometimes differences are noted on different parts of the course I.e. Going: Round course, soft. Straight course, good to soft.

The outcome of a race is significantly dependent on the state of the going. It is arguably THE most important factor in determining a race day favourite.

Comments including “likes some cut on the ground” or “likes some give underfoot” should be carefully noted.

Other horses prefer to race when the mud is flying and the formbook will note such horses as being a “confirmed mudlark”.

Still other horses don’t like soft conditions at all and need good going, the formbook will state “needs the top of the ground”, while some prefer really firm going eliciting descriptive comments such as “likes to hear his hooves rattle”.

Assessing the state of the going falls to the Clerks of the Course, who are open to severe criticism when their assessment is questionable.

Recent advances in science have allowed the art of poking the ground with a stick to become far more scientific with the introduction of a dubiously titled device known as the “penetrometer”.

One should always examine the weather forecast for a meeting as an essential adjunct to basic form study, and one should know a horse’s preference for a particular type of going.

For example at the time a newspaper or formbook is printed the going for any given race may indeed be good, but by the time of the race, heavy rainfall may have changed it to soft or heavy.

In many cases where the going has changed dramatically at the last minute, then a horse with a differing preference to the current going may be withdrawn.

However, it may be seen that vice versa, a late change of going can transform certain losers into possible winners.

The “going” is therefore uniformly accepted as essential by trainers, and their running intentions for their horses.

Timeform, the Racing Post, and the newspapers publish plenty of good information about the going. Comments such as “we will only run if we get that”, or “he will only run if its soft” and “he’s only good on good ground” are all well worth noting.

Finally it’s important to note that some courses hold rainwater better or worse than others.

For example at Newmarket the ground rarely reaches worse than soft. Good ground or good to soft are almost always the state of the going irrespective of rainfall on the Rowley mile in spring through to autumn.


If you have access to the pre-race paddock inspection you should try to note whether the back or “hind” hoof coincides or overlaps with the point where the front hoof has been.

This feature is a sign that a horse will gallop well, and the horse is referred to as a “Good walker”


A remarkable front running Grey, Desert Orchid, was an outstanding public hero between 1983 and 1991, dominating the jumps arena with 34 wins from 70 starts.

Greys account for only 3% of the entire horse racing population, but this ratio gives no indication of their overall popularity, particularly in the National Hunt theatre.

Foaled in 1704 and brought to England via Constantinople by Sir Robert Sutton, all thoroughbred “grey” horses can be traced back to the original “Alcock Arabian”.