Letter to a New Horseplayer

A Horse Racing Lingo Cheat Sheet
By Bill Tivenan and Cassandra Cook, authors of Off to a Flying Start: Horsing Around the Language

Welcome to the wonderful world of horse racing. This world may not be what you expected; it’s not all cigar-chomping, rough-talking, hard-core gamblers, though there are still a few of those. The more you learn about horse racing, the more you will find that it is an extremely varied and interesting sport.

A fun aspect of the sport is its lingo. If this is your first visit to the track a good way to take things in is to listen to the people around you. The fans, the commentators, the race callers all are versed in the descriptive language of horse racing. Most of these terms have been used for hundreds of years to describe all types of races, not just horse races. In fact you probably use some of these expressions in your everyday life. Using the language of the track will not only help you understand what you are seeing but will also make you sound like a pro. Here are a few tips.

Choosing a horse to bet on:
Watch the horses in the paddock before the race. Or, hangout by the rail for the “post parade” where the horses are introduced to the crowd. Look to see if any horses are “up on their toes.” It may be a sign that they are ready to run a big race.

If a horse is overly excited and sweating you could say “that horse was sure in a lather” and know that it may not be ready to run its best race.

If the horse you pick to win has previously done well on the same track (look at his past performances or pps), you would say “I’m picking the horse for the course.”

When your horse has the lowest odds on the tote board you would say “I’m going with the favorite.” When your horse has the longest odds you would say “I’m taking a shot on the longshot.”

Making your bet:
You don’t have to place a bet on the race, but for most of us, it adds to the enjoyment. After you have decided on a horse to bet, you can say to your friends “I’m going to go put my money on the line.”

As a beginner, you might start out by betting a horse “across the board” meaning you would win if your horse comes in first (win), second (place) or third (show). A horse that finishes in any of these spots, finishes “in the money.” A horse that doesn’t is considered “out of the money” and called an “also ran.”

Watching the race:
When you are watching a very close race where one or more horses cross the finish line at the same time , you should say: “wow, a photo finish”, or “that sure came down to the wire”, or “I think she got up by a nose just under the wire.”

When your horse gives a good effort but tails off at the end, you would then exclaim “well, I had a run for my money.”

When your horse comes on strong at the finish after starting slow you would say “Did you see that? He came from out of the clouds.”

When you’ve lost several bets and your bankroll is low, you should remind yourself: “I’m taking this in stride.”

Bill Tivenan and Cassandra Cook
Authors of Off to a Flying Start: Horsing Around the Language

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