Basic racing terms

Racing beginner's guide: Basic racing terms

Racing can be a complex sport to understand, so follow our key terms and racing jargon guide to help you understand the sport and its key phrases better.

For a guide to understand a racecard and its key terms click here.

Jargon busting with Oli Bell: Cheltenham Festival


Allowance - Inexperienced riders (apprentices, conditionals and amateurs) are allowed a weight concession to compensate for their lack of experience against their colleagues. The allowance is usually 3lb, 5lb or 7lb, with it decreasing as the young jockey rides more winners.

All-Weather (AWT) - An artificial racing surface.

Also-ran - A horse that finishes ‘down the field’ and out of the prize money in a race

Amateur - A non-professional jockey who does not receive a fee for riding in a race, denoted on the racecard by the prefix Mr, Mrs, Miss, Captain etc.

Antepost - For many major races you can place your bet well in advance of the day. In the case of the Classics or big National Hunt races such as the Grand National this could be a year or more before the race takes place. The price of the horse you bet on is usually bigger than you would expect to see on the day as it reflects the fact the horse is not guaranteed to line up in the race. You can place an antepost bet until the final declaration stage of the race.

At the post - When all the horses have arrived at the start before a race, they are said to be ‘at the post’.


Bridle - The equipment on a horse’s head used to control it.

Bridle, won on the - Won easily, without being hard ridden or challenged by other horses.

Broke down - When a horse sustains an injury during a race.

Broodmare - Mare kept at stud for breeding, and not usually raced, although likely to have done so when younger.

Brought down - A horse that falls during a race when impeded by another horse.

Bumper - A flat race run under Jump Rules, used to educate young prospective jumps horses before they tackle hurdles or fences. Officially called National Hunt Flat Race.

Bumping - Interference during a race where one horse collides with another. Often results in a Stewards’ Enquiry, particularly when interference takes place in the closing stages of the race

Blinkers - A form of headgear worn by the horse, consisting of a hood with cups around the eyes. They are use to limit a horse’s vision and reduce distractions, with the aim of making it concentrate. A horse wearing blinkers is denoted on a racecard by a small b next to the horse’s weight. b1 indicates that the horse is wearing blinkers in a race for the first time.

Boxed in - A horse that cannot overtake another horse because it is blocked by other horses.


Conditions race - A race in which horses are allotted extra weight according to factors including sex, age, whether they are a previous winner etc.

Connections - People associated with a horse, such as the owner and trainer.

Course specialist - A horse that is proven at a track in previous races.

Chaser - A horse that takes part in steeplechase races.

Checked - When a horse’s run during a race is momentarily blocked by another horse or horses.

Clerk of the Course - Racecourse official responsible for the overall racecourse management, including the preparation of the racing surface.


Disqualification - When a horse is demoted in the finishing order due to an infringement of the Rules following a Stewards’ Enquiry.

Distance - The margin by which a horse has won or has been beaten (e.g. a horse might have a winning distance of three lengths) or in Jump racing, if a horse is beaten/wins by a long way (more than 30 lengths) it is said to have been beaten/won by a distance.

Draw - A horse’s starting position in the stalls allotted in races on the Flat. Stalls are used for Flat racing only.

Drop in class/trip - A horse racing in a lower class of race than he has recently run in/running over a shorter distance.


Form - A horse’s race record. Denoted by figures (and letters) next to its name on a racecard i.e. 1=first, 2=second etc. The form figures are read backwards from right to left, so a horse’s latest run is denoted by the figure nearest to its name on the racecard.

Front-runner - A horse whose running style is to attempt to get on or near the lead at the start of the race and stay there as long as possible.

Furlong - 220 yards or one eighth of a mile. The numbered posts on British racecourses count the furlongs back from the winning post.

Fancied - When a horse is expected to win or at least to be involved in the finish.

Favourite - The horse with the shortest odds in the race.

Field - The number of horses in a race or, in betting, all of the horses in a race except the favourite.

Filly - Female horse four-years-old or younger.

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Group / Graded races - These races form the upper tier of the racing structure, with Group/Grade 1 the most important, followed by Group/Grade 2 and Group/Grade 3. Group races are run on the Flat; Graded races are run over jumps (the most important Flat races in the United States are also Graded).

Gallop - Top gait for a horse – the speed they race at.

Gallops - Training ground where horses are exercised.

Gelding - A male horse that has been castrated. Most male horses that compete over jumps have been gelded, and a Flat horse may be gelded. Geldings are not allowed to run in some of the top Flat races, such as the Derby, that are important for identifying potential breeding talent.

Get the trip - To stay the distance.

Going - The condition of the racing surface. Ranges from heavy to firm.

Group 1 (Flat) / Grade 1 (jumps) - The highest category of race. The Classic Flat races in Britain, as well as other historic races such as the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, are Group 1. The major championship races over jumps, such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup, are Grade 1.


Hacked up - Describes a horse winning easily.

Handicap - A race where each horse is allotted a different weight to carry, according to the official handicap ratings determined by the BHA Handicappers. The theory is that all horses run on a fair and equal basis – the ‘perfect’ handicap being one where all the runners finish in a dead-heat.

Handicap mark / Rating - Each horse, once it has run a few times (usually three), is allocated an official handicap rating by the BHA, which is used to determine its weight if it runs in a handicap. If a horse does well, its handicap rating will go up; if it performs poorly, its rating will go down.

Handicapper - Official responsible for allocating a handicap rating to each horse that has qualified for one, and for allotting the weights to be carried by each horse in a handicap. Employed by the British Horseracing Authority.

Home straight - The length of straight track, from the final bend to the finish line.

Hurdler - A horse that races over hurdles, which are lighter and lower than fences.

Hurdles - The smaller obstacles on a jumps course. Horses usually have a season or two over hurdles before progressing to fences, though some continue to specialise in hurdling and never run over fences, while some horses go straight over fences without trying hurdles first.


In running - Refers to events that take place during the course of a race.

In-running betting - Betting on the outcome of a race during the race itself, rather than beforehand. This type of betting is particularly popular on the betting exchanges, though it is also offered by many bookmakers. In-running odds can change rapidly as the race unfolds.


Juvenile - A two-year-old horse. Every horse officially turns two on January 1, at the start of the second full calendar year following its birth e.g. a horse born in 2010 will turn two on January 1, 2012.

Juvenile hurdler - The youngest category of hurdler – juvenile hurdlers are those that turn four years of age (on January 1) during the season in which they start hurdling.


Lay - To take a bet on: a bookmaker’s offer quoting the price at which he wishes to trade. ‘I’ll lay 6-4 this favourite.’ Betting on a horse to lose

Layer - An alternative term for a bookmaker, someone who lays or accepts a bet.

Left-handed track - Racecourse where horses run anti-clockwise.

Length - A unit of measurement for the distances between each horse at the finish of a race; the measurement of a horse from head to tail.

Listed Race - A class of race just below a Group or Graded quality.

Levy - A surcharge collected from bookmakers, based on their turnover or gross profits, which goes towards prize-money, improvements to racecourses, and other areas such as scientific research. The body responsible for this is the Levy Board.

Longshot - A horse with high odds (an outsider)


Maiden - A horse that has yet to win a race; maiden races are restricted to such horses, though sometimes the conditions of the race allow previous winners (e.g. maidens at closing, i.e. those that have not won a race up to the time the entries close), in which case penalties are allotted for later wins.

Maiden handicap - For maidens aged three or above that have run at least four times and have a maximum rating of 70.

Mare - Female horse aged five years old or above.

Middle distances - On the Flat, races beyond a mile and up to 1m6f are the middle distances. A middle-distance horse is one that runs mainly over such distances or is regarded as being suitable for those distances.

Minimum trip - The shortest race distance: five furlongs on the Flat, two miles over jumps.


Neck - Unit of measurement in a race finish about the length of a horse’s neck.

Non Runner - A horse that was originally meant to run but for some reason has been withdrawn from the race.

Nose - Smallest official distance a horse can win by.

Non-trier - A horse that is prevented by the jockey from running to its full ability. Non-trying is a serious offence prohibited by the rules of racing, and jockeys (as well as the horse and owner) can be banned from racing if they are found guilty, while the horse’s trainer risks a fine and/or a ban.

Novice - A horse in the early stages of its career after it has won its first race.

Novice stakes - A Flat race for two-year-olds or three-year-olds that have not won more than twice.

Nursery - A handicap on the Flat for two-year-old horses.

Nap - The best bet of the day from a particular tipster.

National Hunt - Racing over fences and hurdles; officially referred to as Jump racing.


Off the bridle - Describes a horse being pushed along and losing contact with the bit in its mouth.

Off the pace - When a horse is some distance behind the front-runners in a race.

One-paced - Describes a horse that is unable to raise its pace in the closing stages of a race.

On the bridle - Describes a horse running comfortably, still having a bite on the bit. A horse that wins ‘on the bridle’ is regarded as having won easily.

On the nose (to bet) - Placing a win bet


Penalised horses - Horses that have incurred a weight penalty as a result of previous successes.

Penalty - Additional weight carried by a horse on account of previous wins. In a handicap, a penalty is added to a horse’s original weight if it has won in between being entered for the race and running in it, as the handicapper has not had the opportunity to re-assess that horse’s handicap rating. A penalty (commonly 6lb) is shown after the horse’s name on Racing Post racecards – e.g. Horsename (ex6).

Photo finish - In a close race, where the placings cannot be determined easily, the result is determined by the judge by examination of a photograph taken by a camera on the finishing line.

Pulled up - A horse that drops out of a race and does not finish


Right-handed track - Racecourse where horses run clockwise.

Rule 4 - Tattersalls Rule 4 (c): One of the most commonly invoked betting rules, dealing with deductions from winning bets in the event of any withdrawn runner(s) from a race. The rule applies to winning bets struck at prices (e.g. morning prices) laid before a withdrawal (other than ante-post bets, which are unaffected by Rule 4 (c)) and to starting-price bets where, after a late withdrawal, there is insufficient time to re-form the market. The rate of deductions is in proportion to the odds of the non-runner(s) at the time of the withdrawal.

Racecard - Programme for the day’s racing, showing the times, runners and riders for each race.


Sprinter - A horse that specialises in running over the shortest distances (five and six furlongs) on the Flat.

Sprint races - Flat races run over a distance of five or six furlongs.

Stallion - Male breeding horse.

Starter - Racecourse official responsible for starting a horse race.

Starting price - Often abbreviated to SP. The starting prices are the final odds prevailing at the time the race starts and are used to determine the payout to winning punters, unless a punter took a specified price at the time of placing the bet.

Stayer - A horse that specialises in racing over long distances (two miles and above) on the Flat.

Staying chaser - A horse that races over three miles or more over fences.

Staying on - When a horse is finishing strongly in a race, possibly a sign of good stamina reserves.

Staying races - Flat races run over a distance of two miles or more.

Steeplechasing - A race over fences, open ditches and water jumps, run over distances from two miles up to four and a half miles.

Stewards’ Enquiry - A hearing held by the stewards into a race to determine whether the rules of racing have been broken.


Visor - Similar to blinkers, but with a slit in each eye cup to allow some lateral vision. A horse wearing a visor is denoted on a racecard by a small v next to the horse’s weight (v1 indicates that the horse is wearing a visor in a race for the first time).


Weighed in - The official declaration ratifying a race result.

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