Glossary of Horse Racing and Racebook Betting Terms

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Some horse racing handicappers make the mistake of assuming everyone knows how to understand them. “I like Gobbledygook and Crazy Verbs for a boxed exacta bet,” a track blogger recommends. “Each has an average Beyer, but their sires were fast on heavy.”

If that sounds like Greek, don’t despair. It sounds that way to most people. Imagine how many potential horse racing fans the sport loses each year thanks to such frustrating lingo!

But there’s a fine line between understanding and not understanding a sentence. It’s often a single word or phrase that throws the reader off.

What if all horse racing terms were explained in one big, fat glossary? That’s just what we’re thinking! Here’s a helpful list of definitions of words used at tracks and racebooks around the world.

Breeding Terminology

Thoroughbred racing is so dominant in America that some bettors think any well-bred racehorse is called a Thoroughbred. In fact, Thoroughbreds are just one of many popular breeds around the world. Read below for a glossary of racehorse breeds, sexes, and genders.


  • American Quarter Horse Quarter Horses are the “drag racers” of the track. Not blessed with great size or endurance, the horses are instead trained for pure short-distance speed. Quarter Horses have been known to reach speeds of 55 miles per hour, about 30 MPH faster than the world’s best sprinters.
  • Arabian Arabians are lovely, lean horses that stand between 14 and 15 hands tall (see below for definition). Though the animals have been bred for at least 5000 years, the origin of the breed is shrouded in mystery.
  • Standardbred Slightly smaller than their Thoroughbred cousins, Standardbreds offer a lower center of gravity and a lean build is are perfect for harness racing. Also referred to as “trotters.”
  • Thoroughbred By far the most popular breed of racehorse in North America and the Middle East. Thoroughbreds are large horses, weighing an average of about 1,000 pounds at maturity, and are admired for their spirit and racing prowess.
  • Warmblood “Warmblood” is a term that covers several lesser-known breeds, including Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Oldenburg, and Trakehner. Warmbloods are favored for shows and jumping events by many equestrian riders.

Horse Gender Terminology

  • Colt A male horse under 4 years old. Colts enjoy advantages in flat-track racing and comprise a majority of champion racehorses in the United States.
  • Filly A female horse under 4 years old.
  • Gelding A castrated male horse. The operation is said to make horses tamer and easier to work with, helpful in show riding and for jumping.
  • Mare A female horse which is 4 years old or older.
  • Brood Mare A mare which is primarily used for breeding.
  • Stallion A male horse over 4 years old.
  • Stud A stallion used primarily for breeding.

Pedigree and Lineage

  • Dam The mother of a racehorse.
  • Damsire The horse’s dam’s sire, or maternal grandsire.
  • Distaff The female side of a horse’s pedigree.
  • Foal A dam’s young offspring.
  • Pedigree The family tree of a horse. Some pedigrees can be traced back in lineage to medieval times.
  • Progeny A horse’s offspring.
  • Sire The father of a racehorse.

Track and Racing Terms

The jargon you need to sound like an expert on the races can be found below.

Racehorses and Racing – A to E

  • Action This can be a confusing one. Betting “action” refers to the type and number of bets being placed on a favorite or underdog. But “action” on a track refers to an animal’s style of gait while running
  • Bad Actor A horse which behaves badly on and off the track.
  • Bad Doer A horse with a poor appetite.
  • Bald White on a horse’s face, its nostrils, or around its eyes.
  • Bearing The path a horse takes around the track. Bearing in, or out, means that the racehorse is zig-zagging and may have a less-than-stellar jockey.
  • Beyer Speed A measurement of a Thoroughbred’s speed. The calculation combines the horse’s time, the time of the race, and the track conditions.
  • Blind Switch When a horse is caught in a position behind or between horses in which a free course cannot be taken.
  • Bobble A stumble at the start of a race, usually caused by a soft track spreading away from the horse’s hoof as it takes its first stride.
  • Bottom Line You may hear a handicapper talk about the bottom line on a Thoroughbred and assume it means a final word. It actually refers to breeding on the mare’s side.
  • Checked When a racehorse is pulled up on by the jockey.
  • Closer A horse which tends to run its best in the late stages of a race.
  • Conformation A horse’s overall build and physique.
  • Dead Heat When a pair of horses appear to be exactly tied at the wire, or finish.
  • Dropdown When a racehorse takes on a lower-quality field than usual.
  • Extended A horse being made to run at top speed for a longer period than usual.

Racehorses and Racing – F to P

  • Faltered When a horse is in contention early but drops into the pack by the final stretch.
  • Field The horses competing in a race.
  • Fresh A horse which hasn’t been running much. Well rested.
  • Front-Runner A horse that usually storms out to a lead early in races.
  • Gait A racehorse’s motion as it runs or trots.
  • Graduate Can refer to either a horse winning its first race at a new level of competition or simply moving up to the next level.
  • Hand A unit of about 4 inches used for measuring the height of horses.
  • Handicap (racing) Extra weights carried by a horse during a race used to even out the competition.
  • In the Money Finishing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in a sweepstakes.
  • Inquiry A review of a race to determine whether a rule has been broken.
  • Jog An easy, slow gait.
  • Jumper A horse bred for steeplechases.
  • Length Measurement of a horse from head to tail.
  • Maiden A horse or a jockey which has never won a race.
  • Make a Run To put on a charge mid-race or in the final stretch.
  • Money Rider A racehorse that is “money” in big sweepstakes.
  • Morning Glory A horse/jockey team that looks great in morning workouts but flops in the races.
  • Mudder A racehorse that flourishes in muddy track conditions.
  • Near Side The left side of a horse, on which he is mounted.
  • Nose The shortest distance that a racehorse can win by. Called a “short head” in England.
  • Off-Side The right side of a horse.
  • Overland Racing wide, outside of the other horses.
  • Pacer A Standardbred racehorse trained for a “pacing” gait (see immediately below) in harness racing.
  • Pacing One of the 2 gaits specific to harness racing. Pacers move laterally while leading with their right legs.
  • Photo-Finish A finish so close that a winner can only be determined by studying photos.
  • Place To finish in 2nd.
  • Post Position The specific stall given to a horse at the gate.
  • Prop Not to be confused with “prop bet.” Refers to a horse refusing to run out of the gate alongside the others, such as Thunder Snow at the 2017 Kentucky Derby.

Racehorses and Racing – Q to Z

  • Quarter Crack An injury in which there is a crack in the wall of the horse’s hoof.
  • Rabbit A horse entered in a race as a deliberate front-runner to tire out the contenders.
  • Rail Runner A racehorse that prefers to run on the inside rail.
  • Refuse (or Refused) When horses do not leave the gate at all at the start.
  • Rogue An ill-tempered horse.
  • Romp To win in very easy fashion.
  • Scratch To remove a horse from a race.
  • Short A horse that needs more work before winning a race is likely.
  • Show To finish in 3rd.
  • Shut Off Surrounded by other horses and unable to improve position. Also known as “pocketed.”
  • Solid Horse A consistent contender.
  • Speed Index A numerical rating of Quarter Horse speed comparable to Beyer Speed ratings.
  • Stayer An excellent racehorse for longer distances; horse with good stamina.
  • Taken Up Pulled up sharply on by a jockey in tight quarters.
  • Timeform A measurement of Thoroughbred speed in the United Kingdom. Comparable to Beyer Speed ratings in America.
  • Topweight Highest weight carried by a horse in a handicap race.
  • Trotter A Standardbred horse trained to run with a diagonal gait specific to harness racing.
  • Trotting A gait specific to harness racing in which Standardbred horses move their legs in diagonal pairs.
  • Under Punishment A horse being whipped or otherwise driven hard.
  • Winded When a horse is exhausted and laboring to breathe after a race.

Tracks and Equipment

  • Backstretch The long straightaway on the far side of a flat track.
  • Bit A tool utilized by jockeys that fits into a horse’s mouth and attaches to the bridle. The main purpose of the bit is to assist the jockey in controlling and directing his horse.
  • Blinkers Gear worn to limit a horse’s vision and prevent distractions.
  • Clubhouse Turn The turn immediately next to the clubhouse, often beyond the finish line.
  • Dirt Track Time-honored natural surface for flat-track racing in America. Natural surfaces create conditions in which Thoroughbreds run faster on average than on synthetic surfaces.
  • Fast Track A dirt track in dry, firm, optimal running conditions.
  • Furlong One 8th of a mile, or 660 feet.
  • Good Track A race track which is slightly wet but still provides decent footing.
  • Half Half of a mile, or 4 furlongs.
  • Heavy A wet track with slow, sloppy footing.
  • Muddy An extremely heavy, water-saturated track, on which “mudders” can flourish.
  • Paddock The area where horses are kept before post time (see below).
  • Post A position at the starting gate.
  • Post Parade The walking of horses from the paddock to the gate.
  • Saddle Cloth Fixed under the saddle, the saddle cloth shows the horse’s post position number.
  • Sloppy When a track is wet on the surface but dry underneath.
  • Slow A track which is just moist enough to slow down the race.
  • Stick Another term for a jockey’s whip.
  • Stretch The final straightaway on a flat track. “And down the stretch they come!”
  • Stretch Turn The final bend of the track going into the stretch.
  • Sulky A cart pulled by Standardbred harness racers.
  • Synthetic Track Usually made of Polytrack or Tapeta, “synth” tracks are not quite as fast as dirt tracks but are considered by most trainers to be safer for the animals.
  • Turf Course Course composed of natural grass. Turf courses are standard at steeplechases (see below) and are not as fast as dirt tracks.

Types Of Horse Races

  • Flat-Track Racing The most common form of racing seen around the world, flat-track racing usually takes place on an oval. Dirt flat tracks are more common in America, while turf is more prevalent in Great Britain. Harness or “trotter” races also take place on a flat oval track. The Triple Crown includes the 3 most prestigious annual Thoroughbred races in the United States, including the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. Flat races span distances ranging from 440 yards to 2 ½ miles. The Kentucky Derby is contested over a length of 1 and ¼ miles.
  • Harness Racing A form of horse racing in which Standardbreds pull a cart (see above: sulky) and run at a specific gait. Racing gaits include trotting and pacing. Trotters move their legs in diagonal pairs, leading with the right front and left hind, with the left front and right hind striking the ground simultaneously. Pacers move laterally with their right front and right hind together, then their left front and left hind following.
  • Steeplechase A steeplechase is a horse race in which Thoroughbreds jump over obstacles. The events originated in 18th century Ireland in which horses were raced from church steeple to church steeple. A steeplechase can refer to any race in which horses jump over hurdles, but in the United Kingdom, steeplechase obstacles are always fixed and tend to be taller. The Grand National at Aintree is the most prestigious steeplechase in the world, known in Britain as the “Biggest Race of All.”
  • Endurance Riding An endurance ride is a timed test of a horse and rider over a measured path built into natural terrain. Arabians are considered the ideal breed for the challenge. Endurance rides are not a hot ticket for gamblers but are considered a labor of love and part of equine riding heritage.
  • Quarter Horse Racing on Short Tracks Quarter Horses are the sprinters of the horse racing world, competing on tracks as short as 100 yards. They may run as far as 400 yards in a single race, however. Quarter Horse races can last only a handful of seconds!

Horse Race Betting Terminology

Study these terms to better understand handicappers, horse racing blogs, and of course, the rules and calculations at the track when playing the ponies.

  • Across the Board A bet on a horse to win, place, and show. If the horse finishes in 1st place, all 3 payouts are made to the gambler. If it finishes in 2nd, the Place and Show payouts are made, and only a Show payout is made if the horse finishes 3rd.
  • Board A digital sign on which odds, betting pools, and other information is shown.
  • Card A series of races with odds and betting offered at the same track in one day. Standard at local tracks in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia.
  • Combination Wager Any wager involving 2 or more horses.
  • Daily Double Not to be confused with a special round on “Jeopardy,” the Daily Double asks bettors to pick the winners of 2 consecutive races to win a handsome payout.
  • Exacta A bet in which the gambler picks 2 horses to finish 1st and 2nd in order. The bettor can “box” the exacta, meaning the horses can finish in either order and still produce a winning ticket.
  • False Favorite A racehorse which enjoys short odds-to-win based on hype and not previous success.
  • Handicap (betting) To predict which horses or horses are likeliest to win and which bets are the likeliest winners.
  • Lock A handicapper’s term for a “sure thing” winner who can’t miss. (See also: Easter Bunny.)
  • Pick 3 A wager in which 3 consecutive winners must be picked on the same day.
  • Pick 4 A wager in which 4 consecutive winners must be picked.
  • Pick 6 A wager in which 6 consecutive winners must be picked. One of the biggest potential jackpots in horse race betting.
  • Place Wager A bet that wins if the chosen horse finishes 1st or 2nd.
  • Quinella A wager in which the first 2 finishers must be picked in either order; similar to a “boxed” exacta.
  • Racebook A betting book dedicated to horse race odds and markets.
  • Show Wager A bet that the gambler’s horse will finish “in the money,” or either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.
  • Straight Wager A bet involving only a single horse.
  • Superfecta Another long-odds jackpot opportunity, the superfecta asks the gambler to pick the top 4 finishers of the race in order.
  • Trifecta A bet that picks the top 3 finishers in exact order.
Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.