Some Basic Horse Racing Terminology

We all know what it’s like to walk into a new environment for the first time, be it a party, office, or a new friend group.

You feel like an outsider because they are using words and references you are unfamiliar with.

Sports have all sorts of insider phrases and idioms that can feel like a different language for a newcomer, and perhaps no sport exemplifies this more than horse racing.

The complex terminology can feel overwhelming to someone new to the sport, whether you just want to watch and enjoy races or try your hand at betting a few bucks.

With the Kentucky Derby less than two weeks away, we’ve put together a list of some common horse racing terms you will, no doubt, hear or read about in the days leading up to the Run For The Roses.

This rudimentary index should help lift that cloud of confusion and will (hopefully) keep you in the conversation at any Derby party you attend.

Also-Eligible – A horse officially entered for a race, but not permitted to start unless the field is reduced by scratches below a specified number. Last year’s Derby Winner RICH STRIKE was an AE.

Blinkers – A cup-shaped device that limits a horse’s vision. Blinkers, often used to try to improve a horse’s focus, come in a variety of sizes and shapes to allow as little or as much vision as the trainer feels is necessary.

Bullet– The fastest workout of the day at a track at a particular distance.

Closer – A horse that runs best in the latter part of the race, coming from off the pace.

Connections – Persons identified with a horse, such as owner, trainer, jockey and stable employees.

Disqualification – Change in order of finish by stewards for an infraction of the rules. See 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Dam – The mother of a horse.

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

Furlong – An eighth of a mile.

Graded Race – A non-restricted race with added money or guaranteed purse value of $100,000 or more which has been run at least twice under similar conditions and on the same surface and has been assigned graded status for the year contested by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Length – A measurement approximating the length of a horse, used to denote distance between horses in a race.

Off Track – A track that has a wet surface and isn’t labeled as fast.

Pacesetter – The horse that is running in front (on the lead).

Past Performances – A horse’s racing record, earnings, bloodlines and other data, presented in composite form.

Prep – A workout (or race) used to prepare a horse for a future engagement.

Post Parade – Horses going from paddock to starting gate past the stands. The post parade provides spectators with a chance to get a final look at the horse before the race.

Post Position – Position of stall in starting gate from which a horse begins a race.

Rabbit – A speed horse running as an entry (but not always) with another, usually a come-from-behind horse. The rabbit is expected to set a fast pace to help the chances of its stablemate.

Rank – A horse that refuses to settle under a jockey’s handling in a race, running in a headstrong manner without respect to pace.

Scratch – To be taken out of a race before it starts.

Silks – Jacket and cap worn by jockeys.

Sire – Father of a foal.

Stakes – A race for which the owner usually must pay a fee to run a horse. The fees can be for nominating, maintaining eligibility, entering and starting, to which the track adds more money to make up the total purse. Some Stakes races are by invitation only and require no payment or fee.

For those that were in need of this lesson in racing lexicon, we hope it helped.

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