Terminology of Horse Racing: An Explained Guide

Horse racing for Dummies

Horse Racing Terms for Dummies: Glossary to Know

There are few sports like horse racing, which means that it can often be daunting to newcomers to the sport when it comes to understanding the terminology used. However, understanding horse racing terms for dummies is easier than many believe, and this page will be helpful to those looking to get a deeper understanding revolving around everything to do with the sport.

We will go through some of the most important terms, and give detailed explanations to help broaden your knowledge of racing.

Allowance Race

While many will be most interested in betting on the big graded races, such as the Kentucky Derby, horses will first have to run in allowance races. These races are restricted to certain horses; mainly revolving around prize money won or age. Horses involved in these races will carry different weights to ensure that it is a level playing field. This is determined from previous performances.

Also Eligible

This could be a key term seen in big graded races. It simply means that the horse is eligible to race, but they will need a horse already involved to be scratched in order to line up. This is a crucial term when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, as horses just outside of the top 20 on the leaderboard will be hoping for horses to pull out. 


An apprentice jockey is still learning their trade, which means that they will get a weight allowance prior to picking up the number of wins that they require under their apprenticeship. In the UK, this term is altered slightly, as an apprentice jockey is called a conditional jockey.

Bearing In/Out

This term may be heard on commentary, and simply means that the horse isn’t running straight on the course. A number of reasons could be accredited to this, including the horse reacting to being whipped, fatigue, or the jockey’s ability to control the horse.

Blanket Finish

Another term that may be heard in commentary is blanket finish. This will simply be used if the race is a tight finish, as the runners could be covered by a blanket.


A number of pieces of headgear can be used to improve a horse’s performance. Blinkers are simply hoods that are used to limit the horse’s ability to see the opposing horses around them, and are often used to ensure that horses run in a straight line without being impacted by other runners.


This is an important term when it comes to the start of the race, as the break/broke is the term used to define the start of the race. For example, you may hear the commentator say that a horse has broken well if they get off to a fast start.


This term is used to define one of two things. One is a horse’s work before a race, as they complete a timed workout. It can also be used to explain an easy win on track.


Chalk is a term used to define a bettor that constantly places their wagers on the favorite. These bettors are called ‘Chalk Players’.


There are a number of different types of racing styles. A closer will perform best in the final parts of the race, and will come from behind to pick off the field.


Colts are male horses. Fillies are female horses. Meanwhile, a mare is a female horse aged five and older, while geldings are castrated male horses.


Connections is a term used a lot in racing, and simply refers to the trainer and owner of the horse.

Dead Heat

Flat races can often be very close affairs, and a dead heat is the closest that a race can finish. Dead heats mean that a race is concluded as a tie, as the horse that past the winning post first can’t be determined.


The Kentucky Derby is the most famous Derby on the calendar. This type of race sees horses aged three compete. At present, there are over 20 Derbies run in the U.S. 

Eased/Pulled Up

Jockeys are in control of looking after their horses in races, and that means we often see runners eased or pulled up. This means that a decision is made by the jockey to stop the horse from racing, often to avoid the risk of injury.


This is a type of bet where the bettor will be looking to place their wager on the horses that finish in first and second. A reverse exacta can also be placed, which means that the selected horses can finish first and second in any order.

Front Runner 

One of the other styles of racing that is among the important horse racing terms for dummies is a front runner. As the name suggests, this is a horse that likes to race at the front, and will look to build a healthy lead from the early stages.

Graded Stakes

Graded stakes have been around in the U.S. since 1973, and always offer a higher prize fund. The most prestigious type of race is the Grade 1s, including the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Travers Stakes.


Handicap races see horses compete at different weights based on their performances on the track. The better that the horse is considered, the more weight that it will carry.


The homestretch is the final straight section of the race, as the contest heats up as the contenders get closer to the winning line.

In The Money

An in the money finish often refers to a horse that finishes a race in a top-three position. It often refers to the bettor winning money, but can often be referring to the connections winning prize money.


Juveniles are horses that are aged two. The term is often used in stakes races for horses that are aged two. 


This term is used to highlight the winning distance. A length is approximately eight feet, and typically represents the length of a single horse. The distance of victory is often referred to as the winning margin.

Maiden Race

Maiden races are run by horses that are yet to win races. They are most typically run by horses aged two or three, but there are also maiden races for older horses.

Morning Line

Morning line odds are released before betting markets officially open. These are often different from the prices that you can expect to find at online sportsbooks.

New Shooter

This is a term that you will hear a lot around the Kentucky Derby. A new shooter is basically a horse that skips the Kentucky Derby to run in the Belmont or Preakness Stakes

Odds On

An odds-on horse is a selection that is priced up at less than even money. Odds-on selections are typically horses that sportsbooks can’t see being beaten.


A pacemaker or Rabbit is a horse that is sent to an early lead to set a fast pace. This is often a tactic to tire out other horses in the field, while also benefiting a stablemate’s chances of victory. This is different from a frontrunner, as frontrunners are often looking to win the race for themselves.

Place Bet 

Place bets are placed on horses to finish second, but many sportsbooks will also cover third with a place bet. 

Post Position

Post positions are determined before the race is run, as the draw will take place at least 48 hours before. Post one is located next to the rail, while the biggest post draw is located towards the outside of the track. The draw could be decisive for a horse’s chances of victory.

Prep Race

Prep races are run by horses with an end goal in mind. This is used as a workout to improve the horse’s fitness and prime them for a big run in the targeted race. For example, a horse lining up in the Kentucky Derby may use the Louisiana Derby as a prep race.


The racecard is a program for the day’s racing. All the information regarding the horses involved will be found here, including the past form and jockey, trainer, and owner information.


A horse being scratched means that it will no longer run in the race that they were previously entered in. 


A stayer is a horse that can run over a long distance. In the U.S. this refers to horses that run over distances of 12 furlongs or greater. However, in the UK, it refers to horses racing over a considerably longer distance.


Stalkers are a different style of racing. Here, the horse will track the leaders, before making their move for the win in the final stages.


This is a type of bet where the bettors must correctly predict the horses that finish first, second and third in a race. It is among the important horse racing terms for dummies. 

Wire To Wire

Horses that win from wire to wire lead the very start and cross the line first. This is a particularly strong running style when it comes to certain racecourses. Want to learn more about Horse Racing Terms? Follow us on Twitter.

Horse Racing Terms for Dummies FAQs

The biggest graded stakes race of the season is the Kentucky Derby. Meanwhile, the Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup Classic are further examples of big races.

Fillies are female horses aged under five, while mares are female horses aged five and older.

Yes. There are a number of styles that can be adopted in racing. These include front-runners, stalkers, and closers.

Bets can be placed on the win, exacta, trifecta, and place betting markets. Also, parlay wagers can be made.

A handicap is a race where the horses involved carry different weights based on their previous appearances. The more talented horses will carry bigger weights.