Understanding Horse Racing Terminology

A horse race is a sport in which humans and horses compete to be the first to cross a finish line. Some people criticize the sport, arguing that it’s inhumane or corrupted by doping and overbreeding. However, others believe that horse racing is still a fun and exciting activity for both spectators and participants.

Whether you are a casual fan or an experienced handicapper, it’s important to understand horse racing terminology before placing your wagers. Some of the most common terms include:

Blinkers: Equipment worn on a horse’s head that restricts its vision to help focus attention and avoid distractions. Blinkers are often used to improve a horse’s speed. A bad step out of the starting gate (sometimes indicated by a horse ducking its head or dropping to its knees). Sudden veering from a straight course.

Company: Multiple uses include describing the competition in a race (‘He’s battled in top company.’) and a morning workout in which multiple horses are paired together (‘He worked a half-mile in company.’)

Clubhouse turn: Generally the turn immediately after the finish line and closest to the clubhouse. Also called the first turn.

Dirt track: A racetrack made from dirt. A track with a grass surface is called a turf course.

Closing ground: Term used to describe a horse’s ability to run its best in the final stages of a race. A horse that can close from off the pace is said to have good closing ground.

Colored pole: Striped markers placed at measured distances around the track to mark a quarter mile or other increments of distance. Pole colors usually include red for quarter-mile designations, green for eighth-mile designations and black for sixteenth-mile designations.

Derby: A race that takes place on the first Saturday in May. It’s the most prestigious race of the Triple Crown series and is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

Pace: The rate at which a horse travels during a race. A pace that’s too fast can cause a horse to tire early and collapse at the end. A pace that’s too slow can allow a horse to fade and finish behind the winner.

Stakes race: A class of race where horses are assigned a specific weight according to their age, distance and sex. The higher the stakes, the greater the prize money.

Pedigree: A thoroughbred’s genetic history as shown on a pedigree diagram. A horse with a high number of winners in a given year is said to have a full book.

Blanket finish: A finish so close for the win that you could put a blanket over the horses.

A bet type in which a horse must finish either first or second to collect. It’s a riskier bet, but one that can pay off if your horse is correctly positioned.