HORSE RACING: JARGON BUSTER

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Welcome to our plain clarification of Irish horse racing terminology and jargon.

Many of you will have heard horse racing expressions like “handicap race” “bay horse” and “claimer” from TV horse racing presenters, trainers and jockeys without having a notion about what they were talking about?

“With any luck our clarification feature of key horse racing terminology will add to your understanding and love of the sport”.


ALL WEATHER RACING: Year-round Flat racing on an artificial surface at Dundalk Stadium. There are many of these amenities in England like Wolverhampton, Kempton Park and Southwell.

AMATEUR: A non-professional jockey who can be identified on any race card by their title: Mr, Mrs, Ms, appearing before their name.

APPRENTICE: A young jockey contracted to a trainer while learning how to race ride.

BAY: A horse which has a brown body and black mane.

BLINKERS: A type of hood that fits over a horse’s head to avert it from seeing sideways and aid it focus its attention ahead during a race.

BLOWN UP: When a horse starts to drop out of contention during a race due to deficiency of fitness.

BROKEN DOWN: When a horse sustains an injury – customarily a tendon or soft tissue injury demanding a long rest to recover.

BUMPER: A National Hunt flat race over a distance of 13 – 20 furlongs. NB: 8 furlongs = 1 mile.

CHESTNUT: A horse with a “ginger” body, mane and tail.

CLAIMER: An apprentice flat race jockey.

CLERK OF THE COURSE: The person accountable for the overall management of a racecourse during race-day.

COLT: A young, ungelded (see gelding) male horse aged up to four years.

CONDITIONAL JOCKEY: A National Hunt jockey, under 26, who obtains a weight allowance for inexperience until he has ridden a certain number of winners.

CONDITIONS RACES: Weights carried are determined by the sex of the runners, with female runners carrying less weight than males; the age of the runners, with younger horses receiving weight from older runners, referred to as weight for age; and quality of runners, with horses that have won certain values of races giving weight to less successful entrants.

CUT IN THE GROUND: A description of the ground condition, when there is ‘give’ in the surface, AKA ‘soft going’.

DISTANCE: The length of a race. Five furlongs is the shortest, four and half miles (The Grand National) the longest. Also denotes to the margin by which a horse wins or is beaten. This can range from ‘a short head’ to ‘a distance’ which is more than 30 lengths.

DRAW: A Flat racing term denoting a horse’s position in the starting stalls.

DRIFTER: A horse whose betting odds have lengthened.

FILLY: A female horse aged up to four years.

FORM: Refers to a horse’s race record. Denoted by figures next to its name on a race-card i.e. 1=1st, 2=2nd etc.

FURLONG: The unit of distance in a horse race. One-eighth of a mile or 220 yards or 201 metres.

GALLOPING TRACK: Commonly a wide-open track that suits bigger horse with big strides i.e. the Curragh or Naas.

GELDING: Horses which have been castrated (gelded) as the temperament of a stallion is not usually suited for an extended racing career.

GET THE TRIP: Usually said of a horse that is anticipated to complete the race distance.

GOING REPORT: Refers to the condition of the racecourse turf. The turf is classed as Hard, Firm, Good To Firm, Good,

GRADE RACE: Refers to the category of a Natonal Hunt race. The most prestigious races are Grade 1, and include the Betfair Chase, Cheltenham Gold Cup, King George VI Chase and Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle, to name just a few. The Aintree Grand National is a Grade 3 race, and the race that many trainers, jockeys and owners desire to win. And with GBP 1m prize money it is also the most valuable National Hunt race in Europe.

GROUP RACE: Refers to the category of a flat race. Group One races are the premier class and include the Classics (Derby, The Kentucky Derby, 1000 Guineas). Group Two races also have international prestige and Group Three races are usually domestic races and regarded as being preparation for the higher Groups. Pattern races are designed to ensure competitive horse  racing throughout Europe.

HACKED UP: When a horse wins easily.

HANDICAP: A handicap race in which the weight each horse has to carry is individually allotted according to its past performance to make the chances of all horses in the race more equal.

JUVENILE: A two year old Flat horse or a three year old National Hunt horse.

MARE: A female horse over five years old.

NATIONAL HUNT: Racing over fences and hurdles AKA jump racing.

NOVICE: A horse which has not won more than two races.

NURSERY: A handicap race for two year old horses.

OBJECTION: A complaint by one jockey against another regarding a breach of rules during a race.

OFF/ON THE BRIDLE: A exhausted horse reduces his effort and is said to be `off the bridle”. A horse with `plenty of running’ still has energy and still in contact with the jockey via the bit and the reins and is said to be still `on the bridle’.

OFF THE PACE: When a horse isn’t keeping up with the other horses in a race.

OVER THE TOP: A horse past his peak for the season.

PACE: The speed at which a race is run. Up with the pace means close to the leaders, off the pace means some way behind.

PENALTY: Additional weight carried by a horse on account of previous wins. In a handicap, penalties are added to the allotted weight of a horse if it has won since the weights for the race were published.

PULLING: A horse that is unsettled during the early part of a race and uses too much energy fighting the jockey by pulling against the bridle.

RACING PLATE: Lightweight horseshoes designed for racehorses.

RULE 4: If a horse is a non-runner, the odds will be revised. Consequently, the pay-out for winning bets will be reduced. And where your selection is the non-runner, your bet is declared void and the stake returned.

SIRE: A horse’s father.

STAYERS: Horses with a lot of stamina are more likely to perform best over 3 miles, rather than 2 miles over jumps, and over 2 miles on the flat.

STEAMER: A horse whose betting odds have shortened.

STEEPLECHASE: A horse race over fences, open ditches and water jumps.

STEWARDS ENQUIRY: Under certain circumstances, the stewards of a racecourse will examine an objection or suspected infringement of the Rules of Racing. Which may result in the race outcome being amended.

THOROUGHBRED: A horse whose lineage can be traced back to any of the three founding sires: Darley Arabian, Byerly Turk and Godolphin Arabian.

TIGHT TRACK: Generally, a narrow track with tight turns that suits smaller, nippier horses, such as Clonmel or Bellewstown.

WEIGHT CLOTH: A cloth with pockets for lead weights placed under the saddle.

WEIGHTS: Lead strips placed in a weight cloth (as above) to bring the jockey up to the handicap weight of the race.