Horse Betting Terms

Whether it’s called jargon, parlance or racetrack cliche, the set of terms thrown around in racing can be confusing for the casual racing fan. In this piece, we’ll decode some of the more common horse racing language, which can be essential to a better understanding of the sport. So whether you prefer conventional bets or exotics, wheels or boxes, be sure to use the right terminology when you go racing.

Horse Racing Wagering Glossary

You’ll also want to know how blinkers, Lasix, front wraps, and dogs can impact your handicapping. Without further ado, here’s our list of essential betting and racing terms:

Allowance Race: Allowance races are a step above claiming races, but do not offer the purses or prestige of stakes races. The races often feature conditions restricting the field to runners such as “non-winners of one other than maiden or claiming event.” 

Base bet: The amount a player bets on an exotic bet. For example, an exacta is typically offered for a $2 minimum, but a confident and/or deep-pocketed player may bet for a base of $50 or $100. 

Blinkers/Blinders: A standard piece of racing equipment that features cups attached to a mask designed to limit a horse’s vision. Because a horse has wide-set eyes and panoramic vision, they can often be distracted by visuals such as fans and other horses. A runner donning blinkers for the first time will often show improved speed and focus, while a horse shedding blinkers will often become a more relaxed runner in the early stages of a race.

Boxed: The term used to cover all combinations of runners used in an exacta, trifecta or superfecta wager. For example, a boxed exacta using the 3-horse and 6-horse would cover both 6-3 and 3-6 in the first and second place positions. In mathemetical terms, a box covers all permutations of the horses used in a bet. 

Colt: A three year-old male horse. All races listed as “Derbys” consist only of three year-old colts. 

Claiming race: A race where all the runners in the field may be purchased for a fixed price by any licensed trainer or owner. Called “selling” races in Europe, claiming races makeup up about 70% of all races run in North America and range in price from $4000 to $100,000. All runners in the field are offered for the same price making them an efficient way to ensure evenly-matched competition. 

Clocker’s Report: Information that is usually published for a purchase price by professionals who clock morning workouts 

Distaff: A race – usually a stakes event – held for female runners such as the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. 

Dogs Up: An expression usually denoted as (d) in the workouts of a horse working over the turf course. “Dogs” simply indicate the presence of cones on the turf course used to preserve parts of the course. A work with dogs up is noteable because it generally means the time will be slower due to a wider trip around the track. 

Double: A bet that was traditionally referred to as the “Daily Double” because at one time it was offered on the first two and last two races only. Now offered on any two consecutive races at most North American tracks, the object remains the same: to pick the winner of two consecutive races using desired combinations. The minimum bet amount for a double is typically $2.

Exacta: A simple and popular wager where the bettor must select the first and second-place finishers of a race in exact order. 

Exotic Bet: Any wager that is not a win, place or show bet. Exotics include exactas, trifectas, superfectas, the pick 3, pick 4, pick 6, etc.

Filly: A three or four year-old female horse

Furlong: An expression of distance used in North America, Europe and Australia that is equivalent to an eighth of a mile. Classic races, such as the Kentucky Derby, are run at the 10-furlong, or mile and one quarter distance. Horse players studying workouts generally prefer to see a runner travel each furlong worked in 12 seconds or less.

Fractions: The timed, internal splits of a race that are displayed on the track’s video board during the running. Fractional times for the opening quarter mile, half mile, six-furlongs and one mile are useful to determine the pace being established by the front-runners. 

Front wraps: Bandage applied to the front forelegs of a horse and noted in the Daily Racing Form and other handicapping guides.  

Gelding: A castrated male horse. Famous geldings include all-time greats such as John Henry, and two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Wise Dan. A horse that is a first-time gelding is denoted by “G” in the Daily Racing Form and can be a successful betting angle. 

Horizontal wager: An exotic bet that takes place in a single race such as the exacta, trifecta, superfecta or Super Hi-Five 

Juvenile: A two year-old horse. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf all include this term.

Lasix: A diuretic and anti-bleeder medication that is legally administered to North American horses, but banned in Europe. Most North American runners perform on Lasix with the “L” appearing in most programs and emboldened when administered for the first time. While used to alleviate bleeding through the nostrils, Lasix are also thought to be performance-enhancing by some bettors.

Maiden Claiming Race: A race where all horses are non-winners and are available for designated purchase price by a licensed trainer or owner

Maiden Special Weight: A race where all horses are non-winners, but are not for sale. These races typically feature the best lightly-raced or unraced runners competing for a more lucrative purse. 

Multi-Race Exotic: All exotic bets that extend into multiple races such as the pick 3, pick 4 and pick 6

Pace: The rapidity with which a race is run by the front-runners based on the fractions they set. The axiom “pace makes the race” is a popular one at the track and rightfully so as early speed horses allowed to set moderate or slow fractions are typically difficult to run down. Conversely, come-from-behind horses are aided when the front-runners pressure one another into fast, contested early fractions. 

Parimutuel Wagering: The system of betting used by all North American tracks where total wagering dollars minus takeout percentage are divided among winning players in the form of payouts. In pairmutuel wagering, bettors are really playing against one another rather than the house. 

Pick 3,4,5 and 6 wager: Extremely popular multi-race bets that require the bettor to select the winners of consecutive races. Typically offered as a dollar minimum bet, players can use multiple horses to enhance their chances of winning. The cost of each bet can be calculated by multiplying the base bet amount by the number of horses used in each leg of the bet. 

Pool: The total amount of wagering dollars collected on a specific bet in parimutuel wagering

Quinella: An outdated bet still offered at some tracks. The bettor must select the first and second-place finishers regardless of order.

Restricted: Race conditions are often restricted to certain types of horses. For example, races at Santa Anita and Del Mar are often restricted to horses bred in the state of California. 

Straight bet: The opposite of a boxed play, a straight bet is where the player wagers an exotic bet without using multiple combinations. For example, if a bettor had a strong conviction that the 5-horse will win a race and the 4-horse will run second, he might make bet a “straight exacta” 5-4, allowing him to play the bet for a higher based bet.

Super Hi Five: A jackpot style bet offered at many tracks – usually just once a day – where players must select the top five finishers in order. If no one hits the bet, the pool carries over to the next racing day.

Superfecta: Another popular and lucrative bet where players must select the top four finishers of a race in order.

Take-out percentage: A pre-determined amount collected from each parimutuel pool and kept by the host track as revenue. Players are well-advised to stay away from bets and tracks that have a higher take-out percentage. 

Trifecta: A very popular, and sometimes lucrative bet where the player is challenged to select the top three finishers of a race in order. The trifecta can be boxed, wheeled or played straight, and is frequently offered as a 50-cent minimum bet. 

Vertical Wager: See multi-race exotic 

Wheel: A popular and useful betting strategy where a bettor can isolate a particular “leg” or “rung” of the bet to include a limited number of runners while “wheeling” or using more runners in subsequent legs or rungs. For example, a bettor making a trifecta wager who is confident the 7-horse will run second or third, but not win, might make the following partial wheels: 3,5,8 with 7 with 3,5,8 and 3,5,8 with 3,5,8 with 7. In this example the bettor has isolated the 7, while using more combinations in the other two rungs of the trifecta.


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