Horse Racing Terms


- A -

Age : a horse's "official" age always appears in the programme for a race meeting. All thoroughbreds age by a year on 1st January. Flat horses and trotters may race as two year-olds but jump racing is only open to three year-olds and older.

Anglo-Arab : a horse bred from English and Arab thoroughbreds. An Anglo-Arab must have 25% Arab blood to be included in the Stud-Book.

Apprentice : a future jockey. He/she must be at least 16 years of age. Apprentices receive weight allowance (or distance allowance for harness racing) in less important races.

A.Q.P.S. ou A.Q.P.S.A. : the French abbreviation for any horse other than a thoroughbred or other than an English thoroughbred. This includes: Anglo-Arabs, French trotters and all other crossbreeds between these breeds and between these breeds and thoroughbreds.

Arab : Numerous contests are organised for the pure Arab breed. France is one of the only countries which continues to select pure bred Arab horses for their form on the track.

Aubin : an outlawed form of trotting when the horse gallops with its forelegs and trots with its hind legs.

Average kilometre speed : if a horse takes 4' 6'' to cover 3,000 metres, its average kilometre speed is therefore 1' 22'' (4' 6'' divided by 3).


- B -

Banker : this is the horse you fancy to win the race. You will therefore place your bet with this in mind. Your banker should finish first or second if you bet Couplé or Jumelé Win, in the first three if you played a Tiercé, Trio, Couplé Placé or Jumelé Placé, in the first four if you played Quarté+, or in the first five if you played a Quinté+.

Bay :a horse with a fawn and reddish-brown coloured coat, black mane, tail and lower legs.

Blinkers : leather sidepieces attached to a horse's bridle to prevent sideways vision. Used on fearful horses and those that don't want to go into the stalls.

Box : place where the horse is stabled.

Break in : teaching a young horse to have a rider on its back and obey commands. This is an extremely important stage in a horse's development as the adult horse will remember being broken in. The trotter will learn how not to break gait and gallop.

Breeches : trousers worn by jockeys and drivers.

Bridle : headgear for the horse; consisting of a series of buckled straps, a metal mouthpiece (bit) by which the animal is controlled through the reins.

Brood mare : a female horse covered by stallions.


- C -

Canter : a warm-up gallop before a race. Short for Canterbury trot, the supposed pace at which pilgrims rode to Canterbury. Punters will say their horse won "at a canter" when the horse won easily without making too much effort.

Cap : worn over the jockey or the driver's helmet in the owner's colours.

Cinder : most French racetracks are cinder tracks.

Claiming race : a race is a "claimer" when it is possible to buy one of the runners at the end. The asking price appears in the programme. Potential buyers write the sum they wish to pay on a form and deposit it in an urn in the weighing room (they cannot offer less than the asking price) fifteen minutes after a race. The owner has every right to sell his horse to the highest bidder. The difference between the asking and selling price goes to the race organisers. The buyer must pay the amount written on his bidding form regardless of where the horse finishes.

Coat : a horse's colour: The most common colours are Al. chestnut; B. bay; B.B. brown; B.F. dark brown; Gr. grey; R. roan.

Code : The horseracing rules and regulations in France. There is a separate code for flat and jump racing and for trotting.

Colours : every horse owner has his/her own colours, sported on the jockey's silks and cap. If an owner has several runners in a single race, you can spot the horse you've backed by a coloured sash, usually red, green or white.

Conditions racing :open to horses that meet a certain number of conditions.

Coupled : when an owner runs 2 (or more) horses in the same race or when a trainer runs 2 horses of which 1 belongs to him, a punter who has bet on one of the horses still wins the same payout for a single forecast even if the other horse from the same stable wins. The place bet, however, is only paid out on the horse finishing in the first 3. When two horses are coupled, the jockey for the horse with the highest number wears a diagonal sash over his silks.

Cover : a thoroughbred stallion covers a mare at a stud farm. A mare may be covered up to 6 times by a single stallion.

Crack : how the French used to describe a truly exceptional horse. Overuse of the term has meant that it now only means a very good horse.


- D -

Dead-heat : when two horses cross the line together.

Disqualified : when a horse is thrown out of a race. A trotter can be disqualified or placed fourth for breaking gait (galloping, pacing, etc.) or galloping towards the finish line.

Distance : this is the length each horse has to run. In trotting races the faster horses may have to run longer distances than slower horses in the same race; 2,625 metres rather than 2,600 metres for example.

Draw : a horse can be drawn on the rails or on the outside. Jockey's can only steer their horse onto the rails after they've run 200 metres. The draw is made out of a hat. For trotting, a draw is made only when the race is started with a mobile starting gate. In such cases, although there is a draw, certain racecourses line up the horses with the best form on the outside.

Driver : a sulky driver.


- E -

Ear plugs : a cork ball which is placed in a horse's ears during a trotting race. The driver can unplug a horse's ears by pulling on a cord. This is done to make a horse accelerate towards the finish.

Enclosure : this includes the weighing room, paddock and main stand on any racecourse.

Error : a trotter makes an error when it gallops or makes a sudden swerve. A steeplechaser or hurdler commits an error when it hits a fence or stumbles on landing.

European meetings : Open to any horse in the Trotting Stud-Book of a European Union country and bred in that country.



- F -

Favourite : the horse that most punters expect to win the race.

Filly : name given to a female horse until the 1st January of its fifth year.

Film : where the judges are positioned to decide who wins the race.

Flat racing : racing on the flat is one of the three types of racing in France. A flat horse begins its career as a two year-old: it will be a sprinter (speed horse) if it proves to have the necessary acceleration over 1,000 to 1,400 metres, or a "miler" if it stays the 1,600 to 1,800 metre distance. The cream of the crop, however, those horses possessing both speed and stamina, will run over the classic distance of a mile and a half: 2,400 metres. The Prix du Jockey Club run in June at Chantilly attracts the best 3, 4 and 5 year-olds in France, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe attracts the world's best to Longchamp in October. Both races are run over a mile and a half (2,400 metres).

Flyer : a sprinter. A horse specialising in short distances of 1,000 to 1,300 metres.

Foal : a horse is a foal until the 31 December of the year it is born, at which time it becomes a yearling.

Form : how a horse has faired in recent outings. Punters study the form of all the horses in a given race before placing their bet. Here are the various abbreviations used in the French form book.
For flat and jump horses:

  • "o" means a jump race
  • "p" a flat race
  • "0" means the horse was unplaced (finished down the field)
  • "T" means the horse fell
  • "A" means the horse pulled up
  • "Ret" means the horse was demoted in the order
All figures apart from 0 indicate where the horse finished in the race. Form is read from right to left, beginning with the oldest race and ending with the most recent.

Example :
To 5p 4o 3o(98) 5p 0p
The figure indicates where the horse finished and the letter the type of race the horse was competing in.
We know therefore that this particular horse has:

  • run in two flat races in 1998, was unplaced in the first one, and finihed fifth in the second one.
  • run 4 times in 1999, finished 3rd and 4th in jump races, 5th in a flat race and fell in its last jump race.
For trotting:
  • "a" means a harness race
  • "m" means a trotting race
  • "0" means the horse was unplaced
  • "D" means it was disqualified for breaking gait
  • "T" means it fell
  • "A" means it was pulled up
  • "Ret" means it was demoted in the order
Example :
3a 5m 4a 3a(98) 5a 0a Dm
The figure indicates where the horse finished and the letter the type of race the horse was competing in.
We know therefore that this particular horse has:
  • run three times in 1998, the first time in a trotting race when it was disqualified for breaking gait, then in two harness races finishing down the field and then fifth.
  • run 4 times in 1999, finishing third twice, fourth in a harness race and fifth in a trotting race.

- G -

Gait : the way a horse strides over the ground.

Gelding :a castrated horse.

Girth :a large, flat leather or canvass strap which keeps the saddle in place.

Going : the state of the track. The track is generally measured before a race using a penetrometer. The going is either hard, very firm, firm, good to firm, good, good to soft, soft, soft to heavy or heavy.

Goggles : special glasses that protect a jockey or driver's eyes from anything that is thrown up in the air during a race.

Grey : coat which includes the colour grey. Also used for almost pure white-coated horses.

Group racing : group one, two and three races are the most prestigious in the flat racing calendar.

Going : the state of the track. The track is generally measured before a race using a penetrometer. The going is either hard, very firm, firm, good to firm, good, good to soft, soft, soft to heavy or heavy.


- H -

Handicap : is a race in which each horse theoretically has an even chance of winning having been allotted a certain amount of weight to carry-depending on ability-by the handicapper. In trotting races, or harness racing, faster horses are handicapped by starting further back (12, 25, 37, 50 and 62 metres). On the flat, horses generally carry between 48 and 60 kilos (sometimes more than 60, never less than 48); jumpers can carry between 60 and 72 kilos (sometimes more than 72, never less than 60).

Heat : a race in English horseracing. In France It means warming up a horse before a race

Hind (legs):  : a horse's two back legs.

Hurdle : an obstacle made of natural hedges or tightly-packed heather.

Hurdling : a hurdle race. Hurdlers must jump over a series of identical obstacles (around 1 metre high and 1 metre wide)


- I -

In foal : a mare carries her foal for 11 months.

International meetings : open to trotters in any country's Stud-Book.


- J -

Jockey : a professional rider.

Judge (on course) : official who makes sure the race is run in the correct manner. In a harness race, for example, the judge may disqualify a horse for breaking gait.

Judge (finishing post) : the official who posts the official result. He may, on occasion, have to consult the photo taken at the finish line.

Jump racing : is one of the three types of racing in France. There are several types of jump race: cross-country, hurdling-where all the fences are the same-and steeplechasing, where the horses jump over various obstacles (water jump, open ditch, etc) of considerable height. The famous "rivière des tribunes" at Auteuil demands a long jump of no less than 8 metres! The Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, run in June very year at Auteuil, brings together 5,800 metre specialists. This stayer's race, very popular among the racegoing public, demands enormous jumping ability and is a considerable test of stamina.


- L -

Lad : a stable boy who looks after racehorses at a stable.

Lead :put into a horse's weight cloth to make up weight differences between jockeys and make sure the horse satisfies race conditions.

Leader : the horse who sets the pace in a race (the pacesetter).

List-races : are one step down from group races.


- M -

Mare : a female horse, 5 years-old or older.

Martingale : a strap from the reins to the girth of a horse preventing it from carrying its head too high.

Mobile starting gate : is a car equipped with an exhaust pipe on the roof-so that the horses don't breath in the fumes-and two retractable wings with a tape at the end behind which the horses line up as drawn. The car leads the horses to the starting line and gets them off to an even running start in a trotting gait.


- N -

National meetings : open to horses in the French Trotter Stud-Book bred in France.

N.P. : is the abbreviation in France for a non runner (N.R. in Great Britain)



- O -

Objection :a jockey can lodge an objection with the stewards when he considers another jockey has impeded his progress during a race. The stewards will then open an inquiry to decide whether to maintain or alter the official result. A siren announces that a jockey has lodged an objection.

Other meetings :open to horses in the French Trotter's Stud-Book bred in a European Union country.

Outclass : when a horse easily defeats his opponents in a race he outclasses them.

Outsider : a horse that isn't fancied to win a race.

Over-reach pads : protect a horses legs. Particularly when a horse's hind legs collide with its forelegs

Overweight : the extra weight that certain riders carry over the allotted weight.


- P -

Pacing : a pacer moves both legs on one side of its body at the same time.

Part-breed : when a thoroughbred couples with a horse of another breed the resulting foal is a part-breed. A part-bred sire and dam also produce a part-breed.

Pari Mutuel : the only type of betting in France. Those who have bet on the winner of a race share in the total amount wagered on that race less a percentage for the organisers.

Pedigree : a horse's genealogical tree.

Penetrometer : an instrument used to measure the going. When dropped onto the track, the deeper it penetrates the soil, the heavier the going. Measurements are made at a dozen different parts of the track. The average measurement gives a figure between 1 and 5.5 which characterises the going (1 = hard, 2 = very firm, 2,5 = firm, 3 = good to firm, 3,5 = good, 4 = good to soft, 4,5 = soft, 5 = soft to heavy, 5,5 = heavy).

Photo finish : all racecourses are equipped with photographic equipment set up at the finish line to determine the finishing order, even when two horses seemingly cross the line together. A close finish is therefore known as a photo finish.

P.M.H : Pari Mutuel Hippodrome (bets placed at the racecourse in France).

P.M.U : Pari Mutuel Urbain (bets placed off-course).

Produce : progeny from a stallion and a brood mare. A brood mare's first produce is her first foal. A stallion's first produce includes all his progeny in his first year covering mares. It is sometimes necessary to wait for a number of foals to be born before judging the quality of a stallion's produce.

Purse : the amount of prize-money on offer for a race.


- R -

Racegoers : punters and spectators at the racetrack.

Red : in France we say "le rouge est mis" to indicate that there is a red flag on the board before the race. This means that the betting is open, and after the race, that the result is now official and punters can collect their winnings.

Red Roan : a horse with a red and white coat.

Reins: a pair of leather straps used to control the horse, running from the side of the bit to the hand of the jockey or driver.

Riding boots : what a jockey or a driver wears on his/her feet.


- S -

Saddle : a curved leather seat for the jockey on the horse's back secured by a girth under the belly.

Silks : the jockey's silk or nylon apparel which sports the owner's colours.

Stallion : a horse used for covering dams (siring).

Stalls : (also called starting-gates) this is where the horses are placed before the start of a flat race. The stalls are lined up side by side and all open at the same time.

Starter : checks that all the horses are present at the start. The track speaker then announces that the horses are "under orders". It is the starter who decides if the horses get off to a "fair start" or not. If he decides otherwise, he raises his flag and the flag-bearer positioned 200 metres from the start then raises his flag to indicate to the jockeys or riders that they have to restart the race.

Steeple-Chase : a race over many different and difficult obstacles. So called because originally the race took place cross-country with a church tower serving as a landmark to guide the riders.

Stewards : persons responsible for ensuring the Code is adhered to on French racecourses.

Stewards' inquiry : the stewards open an inquiry after a race if they suspect there has been foul play. An inquiry doesn't necessarily mean the result will be changed. A certain horse could be demoted in the order, however, or disqualified altogether. An inquiry can also be launched if a jockey lodges a objection against another jockey.

Stirrups : metal loops on a saddle with a flat footpiece through which a jockey puts his foot for support.

Stockings : white markings on a horses legs below and above the knee.

Stud-Book : this lists the various thoroughbred bloodlines. In France there is a thoroughbred and a French Trotter Stud-Book.

Stud farm : where breeding takes place. Certain farms in France are state-owned (intended to improve the various breeds of horse), others are private. The first state-owned stud farm was built in the 14th century by Philippe VI at Domfront (Orne).

Study form : to examine how all the horses in a given race have been performing in an attempt to pick out the winner.

Sulky : the two-wheeled vehicle used in harness racing.

Suspension : a penalty imposed on a jockey forbidding him/her from racing for a certain period of time. It can be for 4 days (for a small offence) or a life suspension (for a serious offence).


- T -

Tack :the horses start the race behind the starting tape which runs across the track at the various starting points. On French tracks a loudspeaker intones the same countdown instructions before each race:

  1. get ready
  2. take your places
  3. one
  4. two
  5. three
The tape is lifted at the count of three. There are four and a half seconds between the first and second instruction, one and a half seconds between the second and third, then two half second intervals between the last two.

Traquenard : an irregular trot, galloping with the hind legs and trotting with the forelegs.

Trotter : a horse that competes in trotting races. Unlike flat horses, trotters run in all conditions.

Trotting and harness racing : one of the three kinds of racing in France. It is a gait in which the diagonally opposed legs of the horse come down together. Trotting races are generally carried out on cinder tracks, with on course judges making sure the horses maintain a trotting gait throughout. Harness racing also requires the horses to maintain a trotting gait as they are driven by a driver sat on a sulky. Trotters are generally aged between 3 and 10. Their racing career is a long one, with many outings enjoyed by the racegoing public. The most famous race in the trotting calendar is on the last Sunday in January at the Paris-Vincennes track, when the world's best trotters gather for the Prix d'Amérique over 2,600 metres. The French public also enjoy attending trotting and harness racing meetings under floodlights.

Turf : what many tracks are made of.


- U -

Under orders : means the horses are waiting in the stalls or behind the tape for the starter's signal to begin the race.


- V -

Van : a horse box that can transport up to 6 horses.


- W -

Weighing cloth : generally made of felt, it protects the saddle from the rider's sweat.

Weighing room : where jockeys weigh-in and weigh-out.

Weight : a jockey must weigh-in and out with his saddle, weighing cloth, girth, surcingle, hunting stock and body protector. The whip, number cloth and helmet aren't weighed. The rest of the tack (blinkers, bridle, shoes, etc) don't count in the announced weight.

Whip : a riding crop used to spur a horse on. It cannot be longer than 1.30m for trotting and 68 cm for flat or jump racing.

Winner : the horse that finishes the race first.

Winning distance : the official distance which separates the first two horses at the finishing post. The following terms are employed: dead-heat, nose, head, short head, neck, half a length (of a horse), a length (1, 2, 3, etc...). In trotting races, the time taken by each horse to cover the distance is clocked and posted.


- Y -

Yearling : a year-old horse (born the previous year).


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