Horse racing terms used in every day life

Winning by a nose.
Winning by a nose.

It’s amazing how many horse racing terms and idioms have snuck into every day speech. Here are a few.

  • Out of the gate: We talk about how someone does at the start of an activity, like breaking from the starting gate.
    Jockey for position: If you’ve watched the first two legs of the triple crown, you’ve seen the jockeys fighting for their position in the field. Just picture that as people climb the corporate ladder!
  • In the running: This refers to a horse that’s considered to be a contender. Same for people.
  • Dark horse: This is an unknown horse — like Mine That Bird — that no one thinks will win. But you also hear it applied to people, especially in political campaigns.
  • By a nose: Refers to the narrowest of margins in a race. Here’s where you want a horse that stretches out it’s head under the finish line.
  • Long shot: Like a dark horse, this is the candidate that no one bets on. When the long shot wins, think Mine That Bird at 50-1, those that bet correctly win big.
  • Home stretch: The final stages of an event, technically the part of the track from the last turn to the finish line.
  • Across the board: This refers to an equal amount bet to win, place and show at the track. In real life, it is when the same thing is applied to all categories.
  • Give them a run for their money: Someone who does this competes strongly against someone who is expected to win a competition.
  • Head start: This refers to someone who starts early, giving them an advantage.
  • Inside track: As Calvin Borel has shown, the shortest way around a race track is on the inside. People with the inside track usually have information or a position that will make it easier for them to succeed.
  • Pick up the pace: Generally horses pick up the pace as they turn onto the home stretch and make their final run. In real life we use this to encourage someone to do something faster.
  • Hit one’s stride: When a horse hits its stride it’s moving as fast as it can. We use it when people are doing their best.
  • Win hands down: When a jockey wins a race with his hands down it means he did not need to use the whip. With people, we consider it an undisputed victory.
  • Down to the wire: The race isn’t won until the horse’s cross the finish line. There are many races where the results are not clear until the last few minutes. We’ve probably all worked the last few minutes before a deadline so know what it feels like.

2 thoughts on “Horse racing terms used in every day life

  1. Hi,

    I just found your site, it’s really great. I would add “Get your Goat” and “In a Lather”to your list. Actually my wife and I have published a book called “Off to a Flying Start: Horsing Around the Language.” It’s an illustrated collection of popular phrases that shows how the language of everyday life (and especially politics) has been influenced by life at the track.

    You can ckeck it out at offtoaflyingstartpress(dot)com

    Thanks and keep up the great work.


Leave a Reply