If you think you’ve seen it all in Thoroughbred horse racing it’s a sure bet that you probably haven’t heard it all. Terms making up a racing lexicon are so broad, unique and occasionally confusing as to produce a glossary in many horse racing books as well as websites, including Keeneland.com, which includes “Racing Terms” under a “Beginner’s Guide.”
An example of what one could hear from around the paddock at Keeneland demonstrates the need for a glossary:
“He ran six panels and placed off a bullet work even after he was taken up in the stretch. His trainer still thinks he’s a router. His bottom line says sprinter, though, and he may need a tightener and a good breeze before he runs a route.”
Six “panels” are six furlongs, a furlong being an eighth-of-a-mile and another term, in itself, preserved by racing. In Old English a furlang was the length of a furrow in a 10-acre field and before that the equivalent of a Roman stadium or one-eighth of a mile. “Placed” means the horse finished second. A “bullet work” was the fastest workout time for a particular distance on the day the horse exercised, an effort denoted by a black dot or “bullet” in the track program. “Taken up” means the horse had to be restrained or “steadied” (another racing term) by the jockey because of running in close quarters. Stretch, of course, is the straightaway leading to the wire and finish line.
The trainer’s assessment of the horse as a “router” illustrates the unique and seemingly conflicting meaning given to some words and terms in racing. The trainer doesn’t mean the horse is sure to outrun competitors by huge margins, but that the horse is best suited to “routes” or races at a mile-and-an-eighth or longer. The “bottom line,” also, doesn’t mean definitive measure of the horse but breeding on the female side. “Sprinter” applies to horses whose best performance can be expected at races less than a mile in distance. A “tightener” would be a race used to prepare the horse for a subsequent race. Lastly, a good “breeze” doesn’t mean a cool wind but a workout of moderate speed in a desired time.
How the horse performs at a distance long or short produces additional terms that are a sub-lexicon. If the horse was “keen,” he or she showed too much early speed and refused to “rate” or settle into a relaxed pace to leave something for the stretch run. Such a horse will be described by horsemen and jockeys as “rank.” If, on the other hand, the horse ran under control but didn’t “fire,” he or she didn’t respond to the jockey’s urging or being “asked,” usually in the “far turn” or last turn before the finish line (as opposed to the “clubhouse turn past the wire). If, subequently, down the stretch the horse “hung” it neither advanced or lost position.
Ideally, the horse demonstrated a good “turn of foot” or acceleration for the stretch run. Also,...