12 Frequent Phrases Coined by Horse Racing


The English language is filled with widespread phrases coined so way back that their authentic—usually literal—meanings have lengthy been forgotten. Gear up for this 12 months’s Kentucky Derby on Could 7 with 12 on a regular basis utterances that got here straight from the horse races.

Earlier than throughout the board referred to every thing in a given class, it was used to explain a guess through which you selected one horse and put equal sums of cash into all three attainable profitable outcomes: profitable (first place), putting (first or second place), and exhibiting (first, second, or third place). Since bookies saved observe of odds on blackboards again within the early twentieth century, one of these wager meant you had been actually choosing all of the choices throughout the board.

1786 illustration of a horse race by Thomas Rowlandson

‘The Begin’ by Thomas Rowlandson, 1786. / Heritage Pictures/GettyImages

Way back to the late 1760s, a “give and take plate” was the prize for a race through which the enjoying discipline was evened by having taller horses carry further weight. By the late 1770s, folks had already began utilizing it to explain different conditions that referred to as for compromise and truthful alternate. The primary recognized point out of this broader sense comes from Frances Burney’s 1778 novel Evelina: “give and take is truthful in all nations.”

As of late, fingers down normally means “indisputably” or “effortlessly.” When it originated within the Nineteenth century, the phrase particularly described a horse race that was received indisputably or effortlessly—a lot in order that the jockey would slacken the reins and cross the end line “with fingers down.”

minoru, early 20th century racehorse, with owner king edward vii

Minoru together with his proprietor, King Edward VII (far proper), and trainers in 1909. / Print Collector/GettyImages

Should you had been a Nineteenth-century race-goer backing a sure horse, you needed to get a run on your cash—ideally a worthwhile one, however any run was higher than no run. In any case, there’s all the time an opportunity {that a} horse can get withdrawn from the lineup (or “scratched”) on the final minute due to damage, sickness, subpar racing circumstances, or any variety of different causes. Earlier than lengthy, folks began utilizing a run for one’s cash exterior the racetrack in eventualities the place somebody or one thing proves to be a worthy competitor.

As a result of a wire was typically hung above the end line so judges might extra simply establish the profitable horses, folks began calling the end line “the wire” across the 1870s. Should you mentioned a horse got here in beneath the wire, you simply meant that they crossed the end line; and if you happen to mentioned two horses raced right down to the wire, you meant that they ended the race in shut competitors. In all probability owing to the dramatic and last-minute nature of horse racing generally, beneath the wire and right down to the wire each got here to explain one thing completed or completed on the final attainable minute.

Should you assumed this entry started as baseball slang, you’re in all probability not alone—it is sensible that the final phase of the diamond, from third base to house plate, could be referred to as the “house stretch” or “house straight.” Nevertheless it was initially utilized in horse racing: It’s the final (straight) leg of the observe between the ultimate nook and the end line. As of late, the ultimate push earlier than the tip of something—a visit, challenge, and so on.—could be a house stretch.

2021 kentucky oaks horse race

Jockeys jockeying for place on the 2021 Kentucky Oaks. / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

Jockeying for place simply means you’re making an attempt to maneuver into a greater place—perhaps for a greater view at a live performance, or for a clearer path to the end line in an precise race. The origins of the phrase could seem apparent, since jockeys angle for higher positioning throughout at the moment’s horse races. However its historical past is a bit more difficult than that, as a result of the phrase jockey didn’t all the time simply confer with racehorse riders. It additionally described horse sellers, who had a fame for dishonest, making crooked offers, and usually being untrustworthy. 

So folks began utilizing jockey as a verb that principally meant “to realize a bonus over somebody by tricking them” or “to get one thing by dishonest or outwitting somebody.” In keeping with the Oxford English Dictionary, it was this sense that gave rise to the phrase jockey for place. In different phrases, if you happen to nabbed a greater place, the implication was as soon as that you simply bought there on the backs of these much less crafty or extra moralistic than you.

Neck and neck initially described well-matched horses who didn’t pull forward of one another throughout a race: Their necks stayed even. The earliest recognized written occasion of the phrase with regard to horses is from 1799, and it nearly instantly bought co-opted for different varieties of races—particularly political ones. “The competition for Kent is the keenest that has but been run. The three candidates are neck and neck,” The Morning Publish reported in July 1802.

Salvator Beats Tenny at a Sheepshead Bay horse race in 1890

Salvator beats Tenny by a nostril at New York’s Sheepshead Bay Race Observe in 1890. / Heritage Pictures/GettyImages

Because of these aforementioned lengthy necks, horses’ noses usually cross the end line earlier than their legs. If the first-place finisher in a Nineteenth-century horse race eked out a win by a tiny margin, they fairly actually solely received by a nostril. As we speak, any type of shut victory might be described as being received by a nostril.

Within the mid-Nineteenth century, per the OED, a quick observe was “a racetrack with a tough dry floor which allows horses to run at excessive velocity.” A sluggish observe was the precise reverse: one with a “mushy moist floor.” Although sluggish observe did catch on as a metaphorical phrase, quick observe is the extra well-liked of the 2, fingers down. As we speak, a quick observe might be any accelerated path, literal or figurative; it’s even been become a verb. Quick-track that report of most hated enterprise jargon, please.



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