Essay on Racetrackese: Learning Racing Terms

Essay on Racetrackese: Learning Racing Terms

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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...


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...f like a bug. A rider who is “second call” is a jockey who was called upon to ride a horse if the trainer’s first preference is unavailable. An obscure and not-often-heard term in recent decades is a jockey who rides “acey-deucy.” This means the jockey prefers uneven stirrups or one longer than the other as did legendary rider, Eddie Arcaro.

The good news with racing terms is that because of history the lexicon is established with few if any new terms being added. It is, however, not a “language” learned overnight. Is there a “bottom” to all the terms and expressions? Actually there are two: the literal bottom of the list (“work tab” in Keeneland.com’s Racing Terms--a list of morning workouts according to distance and time) and “bottom” as in yet another term you might hear along with “tightener,” “panels,” etc. The bottom in a race horse is its stamina.

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