Newcomers to the world of racing often find horse racing terms very puzzling. It feels like arriving in a foreign country where people speak a different language. What makes it more confusing is that the major English-speaking countries where racing takes place, such as the USA, UK and Australia, all use different horse racing terms.
In the USA, one set of horse racing terms refers to the actual different types of race. These include stakes races, allowance races, claiming races and maiden races. Stakes races are the most prestigious races, in which the top horses are entered and in which the highest sums of money are wagered. In these races owners have to pay an entry fee to enter their horses. They include the Triple Crown, the three biggest races for three-year-olds, one of which is the Kentucky Derby. Allowance races are known as Handicap races in UK horse racing terms. Horses and riders have to meet specific conditions to have weight restrictions lifted.
Claiming races, in horse racing terms, are races in which each horse has a price tag, and a claim can be made to buy them before the race. The successful claimer of a horse has to take the horse and pay the price, whatever happens in the race, even if the horse dies. The lowest class of racing in horse racing terms is the maiden race, which is for horses who have never won a race. The top maiden races are Maiden Special Weight races, for maiden horses which are expected to “break their maiden”, or win their first race, very quickly.
Another set of horse racing terms refers to the horses themselves. For instance, a thoroughbred is a horse specially bred for racing, and the sire and dam of a horse are the male and female parents respectively. A filly is a female horse under five years old which has not been used for breeding, and a mare is a female of five or more. Similarly a colt is a male horse under five which has not been neutered, and a stallion is a breeding horse over five. If a horse is neutered to make it more suitable for racing, it is called a gelding.
Probably the most baffling horse racing terms are those referring to betting. The simplest types of wagers are those you place on just one horse, for win, place or show. If you back the horse to win, it must finish first, for place, it must finish first or second, and for show, it must be one of the first three. The more complicated horse racing terms refer to bets where you back more than one horse. For an Exacta wager, you back two horses to come first or second in that order, for a Trifecta, you back three horses to be first, second and third in that order, and for a Superfecta, you back four horses to come in first, second third and fourth in that order. You can also back different combinations for each of these.
If you are unfamiliar with horse racing terms, there is no need to see this as a problem. Everyone had to start at some time. The best way to find out about horse racing terms is to spend time in racing circles, so that you can enjoy the atmosphere as well.