FAQ Riding

Track Talk: Horse Racing Terminology for Rookies

Written by Marie A.

Sport of the Kings Lingo

Horse racing is sometimes referred to as the Sport of Kings. That said, it can be pretty intimidating to walk onto a racetrack as a new fan of the sport.

There are a lot of words that aren’t part of the common vernacular. Here, we’ll define and explain some general terms to demystify your time at the track.

Types of Races:

Claiming Race

This is a kind of horse race where all the horses in the field have a price tag. That’s right! You can buy your own racehorse through these races. They’re considered to be the lower levels of horse racing; the purses are smaller and the horses may not be as talented.

You can submit a claim ticket to own a specific horse after the race for the right price.

That said, some horses have started in the claiming ranks and gone on to rise to the top of horse racing.


This is placed on a horse when it’s been claimed.

Maiden races

Horses that have never won a race.

Allowance Race

These races are seen as a step above maiden races. Once a horse has won a maiden race, it can step up to this level.

Graded Race

These races are the top tier of racing—think of the races you usually see on television. These are “the main event” of a race day because they demand the best horses (and bigger prize money to the winner).


These are shorter races—less than a mile.


These are longer races. By today’s definition, a marathon is anything longer than 1 ¼ miles, such as the Belmont Stakes.


This term is used to describe a race for female horses, like the Kentucky Oaks.


A Derby describes a race that’s been named after the Derby Stakes run at Epsom Downs Racecourse. These are graded races. Unlike the Oaks races, Derby races can be run by any gender.

Starting gate at horse race

Photo cred: Canva

Betting Terms:


This is part of betting. In horse racing, win, place, and show are the first three finishers. When you place this bet, your horse must finish in the top three for you to win.


Winning off a trifecta bet is incredibly difficult. To win this bet, you have to guess the top three finishers of the race. Not only that, but you have to have them in the correct order!

Minus Pool

Minus pools are the result of a minimum payout and a lot of money bet on a heavy favorite. It means that after deducting the take-out, not enough money remains in the pool to pay the minimum return to those placing bets.

In this case, the betting organization would have to pay the remaining amount.


The return you can expect to get if your horse is successful in the race.

Scoreboard at horse race

Photo cred: Canva


This wager is when you pick the first four finishers of a race in the correct order.

Horse Terms:


This is a horse that hasn’t won a race before. There are special races just for maiden horses.


This is the general term for the mothers of racehorses. Broodmares may have previously raced or never set a hoof on a track.


Most often, these are stallions who have had some success on the racetrack before being retired to stand at stud. They are the fathers of the racehorses.


The mother of a specific horse.


An uncastrated male horse under the age of four.


A female horse under the age of four.


An uncastrated male horse over the age of four.


A female horse over the age of four.


A castrated male horse.

Washed Out

This is used to describe a horse that’s broken out in a nervous sweat before a race.

Track Terms:

In the money

This is used to describe the top four finishers of the race because these finishers will bring home money.


A wet track; a “mudder” is a horse that enjoys running in the mud and may perform better than on a dry (fast) track.

Sloppy track

Photo cred: Canva


This is the term used to describe the weight a horse is assigned to carry. The better a horse, the more weight they are assigned. This is designed to even the playing field.


The course a horse and rider take during the race. Sometimes they’re easy. Other times, they have to overcome being bumped or stuck in traffic.


The person who rides a horse in the race.


A race on grass instead of dirt.

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About the author


Marie A.

Though I love all horses, Arabians are my all-time favorite breed! I'm raising an Arabian filly and riding and showing my gelding on the Class A Arabian Circuit. I also enjoy going to horse racing and following the latest industry news.