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How To Bet Horses - Glossary of Racing Terms  

Age. Every horse celebrates a birthday on January 1, regardless of the actual date of birth. Yes, this would mean a horse born on December 31st would be a yearling on January 1st. However, the breeding industry avoids this problem by timing the breeding season to start in February. (Mares carry their foals for approximately 11 months.)

Two-year-olds only race against other two-year-olds. Three-year-olds normally only compete amongst themselves during the first half of the year then begin to challenge older horses as they gain experience. Many handicappers watch for older horses racing against three-year-olds. It takes a special three-year-old to challenge their elders and win. Handicappers also watch four-year-olds as they come of age. Because most three-year-olds are protected for a majority of their racing lives, as a-four-year old they may have trouble making the transition to becoming a competitive older horse.

Chalk - When a horse is the favorite -- or has the most money bet on it -- that horse is termed the "chalk." Interestingly, this term comes from the pre-computer era of the bookie. When a bookie recorded bets on a blackboard, the odds would change over and over as more and more people bet on the favorite. The horse became known as the "chalk" because the horse's name would disappear in chalk dust as the bookie constantly erased and lowered the horse's odds.

Condition book. The Racing Secretary at all tracks writes a condition book for upcoming races every two weeks. The condition book allows horsemen to schedule their horses for races. Del Mar's condition book is available on-line. The condition book also reminds horsemen of upcoming stakes and nomination deadlines.

Entry. In California, when two or more horses entered in a race belong to the same owner, they are called "entries" or "coupled" horses. In other states, a coupled entry is defined when two or more horses are trained by and/or owned by the same person. The coupled entry is comprised of two or more horses and are a single betting interest. For example: In California, Mrs. Smith owns horse A and horse B. Mrs. Smith's entry would thus be 1 and 1a. This is considered a bet on #1 for betting purposes. Once in awhile, there will be more than one coupled entry: Mrs. Smith owns Horses A and B while Mr. Jones owns Horses C and D. Mr. Jones' entry would be numbers 2 and 2a. In other states, if the same trainer conditions Horse A and Horse B, these horses will be coupled, and/or if the two horses are owned by the same person, they will be coupled.

While this seems complex, what it means is that you get two horses for the price of one. However, it usually means that a horse you thought would be at long odds may be affected by the other "coupled" entry. The industry has not determined how to address this issue. Some bettors believe that common interests mean that the horses should automatically be coupled (to prevent conflict of interest). Other bettors believe it isn't fair that the other horse has lower odds because of common ownership (or conditioning). This is the reason that each state has differing rules on coupling.

Handle - Amount of money wagered on a single race or a full-day of racing (e.g., the handle for the day was $2,000,000).

Handicapping. Some people feel that this is one of the hardest games of skill. Others feel that they can quantify it on their computers, spit out some selections and make their bets. Some folks agonize over their selections each night for hours before the they go to the races, while others take no more than an hour per race card. Whichever you become, here are some "lessons" as developed by the DRF.Most people learn these lessons with a friend or someone knowledgeable at the track. It is not necessary that you take these lessons or make the racing experience into something difficult. Many people like to be able to spot a horse that others wouldn't choose at long odds. However, in order to win bets at long odds, one does need to know how to handicap!

Morning Line. A prediction by the Track Line Maker of what the final odds will be based on how the public wagers. It depends on the line maker whether the prediction is accurate. Many people often get confused thinking that the Morning Line is an indicator of the possible winner. This is one critical area of handicapping.

The public can and does choose the wrong horse, termed a "false" favorite. Many people bet exclusively on favorites without handicapping the races. If the horse is a false favorite, the other bettors -- especially those who do not like to bet low odds -- will seek out a more qualified horse. The payoff is usually much better. The trick is finding those horses that are false favorites and not talking yourself into believing a favorite isn't qualified to win today's race.

Past Performance. A history of each horses' racing performance: how he/she ran, placed, the jockey, at what track, etc. The past performances are often referred to as the "pp's." Reading the Daily Racing Form, or any document that contains the past performances, is not as difficult as it may look.

Post position. The post position is the position from which the horse breaks out of the gate. Most of the time a horse comes out of the same gate number as his/her program number. However, if there are coupled entries in the race, that isn't possible. Both the 1 and the 1a cannot break from the 1 slot so they draw for the post positions. Your program will show you which post position the horse breaks from.

Some handicappers keep track of post positions believing there is a track bias. They may have observed, for example, that the outside is playing better than the inside (or reverse). As a result, they might be willing to bet a certain horse that is not quite as good as the others because of its post position.

Post Time. The time the horses are expected to reach the starting "post"; when a race begins.

Race Card. The schedule of races on a specific day.


Race Types

Stakes and Handicap Races. Del Mar for one, has one of the richest stakes schedules in this country which includes just about every racing distance and surface, Stakes Schedule. Graded stakes and handicap races are the highest level of racing at any race track. The best horses usually compete in stakes competition. The owner must pay nomination fees and entry fees in order to run their horse. An example of a very early nomination fee is the Breeders Cup. This fee ($500) is paid in the foal's weanling year. Other fees are due a month or several weeks before the race is scheduled to run. The owner may also have to pay a fee to enter the horse during the entries. These fees are usually paid back in the purse. The nominations will frequently include many horses. The conditions of the race will determine who gets to race. (At present the industry is experiencing a horse shortage. As a result, it is often not necessary to leave horses out of races.)

The Racing Secretary assigns weights to horses in a handicap race. The toughest horse must bear the highest weight, while the least competitive horse will have the lowest weight. Assigning different weights is an attempt to level the playing field between competitors, just like a handicap in golf. There are also weight breaks for younger horses or for a filly racing against colts. A stakes or handicap race can also list age conditions like "two-year-olds," "three-year-olds," "four-year-olds" or "three and up."

Overnight Stakes. The main difference between an overnight stakes race and a stakes race is the amount of entry fees a trainer must pay to enter the horse. Overnight stakes do not usually require nomination, entry and starting fees. Nominations for overnight stakes are generally taken up to a week (or less) before the race. Overnight stakes bring out quality horses to compete for excellent purse money, though usually not as much as in the highest quality stakes races.

Claiming Races. A claiming race means that the horses may be purchased by a qualified, licensed person for the claiming price listed in that race. Many people do not understand why someone would want a horse to be claimed. Just as in other professional sports, not all horses are good enough to be top competitors in stakes level races. Racing in the claiming ranks allows the owners, as well as the horses, the opportunity to win against horses of the same caliber. Depending on the track, a horse may be entered for as low as $10,000 or as high as $100,000. There is also another type of race called the optional claimer. In this case, the horses may be eligible to be claimed or they may be allowance horses, competing under allowance conditions, and therefore are not eligible to be claimed. This type of race was created to combine two types of races and help the Racing Secretary have a fuller field of horses for this type of race.

Starter Allowance Races. A horse entered in a starter allowance race cannot be claimed. The horse, however, must have run at a certain claiming level (depending on how the conditions are written) during a designated time (for example "since August 1998"). The starter allowance generally brings together the best of the the claiming-level competitors.

Allowance Race. Allowance races are exactly like their name implies. Allowances are made or "conditions are set" in order for the horse to be eligible in that race. Examples of allowance races are: Non-Winners of 2 (races), Non-Winners of 3 (races), Non-Winners of 4 (races). As you can see, each level is more competitive. A horse that has never won two races might have a hard time winning a race against horses that have won three. There are often other conditions like "of a race since August 5th, 1998" or "at a mile or over." Sometimes there are monetary conditions set, such as "Non-Winners of $3000" or "Non-Winners of 5000 lifetime." A good handicapper will make note of these conditions. Some horses entered in the race may be competitive against Non-winners of $5000 lifetime, but not at all competitive against Non-Winners of three races.

These races are exciting for the fan and industry alike as we all learn whether a horse is going to be good enough to continue on to the stakes level of racing. It depends on the trainer and owner, of course, but often a horse will be run through all of their conditions before they are ever entered in a stakes race. Some feel that it is important to season a horse by going this route. Others feel that it is better to strike while the iron is hot and go after the better purses in stakes level racing. Some horses can't make the cut and go from the allowance to the claiming ranks and back over their careers.

Maiden Races. The term "maiden" means non-winner, the horse has never won a race. Some maidens, in fact, have never raced at all (nonstarter). There are two types of maiden races. Generally, the maiden special weight race is the best. A horse cannot be claimed out of a maiden special weight Race. The purses are also better than the maiden claiming race as well. Most of the time the maiden special weight races have the best youngest horses on the race track. They are often the best bred horses and often have the best connections (owners, breeders and trainers).

Scratch. When a horse is withdrawn from a race in which it's scheduled to run. Depending upon the type of wager you've placed, you're entitled to either a refund or your interest will automatically be transferred to the betting favorite.

Horsemen are allowed to "scratch" their horses up to 24-hours after entries are taken, sometimes because a more suitable race has become available. There are many reasons to scratch a horse, however, including illness or injury. If the scratch occurs before the writing of the program, the numbers of the other horses change, which is where the confusion lies between entry and program numbers. If the scratch occurs after the program has been written and sent to the printer, the scratch is called a 'program scratch.' In that case, the other horses in the race do not change program numbers.

There are many rules regarding scratches. If a horse is scratched due to injury or illness, for example, the horse can't immediately be entered in another race. Depending upon the injury or illness (for example, if the horse was administered medications), there may be a time frame when a horse may not be entered.

Simulcast Wagering. The option to watch and wager on the races live via television broadcast. If you are unable to enjoy live racing at the track, you can attend any one of hundreds of simulcast wagering facilities nationwide that carry the Del Mar television broadcast, including California's own Southern and Northern California Off-Track Wagering network.

Tote Board. The infield graphics board, or tote board, provides the following information: the amount of money wagered on each horse individually in the win, place and show pools, updated odds, fractional and final race times, the results of the preceding race and additional messages including program changes, post time for the upcoming race and the time of day. The tote board is updated frequently.



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