Derby Dictionary; 26 Definitions

The Kentucky Derby is just two days away and although we can’t tell you who will win, we have made this handy A-Z of racing terms.

A – Across the Board

To bet a horse to win, place, or show (place first, second, or third) in the race.

B – Backstretch

This describes the straight portion of the track furthest from the grandstand. Not to be confused with the Backside, which is the stabling area!

C – Colors

The jacket and cap worn by the jockeys, also known as silks. Every owner has their own distinct colors, which help viewers identify horses traveling 40mph.

D – Dead Heat

Two (or more) horses finishing in a tie at the wire.

Stonestreet’s Miracles of Life finished in a dead heat with Eclair Choice in the Group 2 Caulfield Sprint.


E – Exacta

A wager where the bettor picks the first two finishers of the race, in order. A boxed exacta costs twice the price but you win if your top two picks finish first and second, in any order.

F – Furlong

Measure of distance equal to 1/8th of a mile. The Kentucky Derby is 10 furlongs.

G – Gate

The starting gate consists of 14 stalls except in the Kentucky Derby where an auxiliary gate adds 6 spots for a total of 20 starters. Want to know how horses learn to load into the gate? Check out this blog.

H – Handle

Total money wagered on a race. Record handle for the Derby was in 2015 at $137.9 million!

I – Inquiry

When the stewards review the race on tape to make sure it was run fairly. Any horse or rider who broke the rules can be demoted to a lower finishing position.

J – Jockeys Room

The locker room for jockeys where they change colors between races.

K – Key Horse

In a series of exotic wagers, the key horse is repeated in multiple combinations because the bettor believes it cannot lose.

L – Length

The length of a horse from nose to tail is approximately 9 ft and is how distances between horses in a race are measured. Below: Rachel Alexandra won the Oaks by 20 lengths.

M – Morning Line

The track handicapper’s prediction of what the final odds will be at post time. Actual odds are determined by the wagering public.

N – Nod

To win by a nod is to cross the finish line with a lowered head while your competitor has his head in the air.

O – Off the Board

The first three finishers in a race are described as having hit the board; the remainder of the field is therefore ‘off the board’. The tote board is the large screen at racetracks which displays results and odds.

P – Past Performances

Data compiled on each entrant, including past race performance and pedigree.

Q – Quarter Pole

The Quarter Pole is one-quarter of the mile from the finish line.

R – Racing Secretary

The racetrack official who writes the condition book for each race meet.

S – Scratch

If a horse is withdrawn from a race, he is described as having been scratched.

T – Triple Crown

Winning the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. After a 37 year drought, American Pharoah did it in 2015 – will we see another one this year?

U – Undercard

The other races run at a racetrack on a day with Graded Stakes. This Saturday, the other 13 races run before and after the Kentucky Derby are the undercard.

V – Valet

A jockey’s valet organizes the colors and equipment he will need for each mount throughout the race day.

W – Wire

The finish line.

X – X-Ray

X-rays are used to diagnose lameness as well as potential sources of future lameness. Check out this blog on radiographing yearlings.

Y – Yielding

Describes a turf course after a good amount of rain. The level of moisture in a turf track, from driest to wettest, is described as Firm, Good, Yielding and Soft. Dirt tracks are Fast, Good, Muddy, Sloppy or Sealed.

Z – Zayat Stables bred and raised 2015’s Triple Crown Winner, American Pharoah!