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Beginners' guide to Horse Racing: Terminology guide and jargon buster

Are you unsure how to read a form guide? Do you know which graded races are the better ones? Have you ever wondered what ante-post betting is? We answer all that and more.

What’s the difference between a Hurdle race and a Steeplechase?

This specifically refers to the obstacle to be navigated in a race. Hurdles are lower and are more forgiving when clipped, while fences are higher and tougher to navigate.

How to read a form guide

At first glance, a form guide can look like a random collection of letters and numbers that mean nothing, but it all makes sense when you know how to read one.

Each number from 1-9 represents a horse's finishing position. A 0 means the horse finished 10th or worse.

A - symbol indicates a previous season. Numbers to the left of the dash are from last season, with the most recent run on the right.

A / symbol indicates a longer break.

There are also letters that are important to look out for, and here's what each of them mean:

F - Fell. The most common letter to look out for on a form guide and indicates that a horse fell.
U (or UR) - Unseated rider. This is where the horse didn't fall, but in jumping, its jockey was unseated.
BD - Brought down. This is where a horse falls after being brought down by another horse.
C - Carried out. This is when a horse is taken off track by another, often loose, horse.
R - Refused. This is where a horse has refused to either navigate an obstacle or refused to race full stop.

There are also other abbreviations worth looking out for on a form guide. While they won't be a part of a horse's actual form, you'll likely find them by the horse's name:

C means the horse has won previously at that course
D means the horse has won previously over that distance
CD means the horse has won at the course and over the distance
H refers to a horse wearing a hood
P refers to a horse wearing cheekpieces
B refers to a horse wearing blinkers
T refers to a horse wearing a tongue tie

What are graded races?

The calibre of each National Hunt race can be identified by its Grade. Grade 1 races are the best, then Grade 2, then Grade 3s (now known as Premier Handicaps). 

Grade 1 races are the highest calibre races, contested over a both hurdles and fences, with no horses receiving weight penalties except for mares, who receive a 7lb allowance.

Grade 2 races are a level below and will feature many Grade 1-level horses, though these can be given minor penalties to make the race more even.

Grade 3 races are the next level below, and have recently been renamed ‘Premier Handicaps’. As the name suggests, these are the top handicap races and include the Grand National, with successful horses potentially targeting Grade 2 races.

What are novice races?

These races are for horses typically in their first campaign over a certain obstacle, be it hurdles or fences. A horse that wins over that obstacle is usually ineligible to compete in novice races the following season.

Abandoned refers to when a race or meeting is called off, often due to adverse weather conditions.


Inexperienced jockeys are given weight allowances, meaning they carry less weight than other jockeys in a race, and allowances are typically 3lb, 5lb or 7lb. Mares can also receive an allowance of 7lb in certain races, referred to as a ‘mares’ allowance’.


The term ante-post betting partly comes from the Latin for ante (before), and refers to betting before a race's betting market opens (which is typically the day before a race). While ante-post prices may be more generous, it often comes with the caveat that your bet will lose if the horse doesn't run for whatever reason. 

If a horse is declared for a race and then becomes a non-runner, your stake is typically returned.


‘Bar’ refers to the price of a horse in a race outside of a given number of horses. For example, if the two shortest-priced horses are 6/4 and 13/8, and the third-shortest is 5/1, you may see the first two horses listed with ‘5/1 bar’, stating that 5/1 is the next-shortest price in the field.


A bit is a metal bar that sits in the horse’s mouth and is attached to the bridle.


A form of headgear designed to keep a horse looking straight ahead, limiting distractions.


A bridle is a piece of headgear used to direct and control a horse. All horses will be fitted with a bridle for racing. Jockeys typically pull back on the reins to stop horses running as fast as they’d like and expending too much energy. See also: On/Off the bridle


A National Hunt flat race. While National Hunt racing is typically over fences or hurdles, bumpers allow inexperienced horses to get race experience. Horses that run in bumpers are often targeted to race over hurdles in the future.

Carried out

Carried out, indicated by a C on a form guide (not to be confused by a C next to a horse’s name, indicating they’ve won at the course), is when a horse is driven off course by another runner. 


A form of headgear made of sheepskin which sits either side of the bridle. Similar to blinkers, its purpose is to prevent a horse from being distracted.


There are five Classics in the UK and these are the highlights of the Flat racing calendar: 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas, St Leger, the Oaks and the Derby.


An uncastrated male horse under the age of five.


People connected with a horse, e.g. owner(s) and trainer.

Course and distance

Course and distance typically refers to a horse that has won at the course and over the distance of a race it is entered in. For example, if a horse wins the Cheltenham Gold Cup, it could be described as a ‘course and distance’ winner ahead of the following year’s race. This is marked by ‘cd’ on a form guide.


If a horse is declared for a race by a trainer, it’s a notification to the racing authorities that the horse intends to run in the race.


The shortest-priced horse in the betting, and one the bookmakers rate as the best chance of winning


A female horse aged four or younger.

Flat track

A flat track doesn’t have many undulations and can suit certain horses over others.


A gelding is a male horse that has been castrated. Geldings aren’t permitted to run in certain races – such as the Derby – where potential breeding talent can be identified.


The going refers to the state of the racecourse and how wet or dry it is. In the UK, the going can be anywhere between heavy and firm, with soft, good to soft, good and good to firm in between. Firmer ground typically means a faster paced race, whereas heavier ground leads to a slower, more stamina-draining race.

Group race

Group races are the best races of the Flat season, with Group 1s being the best, then Group 2s, then Group 3s.


A guinea was worth £1.05 and is typically the currency used when horses are sold at auction. The 1000 and 2000 Guineas refer to the prize money initially awarded in the race.


A horse may be hampered by another jumping horse, diverting them off course, forcing the jockey to change direction to evade the opposing horse.


A handicap is essentially a penalty given to a horse in order to make a race fairer. In a handicap race, each horse will be given a weight to carry so that in theory, each horse has an equal chance of winning.

Hacked up

Hacked up refers to a horse that won a race easily.

Hands and heels

A ‘hands and heels’ ride is one where the whip isn’t used by the jockey.


Typically seen in race summaries describing a horse’s previous ride, headed refers to when they took the lead.


Hurdles are one of the two obstacles faced in National Hunt racing. Smaller and more flexible than fences, hurdles are easier to navigate and are typically run at a faster pace. Successful hurdlers may be trained to tackle fences later in their career.

Jocked off

When a jockey set to ride a horse is replaced by another jockey, they’re said to have been jocked off.

Jollies and rags

Jollies and rags are a betting market where you can bet on a favourite (or multiple favourites), knows as jollies, or the field, meaning the remaining horses in the race, known as rags.

Left-handed track

A track that runs anti-clockwise. If a horse tends to jump over obstacles to the right, a left-handed track would be thought of as being unfavourable.


The length of a horse, referred to in winning distances and throughout races, for example, a horse can lead by two lengths.

Listed race

A calibre of race below the level of Group or Graded quality.

Made all

Commonly seen in race summaries describing a horse’s previous ride, made all is an abbreviated way of saying that a horse made all the running, or led from start to finish.


A maiden is a horse yet to win a race. Some races are exclusively for maidens.


A female horse aged five or older.


Non-runner refers to a horse that pulls out of a race for which it had been declared.


A novice typically refers to a horse who hasn’t won a particular type of race. For example, a novice hurdler is one who hasn’t won a hurdle race prior to the current season. A horse who wins over hurdles wouldn’t be eligible for novice hurdle races in the following season.

On/Off the bridle

If a horse is said to be ‘off the bridle’, it’s not travelling well. If a horse is said to be ‘on the bridle’, it’s typically travelling well with no extra effort required from the jockey.


A horse rated by the bookmakers as having little chance of winning.


If a horse is said to have 'pecked', this is usually on landing after clearing an obstacle. If a horse doesn't clear the obstacle fluently, they may dip their head towards the ground, typically losing balance and speed but not falling. You may hear a commentator say that a horse 'pecked (or nodded) on landing'.


In handicap races, a penalty may be added to a horse’s allocated weight depending on its performances between being entered for the race and running in it.

Pulled up

If a horse is off the pace, not running well or potentially carrying an injury, it may be pulled up by a jockey, essentially withdrawing a horse mid-race.

Right-handed track

A track that runs clockwise. If a horse tends to jump over obstacles to the left, a right-handed track would be thought of as being unfavourable.


A horse that’s being schooled is being trained for jumping.

Shaken up

Shaken up refers to when a jockey is asking for more from their horse.


The SP refers to the starting price of a horse in a race, as opposed to ante-post prices for example.


A sprint race is typically over six furlongs or fewer, held on the flat. A sprinter is a horse specialising in these races.


Used in Flat racing to ensure all horses begin the race from a standing start. Certain stalls are favoured, for example if they’re on the near side of a track.

Starter’s orders

Prior to a race, the starter will bring the field of horses together to start the race. Once together, the horses are referred to as being ‘under starter’s orders’.

Stayed on

A phrase used when a horse has finished strongly in a race.

Stewards’ Enquiry

A hearing held by the stewards to decide whether a racing infringement has occurred that should change the result of the race. 

Stiff track

Similar to an undulating course, a stiff track often has a more challenging, uphill finish.


A piece of equipment used to tie down a horse’s tongue in an attempt to aid their breathing.


‘U’ on a form guide, this refers to when a jockey falls off a horse but the horse itself doesn’t fall.

Weighing room

The weighing room is where jockeys are weighed before a race to ensure they’re carrying the correct weight.

Wind operation

Horses often undergo wind operations, of which there are five types, all aimed at improving a horse’s airway.

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