Horse racing, like most professional sports, comes with its own set of jargon and terminology that anyone not entrenched in the industry may battle to follow. Whilst names of equipment, veterinary procedures and other more in-depth subjects may not be of importance to the average race-goer, there are some pertinent questions which the newcomers to the course may wish to understand but didn’t want to ask #WeveGotYourBack.
What does it mean to “scratch” a horse? Scratching a horse means the horse will no longer participate in the race, which could occur for a number of reasons such as injury, illness, refusal to load in the starting stalls or if the horse won recently and can no longer compete in the Maiden Plates. The scratching can be done by the trainer or the veterinarian at the start of the race.
Why do they call some horses Maidens? A ‘Maiden’ in horse racing terminology refers to a horse which has not yet won a race. There are often races referred to as Maiden Plates, which means that all horses participating in that particular race have never won before.
What are silks? Silks refer to the long-sleeved, colourful shirts worn by the jockeys. They are essentially custom “uniforms” that are specific to each owner, ensuring easy identification by the commentators. Jockeys wear a different set of silks in each race indicating which owners own the horse in question.
What are those hoods that some horses wear on their head? Those hoods are called blinkers. These pieces of equipment are intended to help keep the horse focused on the task at hand, by blocking unnecessary areas of view.
How do they know how old horses are? Every racehorse is allocated a passport from birth which indicates their birth date, breeding and keeps their vaccination record. In racing, all horses turn a year older on the 1st of August every year, as opposed to their specific birth date, for simplicity purposes. Hence why all breeders will attempt to breed horses at specific times to ensure foals are born as close to 1 August at possible.
How do they decide what distance the horses should run? Much like humans, it will become clear to the trainers fairly quickly whether the horse prefers sprinting or long distance running based on its turn of foot and stamina. Trainers may try the horses over varying distances until such time as they find the one in which they perform best. Sometimes one can tell by the horse’s breeding which distance they’ll prefer based on their genetic disposition.