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Racing Explained

The Thoroughbred is the most common breed of horse used in racing and the ones you’ll typically see at racecourses across the country.


They are incredible athletes and a spectacle to witness at full gallop. Horseracing is a sport of beauty and power, but it is also one of many potentially confusing terms and phrases if you’re not familiar with the language.


To help you enjoy your day at the races with a greater understanding of the sport, we’ve put together a quick guide to the different terms you might hear to describe the types of racehorses you might see on the track.

Which terms describe the ages of horses?

  • Colt – a young male horse up to the age of four
  • Filly – a young female horse up to the age of four
  • Mare – a female horse aged five or older
  • Horse – a colt is referred to as a ‘horse’ after the age of five
  • Sire – the father of a horse
  • Dam – the mother of a horse
  • Stallion – a male horse used for breeding
  • Broodmare – a female horse used for breeding
  • Broodmare dam – a female horse whose offspring are also broodmares
  • Broodmare sire – a male horse whose daughters have become successful broodmares
  • Foal – newborn horse up to one year old
  • Yearling – a one-year old horse
  • Gelding – a male horse castrated usually to make it more even-tempered
  • Maiden – a horse that has yet to win a race

Why are racehorses different colours?

One of the most enjoyable aspects of racing is the wide variety of horses that take part across the world. From brown to bay and roan to black, most racedays will feature an array of Thoroughbreds with different coloured coats – these are determined by genetics and the coat colours of their parents.

What phrases are common in horseracing?

There are so many terms used to describe horses on racedays that it can be difficult to keep up, but here are a handful of terms that will help you make sense of it all:

  • Progressive – a horse whose performance and ability is improving
  • Backward – a horse that is physically immature for its age
  • Sprinter – a horse that is best over shorter distances
  • Miler – a horse that prefers races over the distance of a mile
  • Stayer – a horse that prefers to race over distances of a mile and six furlongs or longer
  • Off the bit/Off the bridle – a description used for a horse being encouraged along by his jockey
  • On the bit/On the bridle – a horse that is going well and still full of running, with a firm hold on the bit
  • Banker – a horse considered very likely to win (bankers are often the cornerstone of complex multiple bets)

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