It is said that horse racing is part of our human psyche, imbuing itself into everyday life without our even being aware. Did you know these common phrases have their origin in horse racing?
Across the Board
Commonly used to indicate the inclusion of everyone or everything in a scenario. “The store gave across the board price cuts.” At the track, an across the board bet is a wager on the same horse to win, to place and to show – effectively betting all the way across a single line of the board.
Commonly used to refer to the losing candidate in an election, an “also ran” is an equestrian-derived moniker for a non-winner. At the track, the results of each race would post the top finishers as well as the rest of the field. Any horse that didn’t win, place or show was listed as “also ran.”
Win Hands Down
To win “hands down” is to win easily, either by a large margin or without a lot of effort. The phrase has been used in horse racing since the mid-19th century to describe races where a horse was so far ahead of the pack that the jockey could loosen his grip on the reins and lower his hands.
Down to the Wire
Every procrastinator knows this expression refers to something being unfinished until the last possible moment, but it originated in hotly contested horse races. A thin wire was strung above the finish line of the track to help the official—and later cameras—spot the horse that crossed the line first, and tight races went literally “to the wire.”
Win By a Nose
Many sports use this expression as a metaphor for a close contest even though a nose isn’t the first body part to cross the finish line in most human competitions. However, a horse’s nose IS first over the line at the racetrack and is used to determine the victor. In racing parlance, a “nose” also refers to the smallest margin of victory allowed for a horse to be officially declared the winner.
In politics it applies to a candidate who seemingly comes out of nowhere and experiences a sudden gain in popularity, but in horse racing the term “dark horse” dates back to at least the 1830s, and was a label for horses unfamiliar to the race organizers and odds makers. The “dark” in this sense has nothing to do with the color of the horse but is a reference to the unknown qualities of the horse—specifically the sire and breeding lineage.