Horse racing is a very popular spectator sport in the UK and Ireland, and has a very long history. There are currently about sixty race-courses in the UK, with two or three meetings happening on any given day. People don't of course watch the 'gee-gees' out of a simple love of animals, but because it involves betting on the horses, in other words gambling. If you walk into a 'bookies' (bookmakers shop) in the UK, the screens will be dominated by horse racing.
Horse racing, and more particularly the betting associated with it, has given a lot of idioms to the English language, especially in the areas of probability, risk and competition. They are therefore used a lot in business. Let's take a look.
This is an (invented) racecard typical of those you will find on the website of a racing newspaper such as the Racing Post or the Sporting Life, although I've left out certain information such as the names of the jockey, trainer and the owner. The first thing we are going to look at is the bets column on the right.
The odds - talking about probability
You will see that Fine and dandy is listed at 3/1. This means that if you bet £1 now, and Fine and dandy wins, you will win £3, plus your original money back; your profit will be £3. This figure - 3/1 (spoken ‘three to one’) is known as the odds, and is based on the probability of the horse winning, or to put it another way, the horse’s chances of winning. Here it is thought of as having one chance in three. This is not exactly true of course, because the ‘bookies’ (bookmakers), have to factor in their profit when they offer these odds.
So when we talk about probability, we often talk about the odds against or on something happening. When we think it is very unlikely we usually use against, when the probability is higher or equal, we usually use on.
Now you will notice that odds for horse number 3, Lucky Blighter are 3/5. This means we have to bet £5 in order to to make a profit of only £3.This is called odds-on, and the reason the bookies are only offering this much is because lots of people are betting on this horse, not surprising considered its history (or form, which we’ll look at later). This horse is the favourite, in fact it’s the odds-on favourite, it is so popular.
In the UK we also have the informal expression - over the odds - meaning more than something is really worth
Click and drop - Fill the gaps by clicking on a word or expression ( in grey ) in the top box and then on the gap-box where you want it to go. If you change your mind just repeat the process.
|1.||If you go to the Pub, the odds (chances) that you'll see him there. It's his second home.|
|2.||Her new flat is quite nice, but I'm sure she paid the odds for it.|
|3.||The odds my horse winning are a hundred to one.|
|4.||The odds are against a woman succeeding in this business.|
|5.||What are the odds Manchester United winning the Cup?|
|6.||The odds favourite to win in the 3.30 race is Killjoy. Everyone's betting on him.|
The stake(s) - talking about risk
While the odds (3/1 etc) tells you how much you will win, based on the bookies' idea of the probability of your horse winning, the stake is how much money you bet, that it is to say - how much money is at risk.
Used in the plural, the stakes in an activity or competition, are the rewards (or the losses) for the person who wins or succeeds (or loses) in it.
Used as a verb, to stake something means to bet it, or risk it as if you were gambling with it.
Poor odds, high stakes
concerning the Gatt (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) talks
Click and drop (as in the first exercise). See if you can work out the following:
|1.||The team is playing for stakes - the chance to play in the national final.|
|2.||The President is not very high in the stakes at the moment.|
|3.||At the roulette table, he staked $10 000 number 21.|
|4.||The protesting prisoners are trying to the stakes by refusing to eat until their conditions are met.|
|5.||She spent two weeks in Las Vegas playing stakes blackjack at the casinos.|
|6.||The journalist said that he would stake his on the accuracy of his report.|
Hurdles are small fences the horses have to jump over, similar to those in athletics. A hurdle has therefore come to mean some kind of obstacle or problem you have to overcome.
Click and drop (as in the first exercise). Now try this:
|1.||After leading for most of the race he at the final hurdle and lost.|
|2.||She (= jumped over) all the hurdles easily and raced to the finishing line.|
|3.||We are handicapped by our lack of expertise in this area.|
|4.||Getting a work permit was only the first hurdle to .|
|5.||The cost of this project is to be a major hurdle.|
The form column on the racecard show us the horse's recent history. For example Fine and dandy's form reads '2/61-P31'. The last figure represents the latest race, so this means he came first in his last race, third in the race before that, and that he 'pulled up' (P) in the race before that, in other words he didn't finish. The dashes and slashes represent season divisions.
So form can refer to someone's performance history and also how well someone performs. The police informally say someone has form if they have a criminal record.
Click and drop (as in the first exercise).
|1.||Both horses have been showing good form during this present .|
|2.||After a bad year, she has her old form.|
|3.||Paul was on form at the wedding and kept everyone entertained.|
|4.||Our suspect has already got form - two for burglary.|
... and at the last hurdle it's Finnegan's Wake and Lucky Blighter neck and neck, and Lucky ... no look! Here comes Greased Lightning making ground on the inside, with only the final straight to go. And it's Finnegan's Wake, Lucky Blighter. Will Greased Lightning be able to catch them? Yes here he comes, giving it everything, and at the finishing post it looks like Greased Lightning from Lucky Blighter by a head, or even by a nose if you ask me, but we'll just have to leave it to the cameras. That was a photo-finish if ever I saw one."
Click and drop (as in the first exercise).
|1.||The race started with a field of , but two horses fell, so only nine finished.|
|2.||We have a very field this afternoon, including two Olympic gold medalists|
|3.||Jones finished well of the field to become Salesman of the Year.|
|4.||Our company is the in its field. No-one else comes close.|
|1.||Both parties have broadcast their last message, the party leaders have given their final . All that's left is the final straight now.|
|2.||It doesn't matter what the opinion polls say, it's who's at the finishing post that matters.|
|3.||With only an hour till the closing of the stations, this election is still too close to call, the parties are neck and neck. It's going to be a real photo-finish.|
|4.||The Beer-Lovers Party had been losing ground to the Wine-Lovers, but have recently reversed their and been making ground again over the last couple of days.|
|5.||The Wine-Lovers Party has sneeked in by a head to win this election, so can we now expect British pubs to all be turned into wine-bars? That's the question we leave you with on this historic night in British politics.|
- Horse racing in Great Britain Wikipedia
- The Racing Post
- The Sporting Life
- BBC Horse Racing
- BBC Racecard guide
- BBC Teaching English a rather silly BBC video