There are phrases, proverbs and idioms — some cliches and others mere shorthand — that we use every day without a second’s thought to their derivation.
Take a moment this Saratoga season to think about how many come from horse racing. The number may surprise you.
Some are obvious: Starting gate. Homestretch. Finish line. Win by a nose. Down to the wire. Also-ran. Here are a few others that can be traced back to horses/horse racing:
1. Across the board. If you’re not sure if a horse is going to win, place or show, you bet him or her across the board to cover all possibilities.
2. Inside track. The horse closest to the rail has the shortest (although not always easiest) trip, and thus an advantage.
3. Neck and neck. In a close race, horses will be neck and neck down to the wire.
4. Hands down. The phrase, meaning undoubtedly, comes from the practice of jockeys putting their hands down on the reins when a race is secured.
5. Straight from the horse’s mouth. The best tips in horse racing come from the inner circle around a horse. And what can be closer to a horse than the horse itself?
6. In the running. You are not only in the race, but you have a shot at winning.
7. Front runner. Horses that do better running races ahead of the field are called front runners.
8. Leg up. The phrase for helping someone comes from aiding a rider into a saddle.
9. Dead ringer. The phrase for a lookalike was first used to describe the practice of surreptitiously swapping out a faster horse for a slower one that looked the same.
10. Get one’s goat. The phrase meaning to annoy is believed to stem from a time when goats were used as comforting stablemates for horses. If a horse ran poorly or acted up, it would be stated it was because someone stole or “got his goat.”