April 14, 2008

#01-097: Sports Idioms - Part IV: Horse Racing

four horses rounding a curve along a wooden rail fence, all riders in jockeys' silks
The horse on the right has the inside track.

Note: This column and the three others (#01-094, #01-095, and #01-096) were written as the Olympic Torch toured the world in 2008. It seemed fitting, then, that we again turned to sports-inspired idioms.

Get Ready: Have you ever been to a horse race? Have you ever betted on one (or anything else)?

In the previous three lessons, we examined idioms that used the word ball. Now let's turn to another sport that replaces balls with--horses!

Read the conversation. Then do the Practice and, after checking your Answers in the first comment below, read the Explanations.

Mickey and Maude are discussing an election in their school.

Mickey: So, Maude, who did you vote for?

Maude: I'm not telling! But what an exciting campaign, huh? They kept at it right down to the wire.

Mickey: True, but I think Brian will win hands down.

Maude: Do you really think so? I would have agreed a week ago, but there was a lot of jockeying in the homestretch. I think, if he wins, it'll be by a nose.

Mickey: Yeah, Sheila really gave him a run for his money, even though he had a head start by being on student council last year.

Maude: That's right. He had an inside track, but they're neck and neck now.

Mickey: But you know, the whole election could still be upset by a dark horse candidate.

Maude: Maybe. We'll see...


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_racing

Practice: Match the term to its definition below. After checking your Answers in the first comment, read the Explanations below.

  1. by a nose
  2. down to the wire
  3. dark horse
  4. get a head start
  5. give someone a run for their money
  6. hands down
  7. homestretch
  8. inside track
  9. jockey
  10. neck and neck

  1. make someone earn their win
  2. a surprise winner
  3. right to the last minute
  4. the last phase of something
  5. start before all others
  6. an advantage
  7. in a close tie
  8. easily
  9. barely
  10. maneuver for the best position

Answers are in the first comment below.

Explanations of the Answers: After you check your Answers in the first comment below, read on for more information on these idioms.

  • by a nose: just having the nose ahead of the second horse, so narrowly winning
  • down to the wire: right to the very end or the last minute. In the early days, the finish line was marked by a piece of wire stretched across the track; two horses closely tied might run together "down to the wire." Other expressions include "under the wire" and "wire-to-wire," meaning from start (marked by another wire) to finish.
  • dark horse: a horse, product, candidate, etc., who suddenly emerges from obscurity and wins. "Dark" here is not about color, but means "unknown" or "hidden."
  • get a head start: Before the use of starting gates, when horses just started from behind a wire, some horses would stretch out their necks in front of the other horses before the start. These horses were believed to win more often because they had a "haed start." We use it today to mean "starting before all the others."
  • give someone a run for their money: make someone earn their win, by making one's best effort. "The other guys are favored to win, but let's give them a run for their money."
  • hands down: Jockeys usually ride with their hands up, gripping the reins and urging the horse on. If it becomes clear that a horse is going to win, the jockey might relax and drop his hands, winning "hands down." We use it now to mean "doing something easily."
  • homestretch: the final part of the race, after the last turn. We use it to mean "the last phase of a project" or other endeavor.
  • inside track: The horse which runs closest to the inside edge of the track will make it around the turns faster than the others; "having the inside track," then, means "having an advantage."
  • jockey: A jockey is the rider of the horse, but we use the word as a verb to describe maneuvering for the best position: "The two companies were jockeying to capture the market."
  • neck and neck: running with their necks right next to each other, so being in a close tie

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for April 14, 2008, as China prepared for the Beijing Olympics.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. c; 3. b; 4. e; 5. a; 6. h; 7. d; 8. f; 9. j; 10. g