Dead heats remain rare in horse racing. Put simply, a dead heat is what occurs when two horses are judged to have crossed the finish line at precisely the same time, meaning a result in favour of one horse cannot be called.
Naturally, dead heats have implications for the form book, prize money, jockey/trainer percentages and of course betting pay outs.
Frequency of Dead Heats
Dead heats, and sometimes even near-dead heats, have caused some controversy over the years. The technology used to decide horse racing has generally got better over time, though remains imperfect.
Some tracks have had the wrong result called, including dead heats, owing to the position of the mirror being wrong which allows the judge to see a reverse angle of a tight finish.
Photo finishes have long been the chosen method of resolving close finishes in horse racing. Even now with all the modern technology at their disposal, judges can quickly call a result based on the naked eye if it is obvious.
When things get tight, digital super-slow-motion replays show the precise moment horses reach the designated finish line, meaning dead heats are declared a lot less often than they once were as they can be separated by a nose hair.
Dead heats then are generally very rare, though they do still occur and sometimes in major events.
Famous Dead-Heated Races
Dead heats can occur on any day in any race around the world. They cause a major stir however when they happen at the highest levels of horse racing.
These are some of the most famous dead heats called in horse racing in recent memory, beginning with the most recent:
|27/11/21||Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Grade 1), Newcastle||Epatante & Not So Sleepy|
|22/09/18||Ayr Gold Cup Handicap, Ayr||Baron Bolt & Son Of Rest|
|19/12/15||Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle, Ascot||Jolly’s Cracked It & Sternrubin|
|31/08/13||Atalanta Stakes, Sandown Park||Integral & Ladys First|
|25/08/12||Travers Stakes (Grade 1), Saratoga||Alpha & Golden Ticket|
|10/09/11||Irish St Leger (Group 1), Curragh||Duncan & Jukebox Jury|
|09/09/04||Doncaster Cup, Doncaster||Millenary & Kasthari|
|25/10/03||Breeders’ Cup Turf (Grade 1), Santa Anita Park||High Chaparral & Johar|
|21/08/97||Nunthorpe Stakes (Group 1), York||Coastal Bluff & Ya Malak|
|14/10/88||Dewhurst Stakes (Group 1), Newmarket||Prince Of Dance & Scenic|
|19/05/84||Lockinge Stakes (Group 1), Newbury||Cormorant & Wassl|
|02/04/77||Templegate Hurdle, Aintree||Monksfield & Night Nurse|
Jump racing’s most memorable dead heat undoubtedly came in the 1977 Templegate Hurdle, now the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle.
On what was an amazing day of racing of historical significance, there was nothing at all to separate Night Nurse and Monksfield in the Templegate while later on the card, Red Rum went on to win his third Grand National. Night Nurse went on to be named the Racecourse Association’s National Hunt Horse of the Year.
Night Nurse in fact had been a Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner, and it was Newcastle’s biggest jumps race that provided the most recent high-profile dead heat in late 2021.
2020 winner and Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante went into the race as the 11/8 favourite, while Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy was fully race fit following a strong run on the flat the previous month.
After a sustained battle over two miles, it seemed that Epatante had got the job done, only for Not So Sleepy to rally over the final 110 yards and force the dead heat.
Aidan O’Brien’s High Chaparral, the 2002 Derby winner, finished his excellent career with a dead heat. The thirteenth and final race of his career was the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in California in which he turned for home third but eventually ran down Johar to share the spoils.
What Happens to Bets and Prize Money After a Dead Heat?
When two horses dead heat in a finish, all monies attached to the result are combined and then shared.
For example, if the first-place prize money is £150,000 and the runner-up prize is £65,000 and there is a dead heat, all £215,000 is combined. This would then lead to both ‘winners’ receiving £107,500 in prize money.
In betting terms, you are considered to have essentially backed half a winner and so your odds or dividends are halved too.
If you backed a horse at 8/1 with £10 and it dead heats, you would ultimately be paid £45 – half of the original £90 you would have been due.
The quality of the equipment used to decide race results has done little to placate punters. The picture is so clear that when a dead heat is called and winning bets are halved, many punters believe they can see a pixel’s worth of difference in favour of their horse and often believe it should be called the outright winner.