The terms dead heat and photo finish are now synonymous with any event that was close.
This does not just apply to racing either. In the English language both these terms are used in every day speech to indicate that anything was close or difficult to call.
But what exactly do these terms mean when applied to racing events and more specifically to horse racing?
A dead heat is when two or more horses finish the race at exactly the same time. Literally nothing can separate them. If this ever happens then both, or however many horses are involved in the dead heat are all awarded the place.
How does this affect bets?
Well in the event of a dead heat and you have money on one of the horses involved in the dead heat half of your stake will be paid out at the full odds you placed the bet at and the other half of the stake is lost. If there was more than two horses in the dead heat then the stake will be divided by the amount of horses involved then paid out at the full odds.
For example, £100 at 10/1 on horse A.
Horse A is involved in a three way dead heat for the win. You will be paid out 10/1 on £33.33 instead of the full £100.
Now that we know what dead heats are, how exactly can you tell when a dead heat happens?
What if the horses appear to all finish level to the naked eye but in fact one of the horses won by a nose?
Well this is where the photo finish comes into play. At the end of the race as the horses cross the line a photo is taken of them. This photo is usually a very high resolution and can be used to easily prove which horse crossed the line first. More often than not the photo finish will do the job that the naked eye cant and decide the correct winner. This evidence is irrefutable and no one can argue with the decision as the photo is there to prove the result.
On occasion not even the photo finish can separate them. This is when the race is said to have been a dead heat as even the high resolution photograph can’t tell which horse crossed the line first so it is assumed that they must have crossed exactly level.
This is just a very quick overview of what these terms mean but hopefully next time you hear them you will know what they mean.