What is a dead-heat?

In horse racing, a dead-heat is declared when the raceday judge cannot separate two or more horses at the finishing-line, not even by the official minimum winning margin. Historically, that margin was a short-head, but since February 25, 2008, when the governing body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), introduced new finishing distances, has been a nose.

The calling of a dead-heat has ramifications for the prize money awarded to winning connections and the way on which bets on the winning horses are settled. All prize money attached to the result, that is, typically, the first- and second-place prize money, is totalled and divided equally between the winners. Bets on dead-heating horses are settled to full odds, but to half the stake.

On the whole, dead-heats in horse racing are very rare, but, despite the technology available, they do still occur. Indeed, historically, triple and even quadruple dead-heats have occurred, although in Britain no such eventualities have arisen since the advent of photo-finish technology shortly after World War II. It would be fair to say that modern, digital equipment is a far cry from the old-school film technology used in the early days.

In the event of a close finish, where the winning margin appears, to the naked eye, to be a head or less, the judge calls for evidence of a photo-finish from the photo-finish operator. State-of-the-art, high resolution cameras are employed to produce a replicable image of the finish, onto which a time line, indicating the leading part of each horse, usually the point of its nose, can be superimposed to determine the official result.