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The backstretch or backstraight refer to the final section of a racetrack. Backstretch is typically more of a term used in the United States, as their tracks are oval-shaped and have a distinct backstretch.
Tracks in the United Kingdom vary in shape with some run on a straight track – Newmarket Rowley Mile for example – and thus there is no backstretch or backstraight in shorter races.
On an oval track the backstretch is the section furthest away from the grandstand but running parallel to the finishing straight that brings the horses to the finish line. With difficulties in overtaking around a bend – similar to in Grand Prix racing – the backstretch can often be the most sensible part of the track for a jockey to make their move. Riders can often be seen jostling for position or accelerating to poach a lead toward the end of the backstretch.
Similar tactics can apply in the United Kingdom but with some exceptions, these tracks are more sweeping, and the need to be positioned before the turn is less apparent. On a tight track or one with a short straight and little room for the field to fan out, or enough time for a horse to make a move from the back, it becomes more important for a horse to obtain a challenging position in the backstraight if not before. If the horse fails to do so it takes a great deal more effort to get to the front and mount a challenge.
Horses who are typically good at getting a strong track position, or jockeys skilled at moving their horse into a good position, would be worth considering when examining a racing card prior to placing a bet.
In the United States the term also refers to the barns in which a horse is stabled and returns after a race. With horses trained long-term at the track the area, often called shed row, also accommodates staff, the trainer’s office and a workers’ canteen.