Though not seen very often today, tic tac men used to be a pivotal aspect of UK horseracing. Smartly dressed men once waited near the finish line, communicating with colleagues around the stands with quick-moving hand gestures.
Even today, tic tac men sometimes use traditional signs to communicate last-minute updates from the race to bookmakers. In the past, they were considered entertaining figures in their own right. Some tic tac men even used deceptive gestures to throw off rival bookmakers looking to use their updates for their lines.
Today, horse racing tips and predictions are left to remote pundits and analysts who provide insights before races. Though many bookmakers also offer live updates, most use tech from cellphones to two-way radios. Still, white-gloved tic tac men remain an important part of the UK horseracing experience for many.
Even though technology has made the old form of communicating with hand gestures, some professionals are happy to keep the old days going—and racetrack officials often let them take their place near the finish line.
Hand Gestures & Vocabulary
While tic tac men are still culturally relevant to the racetrack, there are more efficient ways for colleagues to communicate from different positions around the track. Still, hand gestures were used to indicate terms for odds, which were also highly specialized.
For example, 33-1 odds can be communicated by crossing the arms over the chest and placing the hands flat against the chest. Verbally, 33-1 odds are described as a ‘double carpet’. In gesturing, 10-1 odds are communicated by placing the fists together and raising the right thumb. Verbally, bookmakers call 10-1 odds a cockle.
Though the future of hand gestures isn’t secure, these terms are still used frequently by bookmakers who cover horseracing in the UK.
Hand Gestures & Significance
Thinking of heading to the tracks anytime soon? Check out the hand gestures still in use by tic tac men today—you may recognize a few next time you head to a race with a tic tac professional on standby.
Here they are in order of difficulty:
- Right fist above left fist: odds are 50-1
- Arms crossed, hands flat against chest: odds are 33-1
- Both hands on face: odds are 5-2
- Both hands on to of the head: odds are 9-2
- Right hand to left ear: odds are 6-4
- Fists together, right thumb upward: odds are 10-1
- Hands in front, wave right hand above left: odds are 4-1