In the very end of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode "On the Nose" (~1957), the main woman calls her horse race bookie on the telephone and places a bet:

Well, I'd like to put two dollars on Washington Flyer! On the nose!

What does "on the nose" mean in this context? None of the Wiktionary definitions seem to match whatsoever: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/on_the_nose

Does it possibly have something to do with the race horse's literal nose? I remember some context where a race horse won by literally putting its head forward, so that the nose reached the goal before the others, which all seemed to finish at the same time to the naked eye, so maybe it has something to do with this? (It was only revealed by looking at the "finish line footage" after the fact.)

  • I'm not gonna look it up, but I'm pretty sure it's derived from to win by a nose (to only just beat the nearest competitor, by a distance commensurate with a horse's nose). So in the context of placing a bet, it'll be a "to win" only bet (which only pays out if your horse comes first, as opposed to a "to place" bet, which pays out if your horse finishes in the top three). – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '20 at 17:55
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    Welcome to ELU. It's always best to look in a real dictionary (rather than a crowdsourced one) and on the nose is quite easily found. If you're asking why "on the nose" means what it does, could you edit your question to make that clear? – Andrew Leach Feb 21 '20 at 18:02
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    It's just a bet that the horse will win, as distinct from winning or placing. – Michael Harvey Feb 21 '20 at 18:12
  • @MichaelHarvey - showing or placing... – Jim Feb 21 '20 at 18:18
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    There is a difference between UK and US terminology. In the UK, you can bet 'place only', that is, bet the horse to place second or third without the “win” part of the wager. “Place” betting in America has a different meaning. A Place bet is for the horse to finish first or second while “Show” is for the horse to finish first, second or third. A different dividend is declared for Place and Show. – Michael Harvey Feb 21 '20 at 18:34

The character is probably confusing "on the nose" with "by a nose", which means to win by a slim margin. But no one bets on that, they just bet on the position that the horse comes in (first, second, third).

"on the nose" normally means "precisely" or "exactly", so I suspect she's using this to mean that the horse should be specifically the winner, not one of the other positions you can bet on. I can't think of any other possible interpretation.

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