back the wrong horse


back the wrong horse
also, bet (on) the wrong horse


  • make an inappropriate and wrong decision.
  • to make the wrong choice and support somebody or something that fails later.
  • to pick and support the losing side.
  • to make the wrong prediction and choose a negative future outcome.

The idiom “back or bet the wrong horse” has become a common expression to describe the act of supporting the wrong person, idea, or side in a contest, endeavor, or decision, with the analogy drawn from the world of horse racing.

Example Sentences

  1. My dad is an expert stock trader and has rarely backed the wrong horse.
  2. Tom bet on the wrong horse. It was his big mistake to marry that woman.
  3. Lucy knew she was backing the wrong horse. but he had no choice.
  4. If you back the wrong horse in the real estate market, the consequences can be painful.


In the late 1600s, when horse racing was prevalent and wagering on races was a typical pastime, the term first came into use. A number of ideas explain the origin of this term. One popular explanation says that the idiom dates back to the peak of horse racing, specifically in the 17th and 18th centuries in England. During this era, enthusiastic punters would place bets on horses they believed would win a race, and betting on the wrong horse would result in a loss. The term entered a variety of literature and publications at the time as it gained popularity in English-speaking areas.

One of the earliest recorded instances of “backing the wrong horse” can be found in the work of the English playwright and author Richard Brinsley Sheridan. His comedic play titled “The Rivals” premiered in 1775.

The idiom emerged organically within English-speaking communities during the 18th century and became more commonly used as horse racing’s popularity continued to grow.

The phrase “back the wrong horse” is deeply rooted in horse racing during the 18th and 19th centuries, with its origins tied to betting on races. It serves as a cautionary idiom, reminding us not to make ill-fated choices and decisions in various aspects of life.

This phrase has seen variations in its wording over time. You might encounter phrases like “bet on the wrong horse” or “pick the wrong horse,” all conveying the same central idea of making an incorrect choice or supporting an unsuccessful venture.


  • bet on the wrong horse
  • back on the wrong horse
  • kill the wrong horse
  • bet the wrong horse

Related Idioms

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