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dark horse

a racehorse, competitor, etc., about whom little is known or who unexpectedly wins.
a candidate who is unexpectedly nominated at a political convention.
Origin of dark horse
First recorded in 1825-35 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for dark horse
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Would any dark horse, at the last moment, enter to divide the interest?

    Tom, Dick and Harry Talbot Baines Reed
  • As an invalid she was taken on board The dark horse and confined to her cabin.

    A Coin of Edward VII

    Fergus Hume
  • But the difficulty was that none of the crew knew the looks of The dark horse.

    A Coin of Edward VII

    Fergus Hume
  • He was the first presidential "dark horse," and indeed hardly that.

    Martin Van Buren Edward M. Shepard
  • Heifetz, however, may be the dark horse in the modern fiddle sweepstakes.

    Unicorns James Huneker
British Dictionary definitions for dark horse

dark horse

a competitor in a race or contest about whom little is known; an unknown
a person who reveals little about himself or his activities, esp one who has unexpected talents or abilities
(US, politics) a candidate who is unexpectedly nominated or elected
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for dark horse

in politics, 1842, an image from horse racing, in which dark is used in its figurative sense of "unknown."

Moonraker is called a "dark horse"; that is neither his sire nor dam is known. ["Pierce Egan's Book of Sports," London, 1832]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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dark horse in Culture

dark horse definition

An unexpected winner. In politics, a dark horse is a candidate for office considered unlikely to receive his or her party's nomination, but who might be nominated if party leaders cannot agree on a better candidate.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for dark horse

dark horse


: a dark-horse candidate/ dark-horse odds

noun phrase

A person or team, esp in sports or politics, that seems very unlikely to win but might nevertheless do so (1842+ fr horse racing)

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with dark horse

dark horse

A little known, unexpectedly successful entrant, as in You never can tell—some dark horse may come along and win a Senate seat. This metaphoric expression originally alluded to an unknown horse winning a race and was so used in a novel by Benjamin Disraeli (The Young Duke, 1831). It soon began to be transferred to political candidates, among the first of whom was James K. Polk. He won the 1844 Democratic Presidential nomination on the eighth ballot and went on to win the election.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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