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dark horse

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noun
  1. a racehorse, competitor, etc., about whom little is known or who unexpectedly wins.
  2. a candidate who is unexpectedly nominated at a political convention.
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Origin of dark horse

First recorded in 1825–35
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words

also-ranunderdogsleeperimprobabilityunknownunlikelihood

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Contemporary Examples


British Dictionary definitions for dark horse

dark horse

noun
  1. a competitor in a race or contest about whom little is known; an unknown
  2. a person who reveals little about himself or his activities, esp one who has unexpected talents or abilities
  3. US politics a candidate who is unexpectedly nominated or elected
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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

Word Origin and History for dark horse

n.

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]
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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

dark horse in Culture

dark horse

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.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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.

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.