dark horse

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Originally an allusion to an unknown horse winning a race, as used in an 1831 novel The Young Duke by Benjamin Disraeli: ″[...] and a dark horse, which had never been thought of, [...] rushed past the grand stand in sweeping triumph.″[1]


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dark horse ‎(plural dark horses)

  1. Someone who possesses talents or qualities that are not known or expected by others.
    • 2005, Steve Augarde, Celandine, quoted edition: London: Corgie Books, 2006, ISBN 978 0 552 54968 4, page 13:
      As she pulled the door closed behind her, she heard the nurse say, ′Well! You’re a dark horse, I must say! Do you know that extraordinary-looking girl?′
    • 2009, Sophie Kinsella, Twenties Girl, quoted edition: London: Black Swan, 2010, ISBN 978 0 5527 7437 6, page 183:
      ′Well!′ Genevieve laughs – the kind of bright, trilling laugh you give when you’re really quite annoyed about something. ′Ed, you are a dark horse! I had no idea you had a girlfriend!′
  2. (idiomatic, politics) A candidate who is nominated unexpectedly, without previously having been discussed or considered as a likely choice.
  3. (rare) An unexpected success.
    Everyone was expecting the red team to win, but the greens were the dark horse in the event.



  1. ^ Benjamin Disraeli: The Young Duke. Project Gutenberg, 2006.