One of us had used the phrase "hands down" in conversation a few weeks ago. The other had agreed--probably we were talking about the best coffee or gelato in town, or the cutest dogs--and then said, "Where does that phrase, 'hands down,' come from anyway?"
We conjectured for a while, even though she was driving, using hand movements. Palms down. Palms up. Who says that? Why?
I shrugged my shoulders, put my arms against my sides, bent my elbows to V my arms and threw my hands back, "I dunno know."
Maybe that's it! Hands up: I don't know; hands down: I am totally sure!
Thus, dramatic hands down and hands up became a part of our quirky vernacular.
Then, she sent me this explanation, which I am proud to say is from my people, The Hindu: Online Edition of India's National Newspaper (Feb. 18, 2003):
WHAT IS the meaning and origin of "win something hands down"?
It means to win very easily, to win without any real effort. Here are a few examples.
* The local team won the tournament hands down.
* I am sure that Sarita will win the nomination hands down.
* I wouldn't worry if I were you. You will win hands down.
It's interesting to note that many English idioms come from the world of horse racing and boxing. Tells you something about the English, doesn't it? To "win something hands down" comes from the world of horse racing and it has been part of the English language since the mid 19th century. I understand as the jockey approaches the finish line, he sometimes loosens his hold on the reins. He does this when he is very confident of winning the race; when he thinks that he will win it easily. When the jockey loosens his hold on the reins, he drops his hands. Hence, the expression, "to win hands down".
Click this link for more of The Hindu.