Blinkers are a type of headgear worn by some horses in races. The purpose of this equipment is to prevent the horse from seeing what is going on around him. Their effect varies from horse to horse. Some runners respond well as they ignore everything else and focus on the race; others panic and don’t perform to their maximum level.
American wonder-horse Secretariat was known for his blue and white blinkers which certainly had no negative impact on his extraordinary speed!
While the vision of horses is less sharp than that of humans (20/60 as opposed to 20/20), their eyes protrude and can see almost everything barring what is directly behind them and a tiny space in front of their face. When you put blinkers on a horse, he could react very negatively and become overwhelmed by his other senses. As such, first-time blinkers are something of an experiment. So how does this affect you, the punter?
How Do Blinkered Horses Compare to Those Without Headgear?
First of all, you can tell if a horse is blinkered by checking out the race card where there should be a small ‘b’ beside the horse’s name like this:
The ‘b1’ beside the name of Dawaaleeb indicates that it is the horse’s first time wearing blinkers. As you can see, his trainer has a 4-18 record with first-time blinkers so you should be wary about backing this horse as a favourite; or should you?
Here’s how horses with blinkers fared against their non-headgear wearing counterparts from the beginning of 2015 on all UK codes.
|Blinkers?||Bets||Wins||Win %||ROI (BF)|
As one might expect, horses wearing blinkers fare poorly overall against horses with no headgear in terms of win percentage and ROI. However, it is worth checking the performances of horses that wore blinkers last time out as well to eliminate first-time wearers from the equation.
Horse wearing blinkers that also wore them last time out since start of 2015
Let’s compare the above data with horses wearing blinkers that didn’t wear them (or another kind of headgear) in their last race.
Neither set of data is encouraging in the least. At this early stage, it is tempting to dismiss horses with blinkers as a poor bet. Not so fast!
What the data above doesn’t take into account is the performance of horses wearing blinkers for the first time. For a clearer picture, I went as far back as the beginning of 2013, and things changed completely:
To be clear, the SP loss is appalling; over 26%, but on Betfair, it is little more than 2%. The main reason is that horses wearing blinkers (especially for the first-time) tend to have inflated odds; that’s why you almost break even on Betfair despite an incredibly low win ratio.
From a punter’s perspective, it pays to focus on handicap races as you end up with a slight Betfair ROI of 0.35%; albeit with a very low win rate of 8.41%. In terms of code, All-Weather gives you a loss of over 5% while National Hunt and Flat races provide a small profit of over 2% apiece.
Does a Horse With Blinkers Perform Better With Experience?
Since Horseracebase did not enable me to check the performance of horses wearing blinkers for a fourth, fifth or sixth time, etc., I had to rely on data I found on Matt Bisogno’s www.geegeez.co.uk website.
Matt discovered that from 2014-2016 on all UK race codes, horses wearing blinkers for the third time fared best with a 12.74% win rate and an SP ROI loss of 10%.
Overall, Matt reached a very interesting conclusion: Horses wearing blinkers for the third time are the best betting option from a punter’s perspective. He checked Irish and UK racing, handicaps, All-Weather, Flat and National Hunt racing; the data was reasonably similar each time.
In terms of trainers, Matt mentioned Gary Moore as someone with a good record when it comes to first-time blinkers.
Moore’s Record First-Time Blinkers 2013-2017
All I can say is: Wow! A win rate of over 23% is impressive but look at that ROI!
One of the main reasons why a trainer adds blinkers to a horse is to improve early speed. If a horse is a slow starter, blinkers could be the key to getting him in contention. Rather than focusing on the general statistics relating to blinkers, I believe it is critical to look at the record of the trainer.
As a general rule of thumb, ignore trainers with a blinkers win-ratio of below 15% because at that stage, it’s likely they are guessing and experimenting. In contrast, look at trainers such as Gary Moore with win percentages of over 20%. This is an indication that they know precisely what they are doing.
Finally, look at the horse itself. Check a horse’s history to see if it has worn blinkers on other occasions and gauge the performance. If they didn’t work the first time, they are unlikely to make a difference a second time. Look for horses that typically have poor starts without blinkers. The new headgear could be just what they need to make the leap from pretender to contender.