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You are here: Home Statman Horse Headgear – Can Blinkers, Eye Shields or Hoods Tell Us Who to Back?

Horse Headgear – Can Blinkers, Eye Shields or Hoods Tell Us Who to Back?

Please watch accompanying Video 4 when referring to this article.

With the use of headgear becoming more and more prominent I felt that it was about time to take the hat off (sorry about that, I couldn’t resist...) the mystery of headgear, what it is and what it does and how we can profit from this knowledge.

Types of horse headgear

On the standard racecards, after the horse’s name on the racecard is a number, this is the number of days since the horse last raced.

After this number for those horses that are wearing headgear there is a letter, a combination of letters and sometimes a number. These letters signify what headgear is being worn and the numbers signify how many times that headgear has been worn (only for the first three times); I’ll explain more as we go along.

Here are the main types of headgear and the abbreviations that are used on the standard racecard and what each piece of equipment is supposed to do:

eb/b = Blinkers

These are designed to reduce the horse’s rear vision; horses can almost see 360 degrees around themselves. Blinkers are intended to increase concentration during the race. Blinkers are cowls fitted to a head cloth and they can be either full or half cup, the overall effect is to reduce a horses vision down to a around 30 degrees in front of them. es = Eye Shields

Eye Shields are very similar to blinkers except that instead of cowls, a mesh or other transparent material is used, the effect is very similar to blinkers, however the vision is not as impaired, Eye Shields are also used to protect the horse’s eyes.

ec = Eye Covers

Eyes Covers are exactly that, they completely cover the horse’s eye; these are used where a horse has a missing eye, is blind in one eye or has impaired vision in one eye.

h = Hood

Hoods are designed to cover the ears and are worn by horses that are affected by noise; reducing the noise that a horse hears helps with concentration.

p = Cheek Pieces

Cheek Pieces are two sheepskin bands that are fitted to the cheek straps (the side) of the horse’s bridle, sometimes called French Blinkers. The intended effect is to again restrict the horse’s rear vision and to help with concentration.

t = Tongue Strap

A Tongue Strap is literally a strap that is fitted over the horses tongue to stop the tongue lifting and restricting the air flow. Trainers will normally fit this to a horse if they suspect that this has been a problem in its previous races.

v = Visor

Visors are similar to blinkers except that the cowl has a hole or slit in the side to allow the horse to see other horses at its side but still restricting the rear vision.

x = Previously worn some headgear but none on today.

These are the main types of headgear that are worn. If the horse is wearing more than one type of headgear then the headgear letters will show the combination.

For example, you may see “est” after the horse’s name indicating that the horse is wearing both eye shields and a tongue strap today. On some racecards the letters are followed by either a number (1, 2 or 3) or an asterisk (*).

An asterisk indicates that this is the first time that the horse has worn this headgear, the number indicates how many times the horse has worn that headgear (only for the first three runs), so you could see something like this “es*t” or “es1t”, this means that the horse is wearing eye shields for the first time but has worn a tongue strap before. Should you see an ‘x’ then this means that in previous races this horse has worn headgear of some type but isn’t wearing any headgear in today’s race.

On to some stats...

I have used the past 10 years of racing and have only looked at the stats for UK racing.

Before we get onto the trainer angles I thought that it would be helpful to have a look at some general stats for horses in headgear. This will also give us some benchmarks against which to compare the trainer angles later. These stats are for the first three uses of each piece of headgear. If a horse is wearing two or more pieces of headgear then I have discounted them from these stats, as it would be difficult to know which piece of headgear is having the effect.

General stats

In the past 10 years 26% of all race horses have worn some kind of headgear! In 2000 this was 20% and so far in 2011 the number of race horses wearing headgear is at 35%!

The table below shows us the general strike rates for horses wearing headgear for their first three runs, as well as their first runs after having the headgear removed (for those horses that had previously worn headgear, those labelled as “x” on the racecards).


Number of Runs in Headgear

Runners

Winners

Strike Rate

1

44627

3122

7.0%

2

25774

2238

8.7%

3

18116

1661

9.2%

Number of Runs in Without Headgear*

Runners

Winners

Strike Rate

1

20374

1501

7.4%

2

16438

1330

8.1%

3

13892

1197

8.6%

*Headgear is removed after previously racing in headgear.

Bearing in mind that the probability of randomly picking a winner in every race is 9.435%, this average strike rate for picking horses at random is a goodbenchmark against which to compare the strike rates for those horses that are wearing headgear. From these stats we see that the first-time use of headgear does indeed reduce the chances of a horse winning that race by 2.5%. In fact, the strike rate doesn’t come close to the benchmark average until the horse’s third run in headgear. From this I would be very cautious about backing a horse that is wearing headgear for the first or second time without looking a lot closer at the Trainer stats. The story is very similar when the headgear is removed and the horse races again with no headgear.

One possible reason for this is that horses are creatures of habit, and it often takes a while (or in the case of using headgear at least two races) before they get used to the change. This is where the skill of the trainer comes in with the use of headgear.

The next logical step in our analysis would be to look at the individual strike rates for each type of headgear (I have shown this in the table below, using the same abbreviations for the headgear as they appear on the standard racecard).


Headgear

Number of Runs in Headgear

Runners

Winners

Strike Rate

b

1

15029

987

6.6%

b

2

8486

742

8.7%

b

3

5957

535

9.0%

ec

1

26

1

3.8%

ec

2

11

0

0.0%

ec

3

6

0

0.0%

es

1

898

60

6.7%

es

2

431

34

7.9%

es

3

282

18

6.4%

h

1

105

12

11.4%

h

2

50

8

16.0%

h

3

33

4

12.1%

p

1

11952

835

7.0%

p

2

7101

572

8.1%

p

3

5064

462

9.1%

t

1

11034

807

7.3%

t

2

6744

599

8.9%

t

3

4761

472

9.9%

v

1

9528

703

7.4%

v

2

5199

481

9.3%

v

3

3536

314

8.9%

x

1

20374

1501

7.4%

x

2

16438

1330

8.1%

x

3

13892

1197

8.6%

This shows the same trend across the board: that the more a horse gets used to wearing a particular piece of headgear the better it generally performs. There are a couple of exceptions, but as a general rule of thumb it can be applied to all headgear (including removing the headgear).

We need to pay extra attention if we are thinking about backing a horse that is in headgear for the first or second time, as it does appear that by the third race the average strike rate comes closer to the expected benchmark. It’s interesting to note that the use of the “hood” in fact bucks the general trend and actually shows an improvement on our actual benchmark.

Here are the stats for each individual discipline, the Flat and the Jumps season:

Race Type

Number of Runs in Headgear

Runners

Winners

Strike Rate

Flat

1

42931

2952

6.9%

Flat

2

26920

2181

8.1%

Flat

3

20004

1689

8.4%

Bumper

1

783

30

3.8%

Bumper

2

202

14

6.9%

Bumper

3

65

7

10.8%

Chase

1

9304

859

9.2%

Chase

2

6608

698

10.6%

Chase

3

5278

594

11.3%

Hurdle

1

15929

1065

6.7%

Hurdle

2

10730

873

8.1%

Hurdle

3

8184

712

8.7%

Hurdles and Flat racing show very close trends. The use of headgear in Bumper races (as National Hunt Flat Races are referred to) should be avoided when backing except in exceptional circumstances, but in Chase races the use of headgear does have a marked positive effect on the horse’s performance, even on its first use.

Headgear trainer angles

For the trainer angles I have examined the most profitable angles and the least profitable angles, those trainers to back and those trainers to avoid or lay. I have also compared the various strike rates with the overall strike rates for each trainer so that we can get a feel for how their use of headgear compares to their overall performance.

In the “Criteria” column Headgear uses the same abbreviations as on the standard racecard, Runs refers to the number of runs the horse has previously had in this headgear (0 = first time headgear) and Race Type is the type of race. Profit/Loss is backing each selection to level stakes as a 1 point win bet. This is the key table in which you can profit from headgear and the accompanying video will show you how to apply the stats in order to make a profit.

Trainer

Criteria

Runners

Winners

Strike Rate

Profit / Loss

ROI

Overall Strike Rate

Mcbride P

Headgear; t

53

8

15.1%

50.7

95.6%

9.2%

Williams E

Headgear; x Runs; 1

95

20

21.1%

90.7

95.5%

12.5%

Webber P R

Headgear; t Runs; 0

58

9

15.5%

54.5

94.0%

11.3%

Williams I

Headgear; v Runs; 0

54

10

18.5%

50.5

93.5%

10.9%

O`Neill J J

Headgear; x Runs; 1 Race Type; Hurdle

70

16

22.9%

55.4

79.1%

13.9%

Sly P

Headgear; x

52

10

19.2%

40.6

78.1%

9.6%

Dods M

Headgear; x Runs; 1

50

8

16.0%

39.0

78.0%

8.6%

Morrison H

Headgear; t

109

20

18.3%

82.7

75.9%

12.4%

Stoute M

Headgear; x Runs; 0

52

16

30.8%

34.7

66.7%

20.1%

Channon M

Headgear; v Runs; 2

69

13

18.8%

44.3

64.1%

10.3%

Sheridan Frank

Headgear; t

65

11

16.9%

40.6

62.5%

12.3%

Gosden J

Headgear; x Runs; 0

62

16

25.8%

37.6

60.7%

18.1%

Fahey R

Headgear; x Runs; 2 Race Type; Flat

103

23

22.3%

57.9

56.2%

11.3%

Vaughan Tim

Headgear; x

61

16

26.2%

33.9

55.6%

14.8%

Dartnall V

Headgear; x

54

11

20.4%

29.1

53.9%

17.1%

Bin Suroor S

Headgear; x

76

22

28.9%

40.2

52.9%

24.7%

Pipe D

Headgear; b Runs; 0 Race Type; Hurdle

51

8

15.7%

26.8

52.5%

13.9%

Nicholls P

Headgear; t Runs; 2 Race Type; Chase

52

18

34.6%

26.6

51.2%

22.5%

Beckett R M

Headgear; t

72

11

15.3%

36.2

50.2%

11.6%

Hills J

Headgear; t Runs; 0

61

1

1.6%

-35.0

-57.4%

8.6%

Haydn Jones D

Headgear; b

70

1

1.4%

-44.0

-62.9%

8.1%

Given J G

Headgear; b Runs; 0

92

1

1.1%

-66.0

-71.7%

8.0%

Henderson N

Headgear; b Runs; 0

57

1

1.8%

-42.0

-73.7%

20.8%

Dods M

Headgear; x Runs; 0

61

1

1.6%

-49.0

-80.3%

8.6%

Wall C

All Headgear

52

1

1.9%

-43.5

-83.7%

12.0%

Ellison B

Headgear; v

54

1

1.9%

-46.0

-85.2%

10.2%

Pearce J

Headgear; x Runs; 0

53

1

1.9%

-47.0

-88.7%

9.5%

Quinn J J

Headgear; x Runs; 0 Race Type; Flat

55

1

1.8%

-50.5

-91.8%

10.0%

Moore G M

Headgear; b

58

1

1.7%

-54.0

-93.1%

9.1%

Williams S C

Headgear; b

54

1

1.9%

-50.5

-93.5%

10.2%

Easterby M W

Headgear; t Runs; 0

62

1

1.6%

-59.0

-95.2%

8.3%

Tompkins M

Headgear; x Runs; 2

51

1

2.0%

-49.3

-96.7%

8.8%

Carroll D

Headgear; t

51

0

0.0%

-51.0

-100.0%

8.0%

Howard Johnson J

Headgear; p

57

0

0.0%

-57.0

-100.0%

13.4%

Powell B G

Headgear; v Runs; 0

56

0

0.0%

-56.0

-100.0%

8.1%

Rimell M

All Headgear

70

0

0.0%

-70.0

-100.0%

8.1%

Rowe R

All Headgear

82

0

0.0%

-82.0

-100.0%

8.2%

Space doesn’t allow me to list all the trainers here so the chart doesn’t show the fact that the number of trainers that can improve a horse’s performance with the use of Headgear is approximately one eighth of those who reduce their strike rates with the use of headgear. This goes to show that although the use of various types of headgear does seem to be increasing there are a number of trainers who don’t seem to be able to benefit from it.

There are a few notable trainers here; P Sly is one who can double the Overall Strike Rate when removing headgear that has been previously worn, Another interesting trainer to note is Michael Dods, who when removing any headgear for the first time has a dismal record, but on his horses’ second outing without the headgear almost doubles his Overall Strike Rate with a very respectable 78% return on investment.

There are also some of the big stables featured in the lower end of the table, the avoids or “to be layed”. N Henderson, M W Easterby, and J Howard Johnson to name but three who don’t seem to be able to improve their horses general performance with the use of headgear.

Headgear is used for a multitude of different reasons; the general idea is to help improve the horse’s performance on the track but as I have shown here this is definitely not always the case, in fact most of the time the use of headgear has a detrimental effect on the horse’s performance, especially in the first two or three races when the headgear is used.

I hope that this has given you a feel for what is a much overlooked factor when analysing a horses ability to be at the business end of a race. And that I have given you enough information to keep an eye on what tricks trainers can get up to with headgear especially through the summer months.

Breaking News on the video accompaniment you will see that I implemented the stats recently and found a horse of Howard Johnson’s called Nafaath, who was wearing cheek pieces for the first time.

If you look at the Trainer table in this article, under Howard Johnson, you will find he has sent out 57 runners in cheek pieces, and 57 have lost. And guess what? Nafaath came 4th in an 8-runner race wearing cheek pieces for the first time.

So these stats are worth checking against the day’s racecards not just for backing, but for laying as you would have done with early favourite Nafaath!

by The Statman

Gambling Expert



The Statman is our go-to stats guru and is a regular contributor to What Really Wins Money.