Headgear on the Flat

In horse races jockeys are essentially trying to get their mount past the post first. Now there are occasions when the jockey appreciates their horse has little chance, but ultimately the aim of the game is to win, so in the vast majority of races, most jockeys will be trying to do just that.

Hence, they need to be tactically aware, good judges of pace, know when to try and accelerate, etc, etc. They also have the job of steering the horse which is not always as easy as you might think.

I am sure you have seen many races where horses, especially in the final furlong or two, start to drift off a straight line. This could be the difference between winning and losing as a horse will lose ground if not running straight, having to run further to make it past the finishing line.

This is where a jockey can really earn his riding fee.

Now, some horses are difficult to steer even when not under this sort of pressure. If this is the case, then a trainer will often use some type of headgear in an attempt to get them to run straighter.

Headgear can also be used as a tool to try and get the horse to concentrate its mind on the job in hand. It is also used on some horses that are inexperienced and tend to run ‘green’.

So, what are the main types of headgear and what are they used for?

Blinkers – I am sure every reader of this piece has heard of blinkers and have a good idea what they are. They are often used to aid horses that may lack concentration in races. For example, this type of horse could have been turning his head / looking around during past races, and blinkers are therefore used to restrict his view. It stops all vision from the rear and makes the horse concentrate on the direction in which he/she is travelling.

It is generally perceived that the biggest improvement is seen when the horse wears headgear for the first time, with the effect wearing off the more and more times they wear them. But more of that later.

Visor – a visor is extremely similar to blinkers, although there is one important difference, which is they have a slight slit in the side of them. This means the horse can see other runners either side – something blinkers do not allow.

Some horses can panic a little if they cannot see other horses when they are racing so if this is the case, a visor would seem a logical option.

Cheekpieces – these are basically two strips of sheepskin (or similar) which are attached to the cheek pieces of the bridle. Their purpose is similar to that of blinkers – generally they are used for concentration, but they again are an aid to horses that tend to wander offline.

They are of course not as limiting as blinkers – the horse can see far more.

Hood – a hood covers the ears of the horses, and they have eye holes in the hood for obvious reasons! Generally, a hood would be used for a nervous horse – one that may get spooked a little by the noise of the crowd.

So, these are the main four types of headgear.

Eye shields are occasionally used but generally it is rare, so data is limited.

Eye shields are similar to blinkers but both eyes are covered by some kind of mesh / transparent material.

For this particular article I am using data from the last seven full flat seasons in the UK (2016 to 2022) incorporating both turf and all weather flat racing.

All profits / losses have been calculated to Betfair SP (BSP), less 5% commission.

It is time to dive into the figures:

First things first – let us look at the performance of horses in all types of headgear during this seven–year period:

As the table shows there have been over 100,000 runs! It just shows us how often a trainer reaches for some sort of headgear.

Now the bottom line does make modest reading – losses of 9 pence for every £1 staked.

If we compare these stats to horses that do NOT wear headgear, we see that these runners have won 11.3% of the time with losses of only 4p in the £ (A/E 0.87).

Therefore, in general, you would rather be backing a horse without headgear than one wearing it, but one could argue that the differential is not a huge one.

Now a look at the individual stats for different types of headgear. I have focused on the main four:

There are very similar strike rates across the board, likewise the A/E indices are virtually identical. A bit more of a difference in the profit/loss figures, but often the odd huge priced winner can skew the figures. Hence, it is always a good idea to look at price based data so that is next on the agenda.

Here are the results for the four types of headgear when the horses have been priced in single figure (Industry SP):

Horses wearing a hood having done a little better with these 9/1 or shorter priced runners, losing just 4p in the £, compared with around 7p for the other three.

Also, they have enjoyed a slightly better strike rate.

I want to now look at each specific type of headgear with my main focus on those wearing them for the first time.


I want to focus in on cheekpieces first as they are used more than any other type of headgear.

Let us see if there are any differences when it comes to how many times the horse has worn cheekpieces before:

Nothing clear cut here. No positive difference is seen for horses that wear cheekpieces for the first time. The strike rates are similar as are the A/E indices.

Here are some additional stats for first time cheekpiece wearers:

1.  910 runners have started favourite when wearing cheekpieces for the first time with 262 winning (SR 28.8%).

Losses to BSP were £122.50 (ROI –13.5%). So, losses equate to a little more than 13 pence for every £1 bet.

When you compare this to ALL favourites (e.g., those not wearing headgear too) you will see that this performance for first timers is actually quite poor.

ALL favourites have won 32.6% of the time over the past seven years and have lost just 2.5p in the £ to BSP.

2.  There has been a difference when we look at the records of male horses versus female horses wearing cheekpieces for the first time.

Males have won 10.2% of the time, females the figure stands at 8.4%.

In terms of returns, males would have lost you 5 pence in the £, females a much more wallet damaging 22 pence in the £.

These gender stats are much closer when we examine cheekpiece wearers that have worn them before.

In these races males have won 9.8% to females 9.4%; losses for males of 10 pence in the £, females only a little higher this time at 13p.

3. There are a couple of trainers who have had good success with horses wearing first time cheekpieces:

Two thoroughbred trainers as readers will know, and it is nice to find a real positive a two for the first time in this article.


On to blinker wearers next. Again, time to see if there are any differences when it comes to how many times the horse has worn blinkers before:

In terms of returns, horses wearing first time blinkers have done okay losing less than 3p in the £.

The strike rate though is below the average for all other blinkered runs. Looking at horses wearing for the first time, there is a significant difference in performance when we analyse the age of the horse.

The table below splits data for 2 and 3yos versus 4yo and older horses:

Younger horses clearly seem to take to first time blinkers much better.

The key comparisons here are the strike rates and A/E indices which clearly favour those horses aged 2 or 3.

Seeing a profit is a bonus but this is basically due to 3 big priced winners.

Having said that, you would have turned a profit on these runners in five of the seven years, which is interesting and encouraging.

Also backing these runners would have broken even to BSP if sticking to horses from the top five of the betting.

Hence, any 2 or 3yo wearing first time blinkers is a horse we should not dismiss – they are probably worth a cursory glance.

Here are some more first time blinker stats I would like to share:

1.  Colts have a decent record with blinkers on for the first time.

100 wins from 781 (SR 12.8%) for a small profit of £1.55 (ROI +0.2%).

Mares have a poor record, albeit from a modest sample. They have secured just 11 wins from 194 (SR 5.7%) for hefty losses of £84.62 (ROI –43.6%).

Now mares are female horses aged 5 or older.

In fact, if we look at female runners aged 4 or older, we get an even worse overall picture – of the 575 qualifiers just 25 have been successful (SR 4.3%) for losses of £286.49 (ROI –49.8%).

The A/E index stands at a rather paltry 0.58.

2.  In the highest class of race (Class 1) first time blinkered wearers have struggled as one might expect.

A strike rate of only 6.3% (14 wins from 222 runners). Losses equate to £101.15 (ROI –45.6%).

3.  Ralph Beckett (26 wins from 123) and Paul Cole (12 wins from 58) are two trainers who have secured strike rates of 20% or more with first time blinkered runners.

Both have secured excellent profits too.

Not surprisingly they have both done even better with younger horses (aged 2 or 3).

4.  Two trainers with poor records with first time blinkered runners are Keith Dalgleish who has saddled just 3 winners from 72, and the Johnston stable who have saddled just 5 wins from 120.

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