Does Headgear Really Work?

What can we learn?

This post was written by The Snout who is no longer with us.

Headgear is a hugely important part of betting on horse racing, and a significant factor in determining the most likely winner of a race. But it does, however, also muddy the waters when it comes to looking through a card and identifying a winner of a race. This is because although different types of headgear are generally used for a particular reason, it is difficult to know the impact that this is going to have on a horses performance. In order for us to understand this impact more effectively, we firstly need to understand the different types of headgear used by trainers and the most common reasons for using them.


These will only allow the horse to see what is in front of them. Sometimes worn to increase early speed out of the gate/from the off, and they are also put on horses that are less genuine. It also stops horses from looking elsewhere during a race such as at other runners or the crowd. 


Different from blinkers in the sense that they allow the horse to see to the side, but they have a restricted view from seeing what is behind them. Generally worn for the same reason as blinkers but mainly to keep the horse genuine during a race. 


Generally known to have a similar impact to a visor, in that they restrict the horses vision. Often used to help a horse concentrate.


These are worn to help muffle sound and help relax a horse. Often worn by horses that are ‘buzzy’ or can run keenly.


This means that when worn the horses tongue will remain under the bit and forward in the mouth. It generally allows for a clearer airway and it is often worn by horses that have breathing problems. 

The Data

As readers of my blogs or subscribers to my service will know, I am all about the data! I have looked at runners over an approximate 10 year period on the flat (turf), and looked at how horses have performed with each piece of headgear on, and the results are certainly interesting:

P/L (SP)
Cheek Pieces
Tongue Tie

Now the first thing to say is that when looking at a data set in horse racing of this size, it is difficult to make certain conclusions (because there will always be plenty more losers than winners). However, the hood, although used the least amount of times out of any runners, seems to deliver the best strike rate and the best P&L. Clearly, when we compare performance of horses that wear a hood to horses that wear other headgear, or don’t wear any headgear at all, they perform better. 

Blinkers are the 2nd most commonly used piece of headgear, but the results are very poor, with the strike rate at just 8.39% and a large loss on the P&L. 

P/L (SP)
First Time Blinkers

As you can see, performance is significantly better for horses that wear blinkers the first time, but then performance will worsen on their subsequent starts wearing the headgear. And this isn’t just the impact for blinkers, as the data below shows regarding the visor.

P/L (SP)
First Time Visor

The strike rate worsens, but the P&L is significantly better. This is an interesting piece of data, and the logic would back this up. Trainers are keen to apply blinkers and visors to out of form horses that sometimes springs them into life, and allows them to outperform what they were showing previously. This is why we would see a low strike rate (horses are out of form anyway so it won’t work all the time) but a better P&L (horse out of form will generally equal a better price). This is an example of how analysing data thoroughly can give you a genuine betting edge over the bookmakers.

So, does headgear really work?

Well, it would take more data analysis to investigate further, but the key conclusion to take away is that yes, headgear does work, but only on certain horses, and at certain times. We need to assemble a view on a horse based on what they have shown previously and consider whether the horse benefit from wearing a particular type of headgear. As an example, would a horse that is generally on their toes in the paddock or runs keenly early on benefit from a hood? Yes, probably. Would a horse that has fluffed the start on it’s last 2 starts or has been outbattled in the finish regularly through its career benefit from a visor? Potentially. 

But also, not only this, but from a betting angle we need to understand when it will present betting opportunities. First time blinkers and visors generally will mean a bigger chunk of improvement from an out of form horse and therefore could give us a fantastic price. Certain trainers will use headgear more effectively than others, meaning this needs to be taken into the betting equation.

It certainly is an important piece of the puzzle that cannot be ignored but there is definitely no ‘one-size-fits-all’ blanket approach that can be applied to deliver better betting results. Each horse and race needs to be considered in its entirety. There are no short-cuts in this game, and it will never be easy!

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