Why do horse racing trainers use headgear

tomdouglas
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Why do horse racing trainers use headgear

Postby tomdouglas » Tue Jan 12, 2016 10:22 am

Many of you will take note of "first time blinkers", and other assorted headgear. There was a time when there was no need to declare in advance of getting to the track, so the betting shop punter would never know if a horse was sporting the blinkers unless a reporter mentioned it next day, usually when quoting the trainer's "explanation to the stewards" for the sudden improvement shown.
Blinkers were commonly used as just an excuse for a horse to improve. Back then, when racing wasn't recorded and closely scrutinized, the opportunity to cheat was always there, and it wasn't uncommon for many to take advantage of it.
These days cheating is not only much more difficult, but it's much less common than many punters think.
If a trainer wants to get a horse well handicapped, then he can simply run at an unsuitable distance, or on an unsuitable surface, and the assessor will judge accordingly.
BLINKERS, like all headgear, will have varied effects on different animals; they allow the horse to only see what is directly in front of him.
VISORS are different, in that the horse is only precluded from seeing what is behind him.
CHEEK PIECES; these were once worn just as an adornment, but now considered to have the same effect as a visor.
HOODS are worn, on a racecourse, to muffle sound for certain individuals who are considered to be troubled by noise. In actual fact most horses will wear hoods during exercise at times of adverse weather, just for comfort, in the same way that we would wear our woolen hat.
TONGUE TIES have only recently needed to be declared publicly, and have been in use for many years by trainers. This is a very simple piece of equipment which ensures the horses tongue remains under the bit, and forward in the mouth. Only very recently has it been scientifically proven to be beneficial to some horses, particularly those with a soft palate, and often indicated by the noise made by the horse during exercise. As unattractive as the tongue tie can appear, it never seems to bother the horse in the slightest when applied, and for some it's ensuring a clearer airway.

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Postby mc1000 » Tue Jan 12, 2016 11:40 am

Hi 'tomdouglas' nice post and although I understand it would only be a generalisation would you be able to clarify for me a bit further (if possible) which type of equipment would be used to correct which type of problem.
ie. I had always assumed blinkers to be used to concentrate a horse that is possibly in need of assistance with his jumping. ? Therefore what would be the main benefit of or which type of horse would say a visor help is it of any benefit to say a front runner or is it primarily used for to settle a horse. ?
Also in your opinion is it a good thing to avoid a horse who is constantly being tried in an assortment of different headgear and of your experience having seen these applied do you believe these options have a long term effect or do they usually bring about a sharp improvement on first use only. ?

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Postby Leicester Bigot » Tue Jan 12, 2016 6:57 pm

I used to make a bit of money following John Gosden horses who had been running at 7f and 8f, before getting their handicap mark and then entering a handicap race at 10f plus. A good few of them showed marked improvement for the step up in trip.

Like anything successful, punters cotton on and with the stable such a big name now, the value is hard to find most of the time.

I have often heard that it is fairly common for blinkers to only work the first time they are applied. I suppose this is probably partly due to a winning horse being re-assessed and unlikely to be as "well in" again for quite some time, if at all, with the handicapper's elephant like memory.

If a horse runs well in headgear more than once, it doesn't put me off, although I tend to get worried when I see it applied to good class horses on the flat. There seems a no-no about Group 1 horses wearing "aids" on the level.

Interestingly, Aidan O'Brien stuck the headgear on some of his regally bred and well thought of 2yos last year. One of them was Shogun, who was hot favourite but beaten on his debut. Aidan seemed to think the Fastnet Rock colt just needed something to focus him and he duly bolted up when blinkered and favourite again next time.

The trouble for Shogun was that he was beaten favourite next time, a little uneasy in the betting on heavy ground. The trainer put that one down to the going but the colt was disappointing again the next time and also at the Breeders Cup, behind winner and stable mate Hit It A Bomb.

Did Shogun actually improve for the blinkers in his one win? The subsequent form of that maiden suggests perhaps not. Twenty six runs were subsequently made from the race and it has yielded zero winners, which is almost unthinkable for a Curragh maiden with runners from the O'Brien, Wachman, Weld, Oxx and Bolger stables.

Aidan said after Shogun's maiden win that he might run the horse with the blinkers off next time but the horse had them on again when well behind Herald The Dawn in the group 2 Futurity Stakes over the same course and distance as his maiden win.

Shogun then went to France for the Group 1 Jean-Luc Lagardere but this time they stuck a visor on him instead of the blinkers. O'Brien's horse was only sixth but he ran OK and reversed form with Herald The Dawn from the Futurity.

On his final run of the year, Aidan reversed the headgear from visor back to the blinkers but he was never a factor, coming home 10th of the 14 runners at the Breeders Cup.

It seems Shogun is a well regarded but frustrating colt. Aidan seemed to hint that he was one of his better prospects for the Classics and his Group 2 and Group 1 runs seem to back that opinion up. Whatever is ailing the horse, it looks like the headgear tried so far hasn't solved the problem. I think it is very hard to argue that his maiden win is his best form and that it brought about significant improvement. For me he may just have won a bad maiden and may have done so just by improving from run 1 to run 2, as so many of Aidan's good youngsters did last year.

An interesting thread and maybe other readers have information to offer.
Last edited by Leicester Bigot on Tue Jan 12, 2016 7:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Leicester Bigot » Tue Jan 12, 2016 7:02 pm

Just as an aside, I once asked what they used to tie a horse's tongue down and was told that, quite often, it was simply a pair of ladies tights.

That would bring a whole new meaning to a filly running in the Pretty Polly :D
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Postby OlbgDeleted236012 » Wed Jan 13, 2016 12:06 pm

First time headgear,blinkers and visors. Denoted by h1,b1,v1. Does anyone have statistics for selections that have finished first or second lto that sport these additions. Ran a system a while ago that performed very well just using this criteria.

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Postby geordieracer » Wed Jan 13, 2016 12:25 pm

yes, interesting post.

As for mc1000's questions, let me throw my 2-pennyworth in

These things (apart from tongue-tie) are almost always used to help a horse concentrate. Many people don't realise what field of vision a horse has, but it is essentially close to 360 degrees. Accordingly some horses - when they are seen to idle in front or lose focus at a fence for example- are tried with some form of headgear to stop the problem as it is considered by jockey / trainer that they are being distracted by other things happening around them. Just like humans some horses find it easy to maintain concentration and focus some do not

A slap down the neck is used for the same reason; you often see a jockey give a horse a flick with a whip on it's front quarters after a mistake at a fence or if wandering; again it is an attempt to restore lost concentration.

The cheekpiece/hood/visor/blinker issue is a question of degree; how much or little of the horse's field of vision are you wanting to cut off or keep; it is a matter of judgment for each horse based on the nature or degree of the problem. Broadly, as tom says, a visor tends ot be less restrictive in terms of ision field thn blinkers although some now seem to be cosmetic only (american style hoods) and some have a "cp" round the eye piece which is more restrictive.

I am old enough to remember the big square blinkers they used to fit, they were designed to make the horse look straight ahead only.

The one exception is the tongue tie. This is exclusively to stop a horse having his or er tongue over the bit and thus restrict it's own airways particularly late in a race. It is used for horses with breathing issues as an option to a soft palate or wind operation. Some trainers will never use one; Paul Nichols for a long time gave every horse he had in his yard a wind op as it could not harm and may well assist. As a result you rarely if ever saw a Nichols horse with a tongue tie.

One thing not mentioned is ear plugs. I had a share in a horse who always ran with them as he was distracted by noise more than sounds. Don't ask whether it improved him or not......

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Postby horage » Wed Jan 13, 2016 12:30 pm

A trainer told me they put the blinkers on first time when they are trying to win with the horse.....

The horse might not win its race ; but it seems that an improved performance
is expected when first time blinkers are applied......

So as a general rule 1st time blinkers indicate the horse will be trying in that race...and thats all you can hope for when backing horses.....

This is especially true for e.w betting..................

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Postby The Market Man » Wed Jan 13, 2016 1:04 pm

Quite often I wonder how trainers get away with removing blinkers from a horse that has just won a race, running them without for a couple of runs, then reapplying them for another improved performance.

I find wind ops and first time tongue ties more appealing than blinkers or a visor

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Postby mc1000 » Thu Jan 14, 2016 7:18 am

Thanks for all the replies I can now see having started looking at the results that this might be a more interesting topic than I first thought as to the effectiveness of headgear especially as to specific trainers and type of horse ie flat jumps and more notably possibly the class of the horse.

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Postby The Shark » Thu Jan 14, 2016 10:17 am

When a horse shows significant apparent improvement to win a handicap then the Stewards will ask for that improvement to be explained.

Maybe the easiest way is to say the headgear improved the horse? That would then often be accepted.

Very cynical... but maybe sometimes it isn't so much that the headgear actually improves the horse, but it may be an easy way to explain why a horse just bolted up in a handicap when the form might not clearly show that it should have.

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Postby Foranap17 » Thu Jan 14, 2016 10:31 am

A really good thing about reading headgear. and for eg if it\'s a short sprints race and you can read the pace and it looks to be an honest pace the horse that is tried headgear 1St time is most likely to lead. So if you have one horse that leads that looks to be hardly any pace that could be worth a look. One of the owners and trainers I talk too alot he says headgear produces a better concentration level and some times the horses will most likely lead or be in a prominent position through out. But also headgear can make a horse run worse. If you see a horse doing very well lto and it came very close and it\'s a same distance and it\'s a tongue tie this usually keeps it nice and relaxed and conserves energy for the finish. So headgear can be useful but in my opinion it depends what race is on offer. And its the value if the headgear will be valuable for that race if you see 3 horses trying headgear first time. Then you could probably bet that it will be a very fast run race so you could maybe get some value on a held up or a prominent runner. But that\'s just advice. However this also can mean a horse has a behavioural issue so I tread carefully when I sometimes see headgear tried for 1St time I take it as 50/50.

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Postby tomdouglas » Thu Jan 14, 2016 11:50 am

Hi 'tomdouglas' nice post and although I understand it would only be a generalisation would you be able to clarify for me a bit further (if possible) which type of equipment would be used to correct which type of problem.
ie. I had always assumed blinkers to be used to concentrate a horse that is possibly in need of assistance with his jumping. ? Therefore what would be the main benefit of or which type of horse would say a visor help is it of any benefit to say a front runner or is it primarily used for to settle a horse. ?
Also in your opinion is it a good thing to avoid a horse who is constantly being tried in an assortment of different headgear and of your experience having seen these applied do you believe these options have a long term effect or do they usually bring about a sharp improvement on first use only. ?
All too often these additions to tack are made by people who are just prepared to try anything to muster some improved performance, and there may be more wishing than thought going into the process, therefore analyzing results could prove to be misleading.
As far as which type of aid to use, that's really something any of us could think out for ourselves, it being dependent on the animal and circumstances involved, and often being a tad experimental. As for trying a change of headgear, on a frequent basis, that would say to me that the trainer considers the horse is a bit of a monkey, and is hoping to regalvanize him. But in almost all instances the horse will have worn the headgear at home. Don't always assume that the trainer has done as he should. I know of an instance where a horse ran in a novice chase, with a top jockey booked, and the same horse had never jumped a fence before. (he got round safely, as we expected he would). The same jock' might be at Ascot, so perhaps he can tell you himself.

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