Blinkers, cheekpieces, blinkers, hoods….horse racing features more accessories than the standard Louis Vuitton catwalk show.
But rather than being a fashionable affectation that ensures a horse is bang on trend for that particular season, each item of headgear has a very specific purpose.
From a betting perspective, it certainly pays to know what each of the different types of headgear are, and why the horses you want to back or lay may benefit or be hindered by wearing them.
So here is information on the various ways trainers try to give their horse the best chance of winning by dressing them up and making them look silly.
What are the Different Types of Horse Racing Headgear?
The secret to getting the most out of a racehorse is to ensure it is perfectly prepped for the race ahead. Training and dietary needs are well looked after by the stable hands at each yard, but there are other kinds of help that a horse needs to perform at their best.
Blinkers, for example, help to focus horses that have a tendency to concentrate more on their equine brethren around them than running a winning race.
A visor is similar to blinkers, although these are slightly more forgiving and allow for a horse to see their fellow competitors.
For horses that have a tendency to run and jump to one side, cheekpieces can be something of a solution. The idea is that they focus the attention of a horse on maintaining a straight line in front of them.
There are racehorses that are ‘busy’, throwing their head up and down and getting distracted by all the stimuli present at a packed racecourse. Sometimes, fitting a noseband encourages a horse to keep their head down and their line of vision centred, and for those that have a tendency to pull on the bridle it can help prevent painful rashes and lesions forming.
A tongue strap can be deployed to stop a horse’s tongue from escaping over the bit, and by keeping the airways clear it helps them to breathe easier too – with the idea of improving their performance.
And finally we have full head hoods, which are used with horses of a nervous disposition who are becalmed when their head is covered.
What are the Advantages of Headgear in Horse Racing?
As we’ve learned already, each individual horse can have its foibles that prevent it from maximising its performance on race day.
Horses are, by their nature, pack animals, and they are incredibly inquisitive too – many of the forms of headgear outlined help them to focus on racing rather than mucking about with their equine buddies.
The point is that some racehorses are transformed when they wear headgear, turning them from idle chasers to superstars. Foinavon won the 1967 Grand National while wearing blinkers, and Native River and See More Business are Cheltenham Gold Cup champions in the same headgear.
The legendary Frankel was known for wearing his modified noseband, while the American Triple Crown winner Secretariat was famous for racing in a multi-coloured hood.
While inexperienced punters might assume that headgear is a sign of weakness in a horse, it can in fact boost their performance – some of the best to have ever raced have enjoyed career-defining moments in their headwear.
How Do I Know if a Horse is to Wear Headgear?
The connections of a racehorse will nominate the intended headgear of their horse at the final declaration stage, although the rules on nosebands are more flexible and can be worn or not as the yard team decides on the day.
When you load the day’s racecard on an app or website (or in the newspaper for old school types), there are all manner of abbreviations and codes on display.
You can find out which horses are going to be wearing headgear by looking out for the lower-case letters next to their name, which dictate the following:
- b – blinkers
- h – hood
- v – visor
- ec – eye cover
- eh – eye hood
- p or s – cheekpieces
- t – tongue tie
Occasionally you will see some letters printed together, such as tp. As you might have guessed, this indicates that a horse is wearing both cheekpieces and a tongue tie.
It’s worth keeping an eye on the numbers displayed next to the letters too. This indicates how many times the horse has raced in that particular piece of headgear, and if you see the number 1 next to the letter- i.e. b1 – then that denotes that the horse is wearing blinkers for the first time.
There is a theory that a horse wearing headgear for the first or second time will deliver an immediately improved performance, although of course this will depend upon the individual in question.