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What Impact Do Blinkers Have on Racing?

While watching horse racing, you have almost certainly noticed blinkers on some of the horses.  Blinkers are cups which cover all or part of a horse’s eyes (one or both).  Different types of blinkers have different functions, but in general, they serve to help a horse to focus on the track ahead by screening out visual distractions.


As a handicapper, blinkers are important to know about because they can impact the outcome of a race.  It all depends on how a given horse responds to blinkers, but you can proceed with the assumption that the trainer and jockey know what they are doing. 


Blinkers should improve performance in the following ways:

  • Extension blinkers can prevent horses that drift to one side from doing so, so they are more likely to run a direct, straight course.
  • By reducing field of view, blinkers can eliminate visual distractions, helping horses focus forward.
  • Extension blinkers may also help keep dirt from getting kicked up into a horse’s eyes.  This may be relevant if the race is taking place on a poorly-maintained dirt track.  In this situation, the kickback may be substantial.  It may also be helpful in dry, windy conditions where there is extra dust. 
  • Some horses automatically become more focused and put in extra effort if they are wearing blinkers.  This is a psychological effect based on association.
  • If a horse is wearing blinkers, chances are good that it will put on a stronger burst of initial speed. 
  • If the horse is wearing blinkers for the first time, there is also a good chance that it will run closer to the lead than it usually does.  This may be true regardless of the position it tends to run in.  This effect can sometimes be very dramatic.
  • If this is the first time a horse has had blinkers removed after running with them (or the first time in a long time), it may slow the horse down, and you may notice the horse lagging behind its usual position. 


A horse that responds well to blinkers will generally continue to use them.  The positive effect should stay relatively strong, but it will not be as dramatic in subsequent races as it was the first time. 


Why would a horse stop wearing blinkers after it has used them time and again successfully?  Sometimes trainers feel that their horses are over-racing.  A horse switching to a different type of race may also need to forego the blinkers.  Say a horse that usually does sprints switches to a route race.  This time the horse will need to conserve energy, so that hard burst of speed that goes with the blinkers may actually not be a good move.  So the blinkers are removed.  The reverse might happen if a horse that usually does route races switches to a sprint.


Some trainers may also decide to keep blinkers off while initially training a horse.  Or they may not want to overuse them, because they want them to have a strong psychological associative effect.  They want putting the blinkers on to give the horse the message to really put in an extra effort on a particular race.  


So while blinkers the first time often produce dramatically positive results, you should not necessarily expect a performance decline if they are removed.  It all depends on the situation.  Usually if the blinkers are coming off, there is a good reason for it. 


Do blinkers have any potential drawbacks?  They may in some situations.  While they can remove visual distractions, helping a horse to stay calm and focused, sometimes the horse’s other senses overshoot to compensate.  As a result, a horse wearing blinkers may be more sensitive to sudden noises.  This can cause a horse to spook more easily than usual.  If you are looking for some hard data on the topic of blinkers and horses’ reactions to visual and audible stimuli, you can read a scientific study here.


This is why it is important to understand the context surrounding any move with the blinkers.  Blinkers are just one of numerous factors you need to account for when you are betting on horse racing betting sites, but they can be very important, especially if this is the first time with them on or off in a long time (or ever). 


Want to learn even more about blinkers?  Be sure to read my quick rundown of the different types of blinkers used in horse racing!


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