First Time Blinkers

With the flat season gathering pace, I have decided to look at horses that are blinkered for the first time. There are numerous ideas why horses are given blinkers to wear.

These include:

-         To try and get the horse to concentrate as some horses get distracted by the other runners in a race;

-         To help the horse break quickly from the stalls. Blinkers often have this effect when worn for the first time;

-         As a last resort to try and improve a horses’ performance.

What one should realise however, is that generally fitting first time blinkers is a negative rather than a positive. The data for this article is taken from the last 6 complete seasons – flat/all weather racing only. All profits are calculated to £1 level stakes at SP. It should be noted that I have included only runners that are wearing blinkers only (for the first time) – I have excluded runners who were wearing tongue ties also. For the record the combination of blinkered first time + tongue tie produce virtually identical strike rates and returns (from a much smaller sample).

Firstly let us look at the results of all runners wearing blinkers for the first time on the flat over the period of study:

Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
441 6336 7% -£1748.87 -27.6

Essentially therefore these runners win around once in every fourteen starts (roughly) for losses of just under 28 pence in the £. Not a great starting point from a betting perspective. However, let us break these stats down into different categories to see if we can either find better betting propositions, or ‘gilt-edged’ laying opportunities.

Age

The perception is that blinkers improve younger horses best, especially 2yos. Let us look at the results breakdown when split by age:

Age Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
2 85 1197 7.1 -£433.73 -36.2
3 185 2755 6.7 -£928.06 -33.7
4 93 1378 6.8 -£344.38 -25.0
5 46 539 8.5 +£68.41 +12.7
6 19 261 7.3 -£80.13 -30.7
7 5 127 3.9 -£66.00 -52.0
8 or older 8 79 10.1 +£35.00 +44.3

As we can see 2yos actually perform below the ‘norm’. Looking at the ages as a whole, there is no discernable pattern, although much older horses (8yo+) have done relatively well from a very small sample.

Digging deeper into the 2yo stats, I have broken down the data by number of career runs:

Career starts Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
debut 4 53 7.5 -£29.00 -54.7
2nd career start 4 110 3.6 -£46.00 -41.8
3rd career start 4 155 2.6 -£98.50 -63.5
4th career start 23 261 8.8 -£127.41 -48.8
5th career start 17 215 7.9 -£10.50 -4.9
6th career start 11 170 6.5 -£87.81 -51.7
7th or more 22 233 9.4 -£34.50 -14.8

Two things that seem to stand out here are firstly that 2yos that have raced several times (7 or more), react to first time blinkers relatively well; secondly 2yos that are assigned blinkers on their 2nd or 3rd career start do extremely poorly in terms of strike rate. My guess is that there is an over-reaction to a poor debut run and the addition of blinkers actually makes things worse.

Market position

Generally the market is an excellent guide to the chances of each horse. Let us look at first time blinkered horses coupled with their market position:

Market pos Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
Favourite 85 334 25.5 -£51.82 -15.5
2nd favourite 78 437 17.9 -£70.06 -16.0
3rd favourite 55 510 10.8 -£154.50 -30.3
4th in betting 47 532 8.8 -£99.50 -18.7
5th in betting 39 567 6.9 -£139.00 -24.5
6th or bigger 43 621 6.9 -£34.00 -5.5
7th or bigger 94 3335 2.8 -£1,200.00 -36.0

At first glance the performance of favourites looks OK. However, when we take ALL flat favourites as a whole, the strike rate is around 30-31% with losses of only 6-7%. Hence, horses that start favourite when blinkered for the first time are not good betting propositions.

Race types

Let us break the data down now by specific race types:

Race type Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
Amateur races 2 57 3.5 -£43.25 -75.9
Claimers 42 482 8.7 -£7.43 -1.5
Group/Listed 9 194 4.6 -£79.75 -41.1
Handicaps 246 3653 6.7 -£1,010.10 -27.7
Maidens 73 1023 7.1 -£426.17 -41.7
Sellers 34 569 6.0 -£204.38 -35.9

Although the data is limited a combination of first time blinkers and an amateur rider looks one to avoid. Indeed of the 55 losers, only 3 got placed. I decided to look back further just to gather a bigger data set. I looked at first time blinkered runners in amateur contests from 1997 to 2004 – they fared poorly once again with just 3 wins from 104.

Maiden races have seen losses of around 42 pence in the £ which above the base figure of 27.6p. Auction maidens have provided the poorest results for first time blinkered runners with just 12 wins from 279 (SR 4.3%) for a loss of £151.06 (ROI -54.1%). Indeed, 2yo maiden Auction races are even worse with just 3 winners from 160 runners (SR 1.9%) for a hefty loss of £129.50 (ROI -80.9%).

Claiming races have seen close to a break-even situation despite a low strike rate of around 9%. Indeed if you exclude maiden claimers the strike rate rises to 9.3% and profits are made; albeit 9 pence profit for every £ wagered. However, it should be noted that these profit figures are essentially down to a few big priced winners and hence it is not an area where the backer can be confident to make a profit in the future.

Race distance

Let us break the data down now by race distance:

Race type Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
5-6f 139 2134 6.5 -£718.29 -33.7
7-8f 160 2270 7.0 -£583.43 -25.7
9-10f 58 876 6.6 -£225.05 -25.7
11-12f 61 694 8.8 -£128.31 -18.5
13f+ 23 362 6.4 -£93.80 -25.9

In general there does not seem to be any pattern here. I had expected longer races to produce slightly poorer results but this is not the case.

Turf v all weather

Surface Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
All weather 203 2480 8.2 -£454.92 -18.3
Turf 238 3856 6.2 -£1293.95 -33.6

Horses wearing blinkers for the first time perform better on the all weather compared with turf. This could be due to the fact all weather racing is less competitive; or generally of lower grade. Whatever the reason, the stats are worth taking note of.

Jockeys

I decided to see if the experience of the jockey made a difference. The table below compares professional jockeys with claiming jockeys:

Jockey Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
professional 374 4914 7.6 -1127.87 -23.0
claiming 67 1422 4.7 -£621.00 -43.7

The figures seem to suggest the less experienced jockeys struggle when horses are blinkered for the first time. Losses close to 44 pence in the £ combined with a strike rate of under 5% means that one should swerve these jockeys under these circumstances.

Trainers

Some trainers have a better understanding of their animals than others so one would expect a real mix of results for first time blinkered runners. I have included all trainers that have saddled at least 30 horses with first time blinkers:

Trainer Wins Runs Strike Rate% Profit/loss ROI%
Sir M Prescott 11 51 21.6 +£27.40 +53.7
B Smart 5 30 16.7 +£0.50 +1.7
C Cox 6 37 16.2 +£8.90 +24.1
I Semple 5 34 14.7 -£5.63 -16.5
R Charlton 5 35 14.3 -£9.13 -26.1
G Butler 5 36 13.9 +£19.00 +52.8
R Hannon 16 129 12.4 +£0.50 +0.4
M Tregoning 4 33 12.1 +£33.00 +100.0
R Harris 8 68 11.8 +£47.75 +70.2
J Boyle 4 34 11.8 +£1.00 +2.9
T Barron 6 54 11.1 -£12.00 -22.2
M Easterby 9 85 10.6 -£20.75 -24.4
C Brittain 6 57 10.5 -£12.38 -21.7
W Haggas 7 67 10.5 -£13.00 -19.4
J Moore 5 49 10.2 +£12.25 +25.0
M Johnston 12 118 10.2 +£1.58 +1.3
P Cole 9 89 10.1 -£29.25 -32.9
J Dunlop 6 61 9.8 -£11.67 -19.1
K Ryan 14 144 9.7 -£7.38 -5.1
P Grayson 6 64 9.4 -£17.05 -26.6
J Gosden 7 75 9.3 -£17.17 -22.9
B Meehan 15 161 9.3 +£8.08 +5.0
N Littmoden 4 44 9.1 -£17.50 -39.8
J Osborne 4 46 8.7 +£10.00 +21.7
G L Moore 6 72 8.3 -£24.38 -33.9
B Hills 3 36 8.3 +£15.00 +41.7
M Quinlan 3 36 8.3 -£18.50 -51.4
P Evans 4 50 8.0 -£8.50 -17.0
T Easterby 10 131 7.6 -£11.75 -9.0
E Johnson Houghton 2 31 6.5 -£6.00 -19.4
W Muir 4 64 6.3 -£35.75 -55.9
B Ellison 2 32 6.3 -£9.00 -28.1
M Dods 2 32 6.3 -£11.50 -35.9
Mrs A Perrett 4 67 6.0 -£30.00 -44.8
R Fahey 4 71 5.6 -£35.50 -50.0
E Dunlop 2 44 4.6 -£36.00 -81.8
R Beckett 2 50 4.0 -£20.00 -40.0
M Tompkins 2 57 3.5 -£43.50 -76.3
M Jarvis 1 30 3.3 -£25.00 -83.3
I McInnes 1 34 2.9 -£29.50 -86.8
P Blockley 1 35 2.9 -£30.00 -85.7
R Millman 1 37 2.7 -£8.00 -21.6
J Bradley 0 66 0.0 -£66.00 -100.0
A Berry 0 50 0.0 -£50.00 -100.0
J Given 0 41 0.0 -£41.00 -100.0
J Eustace 0 31 0.0 -£31.00 -100.0
J Weymes 0 30 0.0 -£30.00 -100.0

Sir Mark Prescott has excellent figures considering how poor these runners do in general – a better than 1 in 5 strike rate with profits of over 50 pence for every £ wagered. At the other end of the scale, Milton Bradley and Alan Berry have combined to produce 0 winners from 116 runners.

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To conclude, horses blinkered for the first time are essentially poor investments. However, some are much worse than others as this article has hopefully highlighted. If nothing else, I suspect this article may save you from backing certain horses that have a very poor chance of winning. This should help your betting bank balance.

Dave Renham

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Dave Renahm is a regular feature writer in the Racing And Football Outlook newspaper.  If you are more of an investor rather than gambler at your racing, more of his educational research work may be found online at www.PunterProfits.com and at www.racingtrends.co.uk

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