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First Time Blinkers
First Time Blinkers On The Flat by David Renham
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.
- 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:
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.
The perception is that blinkers improve younger horses best, especially 2yos. Let us look at the results breakdown when split by age:
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:
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.
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:
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.
Let us break the data down now by specific race types:
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.
Let us break the data down now by race distance:
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
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.
I decided to see if the experience of the jockey made a difference. The table below compares professional jockeys with claiming jockeys:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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