Gear Changes

Gear Changes in Horse Racing is an important factor when doing the form.  This article will tell you what a gear change means for the horse.

Learn more in TRB’s BetSmart Series on the Betfair Hub.


Gear changes are a standard part of almost all form guides today.

They list changes to the equipment that each horse will carry or wear into a race. A Trainer makes gear changes on a horse with the aim of either improving its performance or protecting the horse from the effect of physical issues (i.e. feet problems.)

Paying attention to gear changes can alert you to problems the horse may have had since its last start or help to forecast improved performance.


There’s a stack of individual pieces of gear a horse can wear in a race… we’ve listed the most common in the table below and described they’re used for.

GearDescription
BlinkersPlaced over the horses eyes, they help focus its attention straight ahead and prevent it from being distracted by things behind it. Blinkers can be applied to one eye (near or off side) or most commonly to both eyes. A trainer will often apply blinkers to switch a horse on and that may result in a sudden performance improvement (especially if blinkers are applied for the first time.) The potential downside is that blinkers may make a horse fire up too much and race ungenerously, burning too much energy early in a race.
WinkersAlso focuses a horses attention straight ahead, but allows more side vision than blinkers. A favourite alternative to blinkers with many trainers.
PacifiersA mesh cover placed over the horses eyes to help it relax more (i.e. they pacify anxious or excitable horses.) A horse has to concentrate more so it can see through the pacifiers.
Nose RollA sheepskin roll placed over the horses nose to make it carry its head at a better angle for racing. The more a horse lifts its head up, the harder it is to see over the nose roll.
Tongue TieA strap that keeps the horses tongue down in the right place, preventing it from either swallowing its tongue or more commonly choking down which obviously hinders performance.
Bar Plates / Bar ShoesUsed for horses with feet trouble. They take pressure off the heel and help distribute weight evenly around the hoof. Their use is usually a sign that not all is well with the horses feet, which is a natural concern from a betting perspective.
Glue On ShoesAnother solution for horses with bad feet and problems that prevent the fitting of normal race plates. They cant be considered anything but a negative factor.
Shockshod ShoesUsed on horses with sensitive feet to help reduce bruising that can come from hard galloping.
BandagesProtective wraps around a horses legs. Some horses regularly race in bandages so their significance is relative to past runs.
Lugging BitUsed to prevent a horse from hanging in or out during its races. Keeping the horse on a true course can naturally improve performance.
Norton BitHelps to stop a horse from pulling hard during its races. May lead to improved performance.
Tongue Control BitPrevents a horse from getting its tongue over the bit, which hinders performance.
Cross Over Nose BandStops a horse from opening its mouth during races. May lead to improved performance.
Barrier BlanketA heavy blanket placed over a horses rump before loading into the barrier stalls. It helps to calm the horse during the time its standing in the stalls. The blanket is attached to the barrier stalls so that it naturally comes off when the horse leaves the barriers.

How Effective Are Gear Changes?

Unfortunately there are no fixed rules or easy answers to this question as each horse is an individual.  However, based on our analysis and experience we can offer the following general advice about the value of key gear changes in terms of average strike rate and betting returns compared to the broader population.

Blinkers:

  • The addition of blinkers (first time or again) is marginally underestimated by the market, with those horses providing a slightly better than average return. However that only exists in a few key areas (see below)
  • The more career starts a horse has had, the more of a betting advantage blinkers have provided. The biggest value exists in horses with 10 starts or more that have blinkers applied for the first time. The average advantage is negligible for horses with fewer starts.
  • On average there is no betting advantage on horses with blinkers for the first time in sprint races. The advantage exists in races at 1350m or further.

Winkers

  • There is no strike rate or betting advantage evident in the market on horses that have winkers applied.

Tongue Tie

  • There is no strike rate or betting advantage evident in the market on horses that have a tongue tie applied. The results of these horses are marginally inferior to the broader population.

 Lugging Bit

  •  There is no strike rate or betting advantage evident in the market on horses that have a lugging bit applied

Cross Over Nose Band

  • Has proven to provide a marginal advantage in terms of strike rate and profit.

Ear Muffs

  • There is no strike rate or betting advantage evident in the market on horses that have ear muffs applied. If anything it has been slightly inferior compared to the broader population.

Norton Bit

  • The average strike rate and betting return is significantly lower for horses with Norton Bits compared to the broader population. For that reason it should be considered more a negative rather than positive that could result in improved performance.

Feet and Leg Issues

  • We’ve grouped changes such as bar plates, glue on shoes, bandages, synthetic hoof filler, concussion plates and shock shod shoes together as each signal that there is an issue with the horses feet or legs that the trainer is trying to protect.
  • The overall results of this group are on average a clear strike rate and betting return disadvantage compared to the broader population. They aren’t as horrendous as many punters believe, but they are still a clear disadvantage.

Conclusion

As you can see from these insights, many gear changes on average offer no significant edge in terms of strike rate or betting return when compared to the broader population and in some cases have produced inferior results.

Blinkers going on for the first time is often a factor that many punters use to create betting confidence about a horse, but in younger horses with less than 10 starts and / or in sprint races, data shows that on average there is no strike rate or betting return advantage at all.

If you have specific insights about a horse that makes you confident a particular gear change will help then by all means follow those instincts. That’s a level of detail where you can gain an advantage. However if you aren’t into that, then you can use the above insights as a reference in your s form analysis and selection process to help keep the likely effect of popular gear changes in perspective.


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