Every so often you will see a racehorse wearing a set of blinkers. They are usually attached to a hood that is often times decorated in the colors of their owners’ silks. Blinkers are very beneficial for many horses. Horse racing is a sport full of distractions. Racetracks are crowded with people and horses. There are sights and sounds coming from every direction, making it easy for some horses to get distracted. During a race, losing focus can mean losing all chances at winning. For those reasons, horses who are easily distracted will often be outfitted with a pair of blinkers. They will prevent the horse from getting distracted by anything behind or beside them. For some horses, being able to see everything around them can lead to fear. Blinkers will keep them focused on the task at hand - winning the race. They also help sharpen early speed in horses who tend to break slow or lag behind. Blinkers have often been able to cure the problems that some horses have during a race. In the case of the great Whirlaway, it was bearing (drifting) out towards the outside rail. Trainer Ben A. Jones wanted to fix that bad habit before the Kentucky Derby, so he outfitted Whirlaway with a special pair of blinkers that prevented him from even seeing the outside rail. The blinkers worked, keeping Whirlaway on a straight path and helping him on his conquest of sweeping the 1941 Triple Crown. But, putting blinkers on horses for the first time is very risky. Some horses will not take well to this partial blindness and will act up even more during a race. Palace Malice is another horse who wore blinkers for the very first time in the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby is simply not a race that you want your horse to act up in, but unfortunately Palace Malice did just that. He set a brutally fast pace in the early stages of the race, ruining any chance he had at saving energy in the stretch run and he finished 13th. His trainer removed the blinkers and five weeks later he won the Belmont Stakes.
The job of any horseman is to know what his horse needs in order to be successful. Every horse is different. Some will thrive with the addition of blinkers, others will find their addition to be detrimental. When looking at the race program, check to see whether or not a horse is having blinkers added or removed. Then, choose your horse carefully.
Author - Kaeli Bartholomew: I run Champions of the Track as a way to spread the love of horse racing through writing, photography, and videography. The sport of horse racing has been going through a hard time right now and I am working to save it by sharing these stories. I am also a firm believer in Thoroughbred Aftercare, which is why I have a partnership with CANTER USA. Thank you for visiting Champions of the Track!
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Sources: Daily Racing Forum