Day At The Track

Don't be influenced by the Morning Line!

04:50 AM 18 Jan 2014 NZDT
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(BEFORE THIS STORY, AN IMPORTANT NOTE TO READ): I have been making harness racing morning lines professionally for most of my 34 years working in the sport, and for several before that. And I am the FIRST to tell you that I have totally misread fields in putting together the first set of odds, made some BAD morning lines.

This story seeks several things, including having handicappers believe in their own picks and not necessarily be influenced by the morning line. In picking an illustrative race, we had to pick a race from SOME track – which we have tried to disguise as much as possible, by not having horse or people names  attached to any of those under study, and redacting the names of trainers from whom these horses have been claimed.

Despite these precautions, some will discern the track from which the example comes. I want to reassure everyone that this particular person, whom I have known for a long time, is one of the better morning line makers, and would probably say – as I have, and would – “Yep, didn’t have a good one there. I see what I did, and I have learned from it.” So no criticism of a person meant, mates – this is just a random example.

The morning line at a racetrack is supposed to reflect the basic pattern of how the respective horses will be wagered upon by the betting public. Most racetracks “round at the corners” a little bit – they don’t make what is likely to be a prohibitive favorite too low, for not wanting to scare bettors away, and they don’t make likely 100-1 shots 100-1, again for fear of scaring bettors away, and also not to embarrass any of the longshot’s connections (though if I had a horse who went off 100-1 a couple times in a row, I would begin to ask myself some questions about this horse’s placement).

Many fans handicap the race on their own merits, and then, consciously or unconsciously, look to the morning line to see about their picks’ agreement with it – some folks worry when their figuring is too far astray from the professional first set of odds, while others try to determine if indeed they have latched onto a horse, maybe that doesn’t show a quality obvious to make him attractive to bettors, and if the high morning line is an early indication of a potential tasty payday once the bettors get to work.

Whatever the case, every track should be observing whether its morning line is generally representing what the eventual determinations of the public should be. The late Charlie Singer, who worked at The Meadowlands, was the best morning line maker I ever saw – he was a great handicapper and an amazing watcher of racing action – but, while tracks don’t have to have a Singer in their employ, they should make efforts to have a good person setting up the morning line.

(Here, a word about morning line oddsmakers who have two or three or five or eight basic “patterns,” “cookie cutters,” they try to make every field fit into: “3-1, 7-2, 4-1, 9-2, 6-1, 8-1, 12-1, 15-1” were numbers I saw for most 8-horse races in one city in which I have lived. Since the basic idea of a morning line is, to me, the “shape” of likely odds, I am not opposed to “cookie cutters” as long as when they consider a field with a standout, or two main contenders, or whatever, they shift to a basic pattern which reflects the clear superiority of the horse(s). The fewer the variations of basic pattern, the less I like cookie-cutter morning lines; best of all is to let the individual merits and relative talents of each horse be truly reflected in a “made-to-order” line for each race. Here, for example, are the early lines I made for a recent Pick Four that I was studying:

               5-2, 7-2, 5-1, 6-1, 8-1, 10-1, 10-1, 12-1, 15-1, 15-1

               7-2, 4-1, 5-1, 5-1, 8-1, 8-1, 10-1, 12-1, 12-1, 15-1

               3-1, 7-2, 9-2, 5-1, 8-1, 12-1, 12-1. 15-1, 20-1, 20-1

               7-2, 4-1, 9-2, 9-2, 8-1, 8-1, 10-1, 12-1, 15-1, 20-1

But “made-to-order lines are better” is just my opinion; many respected handicappers and tracks don’t agree with me.)

A final negative about a bad morning line is, of course, that an all-too-ready-to-believe-bad-things public (not unique to harness racing, but seemingly to the entire planet now) sees a 8-1 early shot pay $8.80 and thinks, “Boo – the fix was in!” We have enough people already willing to think the worst about our sport – let’s not, by means of sloppy morning line-making, give them more ammunition for this witchhunt, which is misplaced.

And so to our example, an $8,000 claiming race. Believe me when I tell you that the horses from the four outermost posts didn’t show a great deal of form, and not much early speed, so that they could safely be reduced to the status of, at best, “marginal contender” (and the chart will bear us out on this). Let’s concentrate on the inside five:

#1 – 12-1. Doesn’t show racing below $8000s, and in fact shows being claimed three times at this level. Last race he was out raw the entire way – the toughest trip imaginable – from post eight, and held to miss only 3+ lengths. Got driver change from 14% driver currently to 22% driver, and has the rail. This horse was the impetus of this article: I told people that “if this horse is 12-1, we may have one of the better bets of the season here.”

#2 – 6-1. Two back barely won in a slowing last quarter against $5000s, then came back to railride to a minor check, and steps up again tonight. I didn’t see how he could be rated over the #1.

#3 – 5-2. Parked a long way two back before drawing away in a fast last half – but the first half was crawling, note the class rating and the final speed rating, and the race was a low-level conditioned claimer. Stepped up and closed well to be second against $6000s. Deserved respect, but the level he won at was about three classes below tonight’s.

#4 – 7-2. Swept a $5000 field as the second half slowed and was claimed; for new barn he had a two-move second vs. $6000s, then seemed to have little last time after a pocket journey. And he is now the third straight horse to move up – and none of their last races was in my opinion superior to #1’s last time.

#5 –10-1. Claimed for $8000 three back; had to abort a leave vs. $10,000s first for new barn, then went down the road and was second. (Careful analysis will show that this horse was the horse who hung the #1 to dry.) And it can’t show up here, but the trainer/driver may be the hottest on the Pompano grounds currently.

Both the #1 and #5 were about the same odds last time, and figured to be about the same odds tonight – but it seemed hard to believe that those odds would be 10-1 and 12-1!

Well, the public wasn’t fooled, as you can see by the chart – the #5 was favored, and the #1 was second choice. #5 set the pace, fought off #4, but not until our poor #1 was boxed beyond repair – once clear he launched a furious rally, but could only come within half a length.

The point is, though – what does a non-plugged-in public think when a 10-1 shot and a 12-1 shot get hammered to win and then form a short-priced exacta? Again, I emphasize that no chicanery at all is implied here, nor do I honestly think there was any.

The whole point of this article is just to emphasize the importance of a good morning line, how it when done right facilitates the judgment of handicappers, not clouds their minds with thoughts of either self-doubt or dishonesty, can be a very big public relations asset – and is very underrated as a positive tool by many concerned with it. As we have said before, we need all the help we can these days – let’s help ourselves in a simple area where we can, not shoot ourselves in the foot.

By Jerry Connors for 

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