Monday, May 2, 2011

Why A Bad Morning Line Hurts Everyone

Morning lines are a part of every wagering race in the U.S. no matter whether it is a Grade 1 at Saratoga or a $4kN2L at Beulah Park. The maker of the morning line has an arduous task in trying to figure out how the public will interpret all the possible information in front of them, including who has what information, and whether that information will lead to a lot of money being bet on the horse. It is not an enviable task, but someone has to do it. This task will always leave someone unhappy but it is a necessary part of racing. The line exists to help handicappers, especially a newbie to the sport, see who presumably will have a larger chance to win a particular race. So when a morning line maker does a poor job in making a morning line, it has a negative effect on the bettor no matter whether it's the $2 win bettor or the $3000/ticket Pick 6 player.

There are two main ways a morning line can be bad. One is when a horse is listed at odds that ends up being way off compared to its actual post time odds (though it is normally only complained about when it is lower than the listed morning line odds). This can happen through the morning line maker doing a poor job reading the information; the connections of the horse betting more than expected on him; or the horse is getting a lot of buzz at the track, but what shows up on paper is not very enticing. The happens from time to time, and while annoying, can be forgiven as one of the vagaries of the game.

The other way a morning line can be bad, and the one that this post is mostly about, is when a morning line equals a percentage that is just too high to be reasonable. This is what I'm calling an "overvalued" morning line. If any of you have any interaction with this blog's writer through social media, you will know that this a hot-button issue with me. A bad morning line bothers me more than it should - but then why all the ranting about it? First, let this blog explain what a morning line should equal. The morning line should equal 100% + the takeout on the win bet. Since the morning line uses whole, easy to understand numbers, yet odds can be counted down to a tenth, it is acceptable to have the line fall within a range. That range is 116 percent to 125 percent, depending on what the track's takeout is on that wager. When a morning line does not fall into that range, it is considered a bad line. There are occasions when that happens and people give it a pass, such as the Kentucky Derby, where the unique circumstances of the race make it impossible to craft a line to a normal percentage. But even that has it limitations on how high it can be before it becomes objectionable. When the morning line of an everyday race is above 125%, it is a sign that the morning line maker struggled with the field. But when every race on the card has a line that is significantly over 125%, and this occurs on a daily basis, that is a sign of a morning line maker who is just not doing his job correctly. There are examples at major tracks across the nation, from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Bluegrass all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Why all this fuss over an "overvalued" morning line? Well, there are a few main reasons. First, is that it decreases value for the handicapper. How? When it comes to the multi-race exotics all but the most disciplined of players will look at the morning line when considering whom to add in the later legs of those bets. Horse players are always looking to add value in the form of longer odds horses when playing. So if two horses have the same odds, the more likely they will be used in an equal manner. However, if those horses who have the same odds do not have an equal chance (or very close to it), and one should be at higher post-time odds, that mistake in the line will cost the bettor both in the investment and the payout. This issue will especially affect newbies bettors, who depend on the morning line more than the seasoned horse players to help them make decisions on who to use and who not to use. So when a bad line exists on a daily basis at a meet, it erodes value on every possible bet, costing the bettor several times during the meet.

Another reason a consistently overvalued morning line is worthy of an uproar is that it subconsciously destroys the trust between the bettor and the track. How so? Let's use this example: If a company claimed that a product would deliver a specific range of performances, but if the product's performance consistently failed to fall into the range, the consumer would have less faith in the product, and would be less likely to consider using the product and what it is associated with - So if the morning line is consistently incorrect, the betting public will have less faith in it. If the bettor has less faith in it, they are unlikely to use the line and play the racing associated with it. The bettor's decision not to play the track is their way of exercising their free market ability against an unfavorable situation. The lack of trust causes the serious bettor to go elsewhere with their wagering dollars.

The newbie bettor is affected differently by a consistently overvalued morning line when it comes to the issue of trust. Since the track puts out a morning line with the specific intent of helping the bettor, the line's relative accuracy is imperative. With the newbie's dependence on the line, a track would be remiss if it did not provide a competent morning line. If the track is endorsing a consistently overvalued morning line, it is doing a disservice to the bettors by willingly misleading them. If a newbie bettor feels taken advantage of by the track, their discretionary money will be taken to another track or even towards a different sport entirely.

So there's my 'ten cents' on why a overvalued morning line is a bad thing for any level of bettor, whether the $2 type or the $20,000 type. Agree? Disagree? Comment below and help further the discussion. Maybe with enough buzz about it, overvalued morning lines can become a thing of the past.


  1. 100% accurate. In a world with MS Excel or Google Docs, there's no excuse for any line to be any worse than 120%, really.

  2. Shouldn't the percentage reflect what the bettors get back, taking into account the takeout? For example, assume, for simplicity, a 20% takeout; the bettors get back 80% of the total (ignoring breakage), so shouldn't the line add up to 125% -- i.e., 25% for the track and 100% for the bettors, which is the percentage split on a 20% takeout. Why isn't it incorrect to aim for 120% in those circumstances?

    Applying the same methodology to a more typical 16% takeout, the line should add up not to 116%, but rather to 119%

  3. Learn something new everyday! Thanks Chris! Keep up the good work.~Izzy

  4. I say, make every race a standard morning line starting point, 8 horse field they all start at 7-1, let the public do all the work. I thought that was the point to gambling, find incorrect lines. The track is trying to take our money, it's no secret. I wish the lines were worse, seriously.

  5. Finding a bad morning line (bml) is one of the advantages of play. In establishing a morning line that meets the consideration of takeout, use different odds, i.e, 7-1, 9-1, 11-1.

  6. I agree that overvalued lines are an annoyance and reflect a lack of professionalism from the oddsmakers, but I see it as a "goes to eleven" sort of deal. If you see a guy constantly providing lines that add to 130-135, adjust every horse by 10-15% if you want a "true" morning line. 12-1 becomes 15-1, 7-2 becomes 4-1, 7-5 becomes 9-5, etc. Any player who is serious at all should be able to figure that out, or better still, make his own estimations of value lines and probable post-time odds and pool shares.

  7. tencent;

    I understand and appreciate your arguments here, but we disagree as to its' relevance. The morning line for me is a non-factor. I am blind to it as it doesn't always reflect the prices that the betting public eventually sets. Overlays and underlays are easy to spot if you know what you are doing and understand the race correctly. In the case of Pick 3's and Pick 4's, the final Win odds aren't always (in fact usually aren't) indicitive of that entrant's odds in the multiwagers. I find handwringing over the morning line to be the least of our worries.

    But keep up the good fight, my friend, you have a fine place here!
    Van Savant

  8. I disagree with the last person, who states that "Win odds... usually aren't... indicative of that entrant's odds in the multiwagers".

    If you want to split hairs, then maybe, but in terms of what is perceptible, you can remain fairly on-target by multiplying half the win price X half the win price X half the win price X half the win price X 1.5 X base bet amount... for pick-4 payoffs (at tracks with legitimate pool sizes). The fact that said formula is so remarkably accurate hints that the wagering in pick-3's and pick-4's is quite consistent with the win tote.

    As to the author of this story, it could be a lot worse: Many years ago at Hippodrome d' Quebec, the #2 horse was ALWAYS 2-1 in the morning line, the #3 horse was ALWAYS 3-1 in the morning line, the #4 horse was ALWAYS 4-1 in the morning line... and so on.

    And yes, the rest of it was written in french and somewhat confusing as well, but one need not have mastered french to deduce where and what the morning line was!

  9. First, let me thank all of you who commented for visiting my blog.

    In theory that is how it should be done, but it's not how it is done. I gave the range to cover all the different percentage of takeouts, and I am fine with a track that has a 16% takeout offering a 124% morning line if it makes sense under the information that is out there. I don't mind giving a little wiggle room as long as the line remains a reasonable percentage.

  10. Very well-written, CH. I'm not sure what you majored in, but as a sometimes-writer myself and a journalism major, I must say you may have found your calling. I would be happy to help with any future efforts by proofreading or offering constructive criticism. Keep up the good work!


  11. LOVE your enthusiasm about a mysterious and overlooked - yet essential - part of our equation.

  12. Chris,

    Fine job as usual! You have a good point about the dependence newbies have on the ML. It does not take long though for most to get past this very vulnerable stage. In fact the first question I get from newbies is about 5/2, 7/2 and of course 4/5 (that really throws them for a loop).

    I really would prefer the percentage of the pool method of posting odds.