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The Morning Line

There is a method to predicting the odds of a race.

By Ed Burgart, Los Alamitos Announcer
(The following column is reprinted from the October 2000 issue of The American Quarter Horse Racing Journal. Ed's handicapping column appears each month in the AQHRJ. Subscribe online or call 1-800-291-7323.)

As the official handicapper and morning line maker at Los Alamitos, I often have to explain the two responsibilities. At one of my handicapping seminars, a fan pointed out a difference in the two jobs when he said, "You have the No. 3 horse selected to win, but you have made the No. 8 horse the 2-1 morning line choice."

The morning line odds don't reflect my preferred selections in a race. My goal as the morning line maker is to predict how the public will wager on a particular race.

A good oddsmaker can glance at past performances and determine on which horses the majority of racing fans will wager the most or least amount of money. Usually, horses with recent high speed indexes and consistent in-the-money finishes will receive much wagering attention. Local horses are usually better supported than horses coming in from other tracks.

If I select a 6-1 horse to win, I am not contradicting myself. I simply have established the morning line odds as a guideline of how I anticipate the public will wager on a particular race.

Calculating the Morning

While establishing the morning line looks simple on paper, it requires a mathematical formula. It isn't as easy as putting down 5-2 on one horse and 10-1 on another.

A good morning line maker wants his total odds to "balance." If we didn't have to worry about a takeout in the win pool (about 16 percent in California), the complete race odds would balance at 100 percent.

"But we have to leave room for percentages we don't calculate," says Russ Hudak, morning line maker at Hollywood Park. "The takeout in the win pool is 15.75 percent. With the takeout about 16 percent, we want to allow for a margin of error. I usually allow the morning line to run between 123 and 125 points. We can allow one point per horse per race."

Therefore, by adding 16 and 100 percent, we arrive at 116 percent. By allowing one point per horse, the morning line will generally balance between 124 and 126 points for fields with eight or more horses. For simplicity reasons, I try to keep my morning line odds around 125 points for nearly every race, regardless of the field size.

Balancing Act

How does an oddsmaker arrive at points for odds? And how do the odds eventually add up to 125 points?

I use odds ranging from 2-5 to 30-1. In a majority of competitive races, I make the morning line favorite around 5-2 or 3-1. I always strive to find horses that I don't think the public will like and make them longshots, in the range of 20-1 or 30-1.

Then, I look for middle-range horses, the type I sense some fans will like and others won't. These horses are usually in the 6-1 to 10-1 category. The horses I think the public will wager heaviest on are the lowest odds on the morning line. In the case of a standout horse like world champion Tailor Fit, I make his morning line odds even lower than 5-2 or 3-1, because the public is likely to wager more heavily on a proven runner.

In these scenarios, the final morning line balances to 125 points. So how do we compute the odds to total 125 points? By dividing 100 percent by the odds plus 1, we arrive at a point system. For example, 2-1 represents 33 points (100 divided by two plus one). Odds of 7-2 are 22 points (100 divided by 7/2 plus 2/2 equals 100 divided by 9/2). Odds of 4-5 are 55 points (100 divided by 4/5 plus 5/5 equals 100 divided by 9/5). By reverting to grade school mathematics, we multiply 100 X 5/9 to arrive at 55 points for 4-5. And we multiply 100 X 2/9 to arrive at 22 points for 7-2.

On your next trip to the track, you can determine if a morning line balances by using the point system in the accompanying box. Coincidentally, the final odds always balance around 125 points as well -- use the aforementioned formulas when looking at final odds in a race chart.

To help fans understand the difference between handicapping and making a morning line, the Los Alamitos program includes this disclaimer: "People around the track talk about the morning line but few know what it really is. No, it's not another person's opinion as to the winner of a race. Instead, a paid racing official tries to predict how the public will bet a particular race."

Morning Line Points
 
I calculate the morning line odds of a race using this point system:

ODDS
30-1
20-1
15-1
12-1
10-1
8-1
6-1
5-1
9-2
4-1
7-2
3-1

POINTS
2
4
6
7
9
11
14
16
18
20
22
21

ODDS
5-2
2-1
9-5
8-5
3-2
7-5
6-5
1-1
4-5
3-5
2-5

POINTS
28
33
35
38
40
41
45
50
55
62
71

Have a handicapping question? If so, e-mail Ed Burgart at Eddie37047@aol.com. Or write to him at Los Alamitos, 4961 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, CA 90720. He will answer questions in upcoming columns.