Harness Handicapping: What's Your Morning Line?

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Eb Netr

June 12th, 2013

Parimutuel is a French word meaning "mutual sharing" and it is the type of betting that we have on harness, thoroughbred and greyhound racing in the US. It means that the winners share the pool of betting money, less the track take and breakage, but we don't need to get into that. The main point is that, in parimutuel betting, we're wagering against the rest of the betting crowd, not the house.

The way I think of it is like this: It's what I know against what the crowd knows. We all have access to the same programs, the same scuttlebutt, rumors and "inside information" on the Net and at the track. It's being able to filter that information, evaluate it and make sense of it that separates the winners from the losers.

The Morning Line tells us what the track handicapper thinks the public will think of a horse's odds of winning. That's where I start. Later on, the tote board will tell me the 5/2 Morning Line favorite is really a favorite when I see it dip to 7/5 just before post time. Or it will tell me that another horse, at lower odds, is really the horse that the crowd is going to back.

I'm sure you've noticed that the odds on the ML favorites can range from 7/2 to way less than even. Once in a while, you'll even see a horse at 6/5 or lower. When I see that in a race, I don't automatically assume that the horse will win, but I know that it WILL be a huge favorite with the public and will pay very little if it wins. I don't risk money on horses at less than even odds in the Morning Line.

I do look at the race, though, just to make sure that those odds are justified. This IS harness racing where one misstep can mean the difference between winning and losing. After handicapping programs for years, I've gotten pretty good at setting my own odds on each horse in a harness race. If you're serious about making money on harness races, you should think about setting your own morning line too.

In most of the races I handicap, there are 8 horses. So, all things being equal, they each have a 1 in 8 chance of winning. That's 12 1/2 % or .125. Of course, all things aren't equal. Some have better speed figures, more class and better recent form. I have to give them points for that, which takes away points from the other horses.

I find that this is easier to do if I look at how close or far apart each horse is to the horse that is above it in ability. We all have our own methods of handicapping, but whether you use your own system, a software program or a program's ratings, I'm sure you have a way of ranking horses that involves numbers.

I use my favorite programs and start with their speed, class and power ratings to rate each horse. Then I use my own handicapping factors and rate the results. When I see a horse that lays over ALL the other horses, because of much higher numbers for each handicapping factor, I know that it should be the favorite at less than even odds.

When I see a horse that is much higher than the NEXT best horse for one or more factors, I give it odds of 2-1. Then I rate the rest of the horses in the same way. If they're pretty close to the horse above them for points in all or most of the categories I use, the odds are close together. For instance, if the horse with the best numbers in the race is only a few points above the next horse's numbers, and each horse below that one is only a few points above the next best horse for points, my odds for the horses in that race will be something like 3/1, 7/2, 4/1, 9/2, 5/1, 6/1, 7/1 and 8/1.

I start with those odds for each race and adjust them according to the abilities of each horse. If the top two horses are pretty close in ability, I might give them 2/1 and 5/2 odds. If there's a pretty big gap between the second best horse and the third best horse in that race, the third horse might get 4-1 odds, instead of 3-1. If a horse looks as if  it's totally outclassed, too slow to match the speed rating or just not competitive with the top horses in the race, my highest odds horse might be at 10/1 instead of 8/1.

Setting my own odds helps me choose which races to play. Two of my favorite scenarios show up when MY odds don't match the Morning Line odds. In races where the ML favorite is at very low odds, but my odds tell me that it's not that much better than the next horse in my ratings, I know that the second highest rated horse is a better win bet. In races where there's a big gap between the two or three highest rated horses and the horses below them, the way I rate them, I can play exotics with those horses as keys.

Start learning to set your own odds by looking at the favorite's ML odds and evaluating the horse compared to the next lowest odds horse. Ask yourself if that 7/5 favorite is really that much better than the 5/2 second ML choice. See if you can figure out why the track handicapper set the odds that way. Evaluate the horse with whatever method you use, rate the driver, trainer, post position and running style of the horse, compared to the other horses in the race. Then decide what you'd be willing to risk on that horse's chances of winning.

Unless a 7/5 favorite has almost everything going for it, and is MUCH better than the next best horse in the ML odds, I'm not willing to risk my money on it. If it has a poor post position, a driver with less than 10% for wins or some other negative factor, that makes it even more of a bad risk at those odds. I'll look at the next horse down and see if it has enough positives to make me take my money out of my pocket.

If it doesn't, I'll pass on the race and look for another race where my ML odds tell me that I have a better chance of being right when the crowd is wrong. Set your own odds and you'll soon find that outsmarting the other bettors is a matter of knowing when their Morning Line picks a false favorite and yours picks a winner.