John Pricci

HorseRaceInsider.com executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to MSNBC.com, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012


Take This 8-5 Shot and Call Me in the Morning


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 21, 2012—Lenny over at the cleverly named and thought provoking website, Equinometry, made a statement just the other day: “The Morning Line: Odds Are We Could Do Without It.”

Since I’ve been authoring the Pricci “Morning Line” Blog for more than five years, I feel eminently qualified to answer this posit with a question: “What, You Expect Me to Get a Real Job Now?”

Well, it’s too late for that, but, of course, I’m being a little facetious: After all, I have devoted my entire professional life to becoming an expert on such matters.

While it is arguable whether or not I’ve achieved such status, I can state without equivocation that I play one on TV, radio, and on a stage that cannot possibly be any bigger, the World Wide Web.

And, so, I will quote his thoughts, edited for brevity but keeping ideas in context. Statements will appear in quotes, my thoughts below in italics, which I gleaned from the seldom referenced Indulto Internet Style Book.

“At some point in your life you have (or will) come across a process [constructing morning line odds] that seems so outdated that you wonder why it still exists.”

As that great philosopher, Meatloaf, would say: stop right there! Never have I wondered why it still exists, and not because “that is the way we have always done it.”

Who is this ‘we’, anyway, Kemo Sabe? Never have I wondered, nor has anyone ever asked “what is this, and why do we need it.” So I won’t say because that’s the way it’s always been done. Instead, I’ll just call it what my gang calls it; an Is-Be.


“Just because it worked fifty years ago does not mean it works today. [The Morning Line is] not necessarily how that person would bet the race nor do [the prices] represent what that person believes are fair odds for each horse…My question is what value does the morning line provide? Honestly, none, therefore why do we need it?

]Just because it worked 50 years ago is PRECISELY why it works today. It also provides continuity, historical context, allowing the faithful to impart its wisdom to an uninformed audience or potential fan.

Why provide a pointspread or an early betting line on football games? Because the market otherwise could not set a price upon which to wager until something like a one-on-one betting exchange is created.

It works. There is no way to improve it, short of fixed odds wagering, but that doesn’t mean it should be eliminated.

To the casual racing fan or even some of the lesser sophisticated weekend warriors, the horses other than the famous ones in the day’s feature race, they would be just names on a page without context. How does eliminating the morning line accomplish anything at all?

HRI regulars will note that we eschew the term Morning Line and refer to it as an Early Line, quotes that generally appear well in advance of that day’s entries.

Technically, a Morning Line should be set after scratches and track conditions are known, the morning the races are run. Until then, the early line provides context, a sketch of which the most likely winners are, talking points for the cognoscenti.


“Imagine that you woke up tomorrow, opened your past performances and found that there was no morning line. Would you be able to handicap the races? How would it impact your selection process? Would you be able to determine the fair odds for each horse in each race? Would you be excited or scared? Chances are the race would be bet in a completely different way than you would expect. That one small change would throw the parimutuel pools into chaos.”

Of course, horseplayers would be able to handicap a race without a morning line. I know what I know, and what other serious players know, but would not have no guide as to which horse “the public” might choose.

Early bets are made as a function of the morning line and insider knowledge. Without a morning line, I’m not sure I could discern with any certitude which horses were “dead” on the board.

The technique of playing the odds board is quite nuanced, especially in the more sophisticated markets. More than I would surmise, I’m often surprised by how races are bet. The early line helps define my broad understanding of any particular race.

I want morning line odds set by competent line makers, such as New York’s Eric Donovan or Florida’s Chuck Streva, two of the best, to help define my tote-board reads. Further, they shade the hot trip horses, or live connections.

I don’t know every venue that’s not part of what is referred to as “the good horse circuit.” I want early line help when I look at entries for Laurel or Delaware, or even the major California tracks.

How could I immediately recognize a possible betting opportunity without it unless I quickly handicapped the race. Without so many hours in one betting session, I likely would pass. This doesn’t necessarily hurt me, but it’s not good industry business.


“Within the Chaos Lies Opportunity…That chaos would create opportunities for savvy horseplayers because it would result in horses being bet inefficiently. There would be ample opportunity to find overlays that might not otherwise exist…

“A horse that should be 5/1 that would be 4/1 on the morning line might be 8/1 with no morning line… Without a morning line…pools would be bet less efficiently and value would be created.”

Indeed, chaos by definition creates opportunity. But sometimes it only creates more chaos. With a morning line, races still will be bet inefficiently. And if the public over-bets favorites as a result of the morning line as guide, value would increase exponentially on non-favorites, would it not?

“Let the Market Determine the Odds… What the morning line does is influence process of determining the final odds. Why not give the betting public the opportunity to determine the final odds for each horse without the influence of the morning line? There is no harm in doing so and as mentioned earlier value would be created.”

The betting public IS the market, and it already determines the final odds. But what’s the goal here; to fleece the squares, to take an edge from pools created by unsuspecting, unsophisticated bettors.

Those bettors--the unsophisticated betting public--are all gone except for major event days a short, boutique race meets. All who remain are us, cannibalizing each other, until the takeout kills us all.

Knowledge is power. Even a morning line has power in that it can be a teaching instrument that could grow the game through understanding. The game’s hard enough, even when bettors are guided by sophisticated oddsmakers.

High takeout? Now that’s the enemy everyone should be fighting.


Written by John Pricci

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