What are morning line odds, and what do they mean?
If you’ve bet on horse racing in the past, or even just looked at the entries for any given race day, you’re probably familiar with the term morning line odds. But if you’re a little hazy on the definition, don’t feel bad—morning line odds can be a little confusing.
Before we explain morning line odds, let’s set the scene with some background information. In the U.S., the vast majority of betting on horse races is pari-mutuel wagering, which takes some getting used to if you’re coming from the sports betting world. Unlike fixed-odds wagering, pari-mutuel wagering is fluid, with the odds changing constantly relative to the amount of money wagered on each horse in a race.
In pari-mutuel wagering, the odds don’t lock into place until the horses break from the starting gate. Suppose with 10 minutes until the race begins, you place a win bet on a horse listed at 5-1. By the time betting closes, those odds may have drifted to 6-1—or they may have dropped to 4-1.
To give bettors an idea of where the final odds will end up, racetracks traditionally publish morning line odds, which guesstimate how the wagering will unfold. If you’re reading a preview of a big race, and the writer says “You should bet on #1 Neverloses (3-1),” the odds listed in parentheses are the morning line odds, which may differ from the final odds.
How accurate are morning line odds at predicting the final odds? It varies somewhat from track to track, and at either end of the odds spectrum. Some tracks list longshots too low (seemingly capping the morning line odds at 30-1 or 50-1), while others list favorites higher than expected (projecting a clear standout at 2-1 when 1-2 is more likely). As a result, the complete layout of morning line odds for a given race isn’t always mathematically possible, and the final odds can—in some cases—differ substantially.
Unforeseen circumstances can also impact the odds. A morning line favorite might scratch, causing the final odds on every other runner to drop accordingly. Or a jockey might win six races in a row, prompting bettors to place unexpectedly heavy support on the jockey’s seventh mount.
But on the bright side, morning line odds generally provide a good indication of which horses will be popular and which will start as longshots. Often (but not always), the morning line odds correctly predict the favorite, and you rarely (if ever?) see a 50-1 longshot settle as the favorite in the final odds. If a longshot does receive surprisingly heavy support, it might suggest a strong showing is in the offing.
In short, morning line odds are a useful tool for quickly assessing the perceived merits of each horse in race. Just don’t count on the morning line odds to match the final odds.