It’s pretty darn accurate, at least when people like me tell the story.
In the world of traditional horse racing, the morning line is an estimated three to four tenths of a second too early. Traditionally, early morning lines mean that horses are “lazy” and will start running the entire race as long as they are allowed to before noon. If the weather is bad, that can mean the race is delayed until the following morning, in which case, the winner is typically at a disadvantage.
But that may be about to change as some racing officials are working to improve the accuracy of the morning line. In fact, some betting and betting-industry officials are pushing for more accurate morning line times, and also are seeking a longer opening night. Both these developments have spurred a huge debate over the accuracy and timing of the race, which the New York Times describes as akin to an athletic argument: “The stakes may never be higher for horsemen and coaches, who are trying to protect their money, but the debate over what time the race actually starts is being watched and analyzed in a way never before seen in racing.”
Here’s how to tell whether the morning line is too early — when horsemen expect the race to start at 5 a.m. — or too late. Try that on your horse today.
What’s the “correct” amount of time until the race starts? The horsemen usually start looking to the sun after midnight and a couple of hours after that. Here’s a chart I’ve created to show the approximate hours of the morning the starting line is in:
Here’s a chart for the estimated time of day for the start of an overnight race:
Which line should the horsemen run first? The lines aren’t always as straight forward as they sound. The morning line goes back only three to eight feet, but the horsemen can take a different line depending on how far into the race they are. For example, many horsemen will run the starting line with one leg to the left and another to the right, as shown in the following chart.
The best-known morning line is an average of three to four tenths of a second before the starting line at the Kentucky Derby is exactly three feet to the left. That’s based on an official race official’s estimate of the actual distance between the start and the finish. For that exact time, it is not unusual to find one to three tenths of a second delay. Most long
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