Making a morning line is a lot like being an umpire. Hardly anyone notices if you do a good job. Do a bad job, however, and everyone notices.
For the past six years, Jeff Weissman has been the program line-maker at Laurel and Pimlico race courses. Weissman said he may be leaving the tracks Aug. 23 after performing a variety of services; as publicity director, his line-making was secondary to other duties. When he leaves, a new line-maker will have to be hired.
The morning line does not make or break a track, but it is one of those intangible services that, if poorly done, detracts from the track's image. At Southern California tracks, where the nation's best racing is conducted, the morning line is taken so seriously that it is always posted on the tote board, along with the current odds.
Making a good line is harder than it might seem, and given his circumstances, Weissman did a creditable job. His familiarity with the trainers, jockeys, horses and wagering tendencies in Maryland was a plus, but because of his other jobs, the small amount of time he could permit himself to notice day-to-day subtleties could make for some far-off lines.
A bad morning line -- one that misrepresents a horse's true chances in a given race -- is an annoyance to a serious player. But to more casual fans, or to novices, a poor line can leave an even worse impression -- because when a horse is listed at 15-1 in the program but is going off at 2-1, it leads them to believe that people "in the know" are responsible for shifting the odds. Such an attitude assumes a criminal element is at work, but what is more often the case is simply this: A bad morning line.
The best morning line is one that takes into consideration what a horse's odds should be, but weighs more heavily what odds it actually will be. Making a line to reflect such thinking can be a tricky process, one that requires much more than jotting down numbers on an overnight sheet.
So if management at Maryland tracks believes providing a good morning line is a meaningful service, then hopefully that's what horseplayers will be getting in the near future.
If not, everyone will notice.
When Duckpower and Mike's Cavil finished in a dead heat for second in the last race at Laurel July 26, fans had no visible proof that the two had indeed hit the wire together.
A finished print of a close finish is usually shown on closed-circuit television monitors, but there was a complication to this one. The race winner had finished between the two, and in the regular grandstand-side angle, the end of Mike's Cavil's nose was hidden. That photo, inconclusive as it was, was the one shown on TV.
A mirror on the rail allows the camera to provide a different angle of the finish, and that photo showed the nose of Mike's Cavil to be on the wire, with Duckpower's nose hidden. But to show both angles would have required reducing the pictures to fit the TV screen. The horses would have appeared as small as ants, and even if there were a margin between Duckpower and Mike's Cavil, it probably would not have been detectable.
Some tracks have designated areas where finished prints are put on public display. Laurel and Pimlico do not provide such a service. Although this particular incident brought no real uprising -- after all, no one loses badly in a dead-heat situation -- one could have resulted if Duckpower, a heavy favorite, had been called a loser, with no way for the tracks to show that the camera does not lie.
With a designated spot-on-the-wall for close photos, the tracks could eliminate any such possible furor.
Nobody likes Saratoga more than Barclay Tagg. The past four times the Maryland trainer has taken a horse to "The Spa" for a stakes race, Tagg has been a winner.
On Thursday, Grab the Green won a division of the Nijana Stakes for Tagg. Her victory follows stakes wins by Social Retiree (1990) and Highland Springs (two in 1989).
Highland Springs' half-sister, Miss Josh, continues to rank as one of the nation's top filly-mare turfers. Tagg said her next two starts will likely come in the $500,000 Beverly D. Handicap at Arlington Park on Aug. 31 and the All Along Stakes at Laurel on Oct. 20.