Making the Morning Line with NYRA oddsmaker, Eric Donovan - 07/29/14
Handicappers always have an opinion. From race conditions to the competition, everything helps us form our predictions and bet with conviction. But what if you could not express that opinion in your handicapping routine? Meet New York Racing Association oddsmaker Eric Donovan.
Donovan has been putting out the morning line odds for NYRA since 2005, all opinions aside.
"That is the hardest part of doing it," he said. "Separating your opinion from the public's opinion."
The goal of the morning line is an early guess at where the bettors will place their money. It can be a grueling process for anyone trying to do it at home. Imagine doing it professionally at one of the nation's premier racing circuits.
"Each card takes about three or three and a half hours," Donovan explained. "It all depends on the field size and conditions. With every detail it is going to take longer."
Donovan was always better with numbers so his current work should come as no surprise. And with almost 10 years under his belt, Donovan is regarded as one of the game's best.
"Experience is the key," he said. "As with everything else, you get better with experience."
There are great stories around every turn in horse racing. But the most memorable for Donovan is one that he missed.
"Lisa's Booby Trap," Donovan said, shaking his head. "That one I will never understand."
Blind in one eye and with a club foot, Lisa's Booby Trap somehow managed to earn more than $75,000 in her career, including a stakes win at Saratoga. Racing fans caught wind of her story while she was training at Finger Lakes Race Track in Farmington, New York. After winning her first three races there, trainer Tim Snyder decided to ship her to Saratoga for a try in the 2010 Loudonville Stakes.
"I missed the whole story, I never heard about it," Donovan said. "Horses from Finger Lakes never do well at Saratoga."
The oddsmaker, five years into the job, made Lisa's Booby Trap 15-1 on the morning line. The national sensation went off at the 3-2 favorite. After breaking slowly in the six furlong race, she circled the field and drew away down the stretch to win by six lengths. The crowd gave her a rousing ovation as Donovan wondered why he was so wrong on the flat-footed filly.
"To this day, I would have never had her anywhere close to what she went off at," Donovan explained.
Lisa's Booby Trap came back a few weeks later in the Riskaverse Stakes, also at Saratoga. She suffered her first loss, finishing last of ten. It was her first race on turf.
The filly was and still is the most perplexing horse Donovan has come across during his time as the NYRA oddsmaker. But as with most things, you learn from it and move on.
"You just have to take everything in and look at how it unfolds," he said. "I did not think Lisa's Booby Trap should have been the favorite. Obviously I was wrong," he continued, "Sometimes you just have to go with your gut."
Lisa's Booby Trap was a longshot in Donovan's mind. But the odds of him missing like that again are slim to none.