Off the Pace: Catching up with Chris Sobocinski
Chris Sobocinski, who is the current Racing Information Coordinator at Delaware Park, has a history there that goes back to his first conscious thought.
“My father would take me to the track when I was still in diapers,” he stated. “Asking me about my first day at the track would be like asking a newborn baby what it was like to arrive for the first time to their home.”
Sobocinski started working at Delaware Park in 1986 as a teller and has been handling the track handicapper duties since the early 1990s when the then-linemaker left to take a job at Monmouth Park. Track management knew he was an experienced handicapper, in part because that they often chided him about looking at the DRF when he was on the teller line.
These days his job entails interacting with the media and the public, and making the morning line, among other tasks.
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“Doing a morning line is a little bit different than handicapping a race, because instead of handicapping the horses you are trying to predict how other humans are going to play the race,” he said.
In some ways, in fact, it is actually more challenging to make a line. Sobocinski said the entire process can take up to six hours, depending on the number and complexity of the races and the size of the fields. He uses both Equibase and Daily Racing Form past performances and must complete his task by the morning after entries come out because of program printing deadlines.
For beaten claiming races he concentrates most on which horses best fit the conditions. With high quality maidens, breeding and sire price are crucial components. For experienced turf horses going 5 furlongs in a stake, running lines and current form are very important. In short, there is not one method that fits every race in regards to making the line.
Although he “is not a speed figure guy,” Sobocinski is aware that those numbers are important to many bettors, so he takes that into account when making a line. He has also learned that “morning line makers have to adapt to betting trends that come into existence” as the quality of racing at a track changes over the years.
Beyond that, there are numerous other subtle factors that come into play. Bettors might play one trainer or rider but not another, even with similar credentials. Bettors may be enthusiastic about shippers from one place but not those from another. Some horses almost always go favored, even when they have proven not to win at a level, while others routinely are ignored despite competitive performances.
Sobocinski, like many other linemakers, has an awareness that owners and trainers put a lot into the game, and their horses may end up in what seem like bad spots for a variety of perfectly good reasons.
“When you make a line you are making a statement to the owners of the horses, so I am very reluctant to assign a line exceeding 30-1,” he explained.
And even a well-made line can get blown up. Sobocinski and other linemakers have to make the line well in advance of the race — without knowing track condition or scratches. Races come off the turf, favorites or likely contenders scratch out – all of those things can have a huge impact on betting but are unknown at the time the line is made.
Take Saturday’s Grade 3 Robert Dick Memorial going 11 furlongs on the Delaware turf. If morning line favorite Temple City Terror (3-1) were to scratch, that would make a wide-open race completely inscrutable. And if it were to come off the turf… well, that’s a puzzle, isn’t it.
Sobocinski said he encourages first-time bettors to pay attention to jockey/trainer combinations as the first handicapping tool. Obviously, advanced handicapping is a nuanced skill that cannot be mastered in a short time period.
“The last thing any new bettor would want to do is take a formal class on handicapping,” he explained. “It is important for the track management and experienced bettors to help educate new patrons at the track during live racing.”
Just the way Sobocinski’s father did, all those years ago.