"Players Up" blogger Indulto is a retired computer programming residing in SoCal and has been betting Thoroughbreds since the days of Kelso, cashing his first ticket at Saratoga while in college.

Indulto is well known in racing's cyber world as a participant on the Ragozin Sheets message board, the PaceAdvantage Forum, Paulick Report, and has made important contributions to the industry's audience as an HRI Readers Blog contributor.

Indulto was active in the formation of the Horseplayers Association of North America and with former HANA colleagues worked on the Players' Boycott of California racing when takeout rates were increased by the legislature there.

Taking his nickname from the King Ranch color-bearer of the 1960s, Indulto now devotes his time to advocate for the recreational player and hobbyist, but prefers lower takeout rates for all rather than subsidized rebates for the few.

Indulto supports the creation of a centralized racing authority to establish uniform rules for racing and wagering and for those standards to be enforced consistently.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Triple Crown Reform Rendered Unjustified

LOS ANGELES, June 25, 2018—In the week leading up to the Belmont Stakes, former NYRA CEO, Charles Hayward opined,
"… whatever the outcome, the Belmont Stakes, as the last leg of the Triple Crown at a mile and a half, has outlived its usefulness ...

… Whether there is a runner eligible for the Triple Crown going into the Belmont or not, the outcome of the race has been consistently disappointing.

… over the last two decades the quality of the Belmont field, as compared to the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, has been sorely lacking

... for the horses that do not win the Derby, their connections regroup and put together three-to-six-month plans for those who do not continue on the Triple Crown tour.

... the mile-and-a-half Belmont is a lone wolf - there is no other Grade 1 stake at that distance on the dirt in the U.S.

... no trainer in the U.S. under normal circumstances would run a horse at a mile and a quarter, a mile and three sixteenths and a mile and a half over five-week period.

... the current distances and race spacing are no longer consistent with current industry practices."

Following the well-attended running of the final TC leg, Bob Ehalt observed,
"… after six different horses won the next six Triple Crown races in 2016 and 2017 ... you wondered how long would it be before ... the clamor for change started anew.

Now, thanks to Justify, that notion of altering the series can be put to rest."

Indeed as long as the public continues to demonstrate its willingness to pay a premium to experience the proceedings in the manner it has twice in the last four years, the Belmont Stakes will continue to be conducted at what has become its traditional distance and spacing.

Whether or not any of the Hayward snippets reflect any truth or wisdom, his “lone wolf” characterization is totally under NYRA’s control.

The Association could easily move the Brooklyn Handicap to a point on the calendar conducive to the current year’s Belmont winner competing against older horses. It could also restore the Jockey Club Gold Cup to its former 12-furlong distance last won by Easy Goer in 1989.

By offering variable bonuses to top-four finishers in two or more of a series including its own 10-furlong minimum Graded I and II stakes along with the BC Classic, NYRA could raise the level of awareness, enthusiasm, and competition for Belmont Park’s signature contest conditions.

The latest Triple Crown winner not only shattered several shibboleths, he also set the stage for subsequent emulation of his preparation.

By eradicating the belief that any horse unraced at two could not win the Kentucky Derby, he ensured expansion of fields for sophomore preps, and conversely, contraction of them in juvenile preps; especially if the disparity in their point allocations continues.

But perhaps the currently undefeated three-year-old’s most significant impact on racing was the unprecedented focus on his interlocking ownership with several other TC candidates.

The illusion of collusion that flourished during the entire series, and culminated in the perception of deception that infected the Belmont Stakes, must be addressed if that final leg is to retain its significance.

What accounts for this recent proliferation of shares in multiple thoroughbreds among the wealthiest ownership entities in equine talent expected to compete at the highest level both on-track and in the breeding shed?

Has sportsmanship finally succumbed to profit-making as the primary motivating factor in all facets of racing? How can this latest manifestation of obfuscation be offset?

The surest way to rekindle controversy next year is to not restore the practice of coupling entries. Clearly the downside of uncoupled entries outweighs any perceived upside.

Horses with either the same ownership participation or stable affiliation should be coupled for betting purposes. Disqualification of any coupled entrant should disqualify all coupled with it relative to the fouled party. Any benefit to manipulators and abusers of uncoupled entries is derived at the direct expense of the betting public.

I disagree with those who believe the shenanigans that marred the running of the Belmont actually tarnished Justify's accomplishment; only the reputations of the interlocking connections took a hit.

What more proof is required that sportsmanship is in short supply than the post-race utterances by Mike Repole, after he took the baton from Steve Coburn and lowered the level of post-Belmont sour grapes.

The owner’s hypocritical reviling of the rider of his reality-challenged rabbit makes one wonder what he wouldn’t do to win.

David Grening reported,
’… Repole was also frustrated with jockey Javier Castellano, who rode Noble Indy for him and WinStar Farm; the latter also co-owns Justify. Repole said he and Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Noble Indy and Vino Rosso, instructed Castellano to make the lead.

Castellano said his horse broke slowly and hit the side of the gate. He said he tried to get the horse forwardly placed, but soon realized he wasn't going to be able to get ahead of Justify.

"He wanted me to be on the lead, but I didn’t have enough speed to get to the lead," Castellano said… "Javier opted to go to his plan B,” Pletcher said. “Mike and I didn’t discuss a plan B."

… "You get to run in this race one time in your life, you would expect to follow directions," Repole said. "He chose an audible, that doesn’t sit well with me. It’ll be awhile before you see Javier in the blue and orange silks."’

Yet when the intention to run Noble Indy in the Belmont was announced, Grening had written,
"Walden said he has discussed with Repole that Noble Indy would not be used to put pressure on Justify to aid the late-running Vino Rosso, whom Repole owns with Vinnie Viola.

"He’s not going to be used as a rabbit,” Walden said. “From that standpoint, Mike’s on board, I’m on board."

Perhaps the plan B discussion involved Elliott Walden.

The only thing that could conceivably diminish Justify’s achievement would be the continued orchestrated absence of competition going forward. Reputation solidification possible in future Grade I contests won't happen if later-developing rivals remain on the sidelines.

What's the likelihood Justify will ever face Audible again? Or the older West Coast for the first time? Will his connections risk ending his streak against determined rabbit-assisted entries? Would they really expose him to another Arrogate-like August apparition that might deny him the Travers and/or the BC Classic?

Following the Belmont, Hayward offered more useful commentary:

"A decade ago, the rule for coupling was very strict and it would have been likely the Baffert horses, and the Pletcher pair, would have been coupled at that time. It would even have been possible that all four horses could have been coupled together.

“The uncoupling of owner/trainer concerns has been largely driven by a desire to increase betting interest … it is essential that the stewards ... avoid perceived or real conflicts due to common interests."

Regardless of future accomplishments, Justify will be remembered for shining through both the machinations of insiders and the cynicism of outsiders, and preserving the Triple Crown as most prefer it--at least until the last baby boom horseplayer is laid to rest.

Written by Indulto

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