Indulto

"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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Sunday, August 10, 2014


Even Tom Cruise Wants to Know: At What Cost Data?


LOS ANGELES, CA August 9, 2014--In the aftermath of the State-mandated installation of synthetic surfaces at major California venues, it was posited that more soft-tissue injuries were occurring on these new surfaces.

One way to validate that theory would be to determine the average number of days prior to a horse's next start after a race on each particular surface. If I had had access to a race-results data base, I could have done the research myself.

The best I could do, however, was request that information from a variety of on-line racing forums, but I never did get a response nor did I find any related content via Google.

I guess I'll never know, now that Keeneland, Del Mar and Meydan have decided to give up on synthetic surfaces and, with Hollywood Park long gone, Santa Anita has and, soon, Keeneland, Del Mar and Meydan will racing on dirt once again.

Since the early 1970's, I've longed for affordable access to a data base of thoroughbred race results similar to that maintained by the Jockey Club.

By 2010, it appeared possible to build and maintain such a data base on one's personal computer, analyzing the next day's races via either a JCapper program or other proprietary third-party data for under $90 per month. I longed for that hope to become reality.

However, considering the cost per month to acquire archival data was about the same and, unless one had the time and skills to keep the hardware and software resources functioning and the data current, the cost of technical support could exceed that of the data itself.

And that doesn't take into account the learning curve required to master complicated application programs that would yield useful results. What to do?

My lack of technical proficiency, combined with start-up costs, still prevents me from realizing my objective. What I would love would be to have on-line access to a data base someone else has built and maintains.

Given that, I could run voluminous queries that have nothing to do with the handicapping process, making the fee for such a service reasonable. Wishful thinking would have the Jockey Club or the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) becoming such a resource.

Indeed, HANA provides a very significant data subset at no charge to the public; takeout rates for each parimutuel pool category for every North American racetrack. Player advocates at the HANA-supported playersboycott.org have accumulated individual pool and cumulative handle figures from each pool at racetracks that have come under scrutiny by the organization after the tracks raised takeout.

It is in HANA's interest to provide this data as part of its mission to influence the industry while also trying to determine and implement optimal takeout rates. Common sense dictates that bettors increase their chances of profitability with lower takeout rates.

Some HANA board members have publicly acknowledged having access to the JCapper system. This reasonably assumes that there is a data base available to perform pari-mutuel pool research.

The most common utilization for Machine Readable Data (MRD) has been to: find relationships among the data that isolates potentially profitable pari-mutuel play; apply those relationships to races already run to test their potential profitability and further apply tested relationships to races yet-to-be run to further locate potentially positive outcomes.

Computer speed enables some players to handicap all races to be run on any given day and isolate races likely to produce profits in less time than it takes to peruse a Racing Form.

It makes sense that users of this data should be individually licensed to gain access to it. Indeed, a monthly fee to use the data is a reasonable expectation for those who would access it specifically for wagering purposes.

Computerized betting teams probably generate the most money from automated data usage but it is their ability to also access pool data in real-time prior to the running of a race that is the key to their success.

The next phase of money-generated computer processing of racing data appears to be in producing derivatives of raw data such as speed, pace, class and power ratings, then presenting it in a variety of formats for purchase by bettors.

Viewable past performance data vendors including Daily Racing Form, BRIS, Ragozin, Thorograph and now TimeformUS still cater to seldom-overlapping markets.

It is worth noting that all those vendors agree that automation alone cannot guarantee the unique predictiveness they claim for their products.
The above, as well as MRD vendors such as Handicapper's Data Warehouse (HDW), purchase the raw data from Equibase which is owned by the Jockey Club.

Surely, Equibase/Jockey Club could offer individually-licensed, less-expensive access to a limited, short term on-line data base that does not threaten the success of existing partnerships with major past-performance and data providers.

I still handicap the "old-fashioned" way, i.e., eyeballing traditional PPs, generally focusing on top class races. It's a very enjoyable process but the preparation time seriously limits what I'm willing to watch and wager on.

By extending this "joy of handicapping" by isolating new relationships among data I deem relevant to me, not only would I become even more enthusiastic about racing but very likely bet more races and introduce potential new players to the process.

That’s the real point of all this.

If more and affordable data became available, the more people would access to it, the more likely they are to discover creative ways to use it, it follows that more new people could become involved in racing to play the races on-line--the 21st Century way.

When racetracks finally understand that their future depends as much on the on-line player as the live gate, they finally might find a way to fuel wagering by making new, cutting edge data available, whatever the cost.

Unless they don’t believe that the business they have chosen is worth an investment in their future that just might help them survive in the short term, too.

What’s that famous line from Jerry Maguire? No, not that one, the other one, the one that goes: “Help me… help you.”

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, July 13, 2014


Panza’s Extravaganzas is Grist for the Bettor’s Mill


LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2014-Phase II of NYRA's experimentation with graded stakes concentration and purse inflation is in the books. Whereas Phase I essentially merged Memorial Day and Belmont Day weekends, NYRA's new race-card-filling impresario, Martin Panza, gave a “Martin the Magician” performance in the second phase.

Martin created two new Grade I turf stakes for three-year-olds from the “old” Jamaica and Garden City, sandwiching the traditionally featured July 4th Suburban Handicap.

Say this about Phase II: The move sparked fireworks in three straight Superfecta pools. Lamentably, however, the racing office/marketing/simulcast departments once again failed to get together on a [Graded] All-Stakes Pick Four.

The new Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks at a mile and a quarter were both improvements over their previous incarnations, even if both million-dollar events failed to attract commensurate quality in our view. In any case, it did produce a highly bettable card.

Jockey Jose Lezcano and trainer Chad Brown were the humans whose equines put on the best show, together and separately, with multiple stakes wins.

Appropriately, Brown's Suburban winning Zivo took us back three decades to his mentor, Bobby Frankel, who accomplished the feat with a former claimer named Barometer. Unfortunately, I allowed my bias against betting New York Breds in open company cost me a couple of Dime Supers even if the rest of the ticket was correctly structured by using two Met Mile participants, a pair from the Stephen Foster, a handicapper’s best friend, the ALL button.

The class dropping Met Mile approach did provide a winning Sprint Championship superfecta and I enjoyed watching Clearly Now's track record performance. But the profits were short-lived when Mr. Speaker suddenly woke up to snag the Belmont Derby from Europeans Adelaide and Gailo Chop in a ground-saving good trip performance.

I chased the Superfecta brass ring once again and missed as I failed to box-up my key and money performers. Maybe by Whitney day, I will have regained my composure and try again on what promises to be a strong supporting card for what is now a $1.25 million headliner.

I give in to this temptation because real money can be won in the Super-Dime on days like these giving modest players like me a real chance. At least NYRA gives us that ability on their event days, unlike Churchill Downs which steadfastly refuses to offer Dime Supers on Derby Day.

Panza told to Jerry Bossert of the NY Daily News: "So for me it’s trying to narrow down big days and narrow down holidays and try to concentrate on those days, provide people with good experience at the track and hope that they will come back on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

'"Racing needs to reinvent itself," Panza added. "People want to see a good product and they want to be entertained. That’s the way we can do it."'

Such scheduling greatly suits weekend warriors such like me. As a recreational bettor who wants to be entertained, too, I limit my handicapping to the type of races which experience shows gives me a chance to compete for high profits on a consistent basis.

Personally, this usually precludes non-stakes events restricted to non-winners, state-breds, or races in which consistent soundness, stamina, and speed are rare. But in any case, I'm certainly not going to fight excessive takeout, short fields, and high exotic minimums.

I have to admit that watching and wagering on only those four races on the Phase II card from 3000 miles away in the comfort of my living room, simultaneously SKYPE-ing with a racing buddy on the East Coast was as good as it gets without winning. The only thing lacking was the ability to chase those supers with pooled resources that can divide tax liability with friends or in a group, many of whom are now unable to deduct gambling losses from winnings on State income tax return.

Additionally, SKYPE can provide the camaraderie common in OTBs, now absent from New York City's five boroughs. The loss of restaurant OTBs was lamented recently in HRI comments but we believe most horseplayers would rather bet like a whale than eat like one.

While opportunities for outings combining fine dining and race-betting have occasional appeal, I suspect that NYRA's future lies with those preferring to pool their resources than please their palettes. Imagine if NYRA took the lead in offering independent, pre-registered, online wagering partnerships to individuals and capitalizing on social media and other Internet interaction to grow the business.

Guess it hasn’t happened since the pols don’t know what to do about the lack of OTBs. The Governor’s people in essence are running the NYRA show but a Mayor still runs the city. Maybe this is supposed to be a chit when NYRA finally becomes privatized.

Whatever happens here, the racing industry itself should sell (lease?/comp?), service, and support reasonably-priced personal computing devices with 1) SERY-like voice-recognition and information presentation, 2) SKYPE-like simultaneous multiple account-holder communication support, 3) multiple video output connections, and 4) on-line viewing and betting wherever live racing is being conducted.

In the 21st century, it should be as easy to play a horse race as a slot machine in one's own virtual OTB parlor. I fully realize that at present I’m asking way too much.

Written by Indulto

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Friday, June 27, 2014


Recreational Players Finally Getting Takeout Message


LOS ANGELES, June 26, 2014—Churchill Downs will be the focus of many horseplayers this weekend as it closes out the track's spring meeting. Unlike the situation earlier this year at Gulfstream Park, however, the pursuit of a mandatory exotic payout will not be a motivating factor.

Instead, horseplayers, and the industry itself, will be looking at the final handle numbers in light of revenues gained or lost because CDI’s decision to increase takeout rates. Going into the final weekend, the home team is losing.

Compared to the previous player's boycott in 2011 of California racetracks--in response to a legislated takeout rate increase by the state--the current action against CDI tracks has garnered far greater support from bettors.

What remains to be seen is whether the results will lead to a desired rollback in rates.

Such was not the case in 2011. The only “concession” that player representatives negotiated at that time was the addition of a new, lower-takeout, lower-minimum, exotic wager, the Players Pick Five.

The bet was ridiculed initially by some who considered it a “tossed bone” to horseplayers. Instead, it proved to be a successful example of what lower takeout could accomplish and bolstered the argument for more study of optimal takeout rates.

Negotiations at that time revealed to players that the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) was in control, not track managements, and that TOC was putting the squeeze on customers, aided and abetted by those TOC members who also serving on the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).

Indeed, the failure to force a rate roll-back in California probably encouraged Churchill's own onslaught on the wallets of its customers, but this time the message from the folks at http://playersboycott.org/ was more aggressive than the approach taken in 2011.

The boycotters’ most potent weapon this time is the analysis of Churchill's daily and meet handle figures. Recall that Churchill was the first track to stop providing total attendance and handle figures in results charts. This time boycotters were armed with data collection and analysis skills honed three years ago.

The results are striking as presented by Jeff Platt, President of HANA:
Churchill numbers through the first 34 days of their meet:
DOWN $46.8 Million (-11.69% “
“What happens if we break the Kentucky Oaks Day Friday and Kentucky Derby Day Saturday cards out as special event days - and remove both of them from ... [consideration]? “

“... handle has fallen for 30 of the 32 regular race days so far this meet:

• Total handle? DOWN $45.6 Million (-26.90%)

• Avg Handle per Race? DOWN -$111,316 (-21.68%)

• Avg Handle per Day? DOWN -$1,424,385 (-26.90%)”

“Could everyday horseplayers be saying "no" to higher takeout?”

This begs several more questions: Who are everyday horseplayers? Are they more likely to be professional bettors, or recreational ones?

Turf writer, Nick Kling, suggested in a comment here at HRI that “20 percent of the bettors wager 50 percent of the handle.” The ratio is probably even greater than that.

Rebated bettors are not affected by takeout increases to the extent their non-rebated competitors are. My surmise is that these bigger players are probably continuing at or near their same level and that the missing handle is more attributable to grassroots players who are sending their action elsewhere.

If this is true, then those of us who have been spreading the lower takeout gospel over the last three years are starting to make some headway. What mustn't happen once the Churchill meet ends is for horseplayers to give up the good fight.

As horseplayer activist Andy Asaro reminds industry A-listers in his daily e-mails: ”We never quit.”

Whales Feel Entitled

One reason professional horseplayers are generally able to make a living is because they are able to exploit inexperience, lack of skills and motivation, and underfunding among recreational players.

I have no objection to that providing the playing field is level for all – as it once was in racing and still is in honest casino games. Neither do I object to casinos “comping” high-rollers, which is more a marketing tool than a subsidy.

The presence of big players at the tables stimulates more action from less affluent customers and helps to attract new ones. This is not the case in racing. If anything, racing’s whales are less visible whales as are the amount of rebates they receive. In my view, this discourages smaller-bankroll bettors and drives recreational players away from game altogether.

In response to a prior Players Up blog piece mentioning rebate subsidies to big bankroll bettors, several comments were posted by a former NTRA Players Panel member.

His observations were informative and, while some were accurate, they nevertheless showed a level of contempt for those forced to play without rebates, opining instead that everyday players bet unrealistic amounts or change their state of residence. The following remarks should be viewed in their original context:
“... I haven’t seen any studies that show that rebates make you a smarter bettor but clearly smart bettors get rebates. ...”
“... You don’t have to be a huge bettor to get rebates. But wouldn’t you agree that a person who reduces their cost of betting by getting a rebate is certainly smarter than one who doesn’t? ...”
“... Rebating, in and of itself, does not give a bettor an advantage. Being a smarter bettor gives one the advantage. Being a smarter bettor with rebates just increases the possibility of making a profit.”
'... Racing needs “dumb money” in the pools so the smart bettors can continue to prosper. If that doesn’t happen the effective takeout rate will not be low enough to keep the whales around. “'
“… the vast majority of players ... have neither the skill nor the knowledge to recognize overlays.”
“... The vast majority of players lose year in and year out. Do you need more evidence than that?”
“... Losers at the track need to be victims so that they can believe that it is the big bad rebates that prevent them from winning and not the fact that they lack the skills and know how. ...”

Recreational bettors are not only under fire from incompetent or corrupt government officials, greedy horsemen, and self-preserving racetrack management, but also from predatory gamblers benefitting from the rebate status quo.

Horseplayers will take an edge they can, which is what gives definition to the term parimutuel wagering. But Beware the Pied Piper unconcerned with fairness and balance for all.


Written by Indulto

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