"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, November 29, 2015

Help the Player Help the Industry

LOS ANGELES, November 28, 2015—The luxury of advanced Past Performance charts is normally reserved for big events such as the recent Breeders’ Cup races or Kentucky Derby. Along with extended network television coverage, past performance lines promote interest in the game and also help to inflate wagering pools.

The 2015 Saturday Breeders’ Cup Pick Six handle with its newly reduced $1 minimum returned to a level exceeding $3 million without a carryover, after having failed to meet a $2.5 million guarantee last year. However, it was still out-handled by the 50-Cent Pick Four which also ended with the Classic.

The precious commodity these early PPs provide is the additional time that enables more leisurely eyeball comparison of likely contestants. In the horse-playing game, the willingness to perform the protracted process of PPs perusal before wagering is the traditional measure that distinguishes the enthusiast from the curious newbie.

How likely is it that more would-be horseplayers would be created if the handicapping process consumed less time and concentrated fast focus?

Without the aid of computers, the task can be a time-consuming exercise in futility. But at its best, handicapping still provides the challenge of a unique problem solving. When successful, there is increased anticipation for entertainment and excitement because of the profit motive; when unsuccessful, the quest must suffice as its own reward.

When I entered the game pre-simulcasting, most players were legally restricted from wagering on races other than those run at their local racetrack so few of us handicapped more than nine races per day.

Only printed past performances were available then, usually the day of the race, the night before then finally after the races on the way out the door. Back then, I could get the Morning Telegraph after dinner in Manhattan; in Albany I had to wait until around 11:00 PM.

In the 21st Century, there is no need to expend time and energy waiting around for wholesale newspaper delivery. We now can access PPs over the Internet at least two days in advance. Unfortunately, post positions and morning line odds for some tracks remain unavailable until the day before.

How many races would a handicapper handicap if a handicapper could handicap earlier with past performance in a more flexible format and at a lower cost?

The answer lies in not blowing an opportunity to do so. The answer is in presenting information in a timely manner tailored to focusing more quickly on the handicapping factors preferred by each individual decision-maker.

Some progress in presentation has already been made. Devotees of SHEETS style graphic data support not one but two independent vendors at a premium price which those companies justify because they are mostly used by professionals.

Computer assisted products have expanded the handicapping horizon significantly. DRF's Formulator allows instant access to video replays and results charts directly from the PPs display. Database packages like Jcapper enable custom formatting of raw data as well as automated results. The most recent product is TimeformUS which is intended to best serve tablet PCs.

Sadly, all the preceding pales in comparison to computer programs allowed to access pool information at the last minutes prior to post time before automatically placing hundreds if not thousands of wagers in the final seconds, all while getting subsidies based wagering volume. Some believe this to be "Pool Piracy."

The scrutiny currently being applied to Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) reveals the tremendous potential for data-driven gambling.

And nowhere is that potential more obvious than in this piece by Dean Towers who wrote:
"... what makes a Daily Fantasy Player tick, what makes him or her want to win–to get better–was the parallel between those bettors and horse racing’s target market.

“These folks … who want to model, who want to dig, who want to create–are the exact same subset of people who bet the races each day … the exact same people racing needs.

“… The skill-game gambling market is stronger than ever. People wanting to use their minds to figure out the puzzle–whether it be through a winning DraftKings line-up or creating a superfecta ticket that scores–have not left the market. They’re there and their business is waiting to be asked for."

But Towers also defended the above-mentioned "Pool Pirates:" 'In racing, we often shun technology or "batch betting" like its evil incarnate.' So I was pleased to see Frank Angst put things in perspective here. "Computer-robotic wagering (CRW) has helped prop up pari-mutuel handle in recent years but has made race betting less attractive for every other player by making it difficult for racing to attract new bettors.

“... New horseplayers are no match for CRW players who receive lucrative rebates to encourage increased play. Those rebates are made possible, in part, by the high takeout paid by the new players. If this sad cycle sounds criminal, it may be.

… Eliminating CRW and putting in place optimal takeout rates for all players so that everyone competes equally would restore the attraction fantasy sports bettors currently enjoy—finding the edge."

Getting back to the static data charts still consumed by die-hard dinosaurs like myself, racing's inability to standardize the availability of complete entries as early as possible is eclipsed only by its lack of support for ease of viewing by aging and/or low-vision players through streamlined navigation of on-line data.

Simply providing a PDF viewer "hot key" to instantly re-position an enlarged view from one side to another would have a huge, immediate, beneficial impact. The software to do this is readily available.

For many, handicapping doesn't begin in earnest until post positions, rider changes, and final workouts can be balanced against running styles, track configuration, speed, class, and other traditional data points. Even at that, the well informed bettor still lacks knowledge of atmospherics and surface conditions under which contestants compete.

Until the actual moment of truth arrives to validate whatever conclusions the handicapper has reached, the handicapping process remains fluid as bettors deliberate and delineate the differences between contenders before deciding on the best way to wager on an event.

So, please, standardize entry times throughout the industry and install a universal 72-hour entry box. By better serving the bettors, the industry will better serve itself. It’s the ultimate win-win.

For us, seeking for the truth in past performances is the beginning of a process that requires taking time out of life’s busy schedule to do the job right. Believe us when we say, in the immortal words of The Rolling Stones: "Time is on our side, yes it is."

And the same is true for the industry: In the immortal words of Jerry Maguire: “Help me help you.”

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

2015 Breeders’ Cup Lower Rake, Bet Minimums More Player Friendly

LOS ANGELES, October 12, 2015—When the Breeders' Cup (BC) announced their wagering menu last year, the only mention of takeout was the 14% on the Pick Five wager; leaving the player to ferret out the rake on the remaining pools.

This year, they prominently if not proudly promoted the 16% on Win, Place, and Show wagers and 19% on all others.

Breeders’ Cup also lowered the minimum bet for Win Place, Show, Daily Double, and Pick six wagers from $2 to $1. The Distaff-Classic Double minimum remains $1.

With the help of the Horseplayers of North America (HANA) Track Ratings, I was able to find where the various rates of 14%, 15.43%, 20% 22.68%, and 23.68% applied in 2014, and prepare the following chart summarizing the differences:

BET|2014 – SA (CA)|2015 – KEE(KY)|
--- Min. – Takeout|Min. – Takeout|
WPS| $2 -- .1543*.| $1*-- .16 ...|
EXA| $1 -- .18*...| $1 -- .19 ...|
TRI| 50c - .2368..| 50c - .19*...|
SPR| 10c - .2368..| 10c - .19*...|
SP5| 50c - .2368..| 50c - .19*...|
DCD| $1 -- .20 ...| $1 –- .19*...|
DBL| $2 -- .20 ...| $1*-- .19*...|
PK3| 50c-- .2368..| 50c - .19*...|
PK4| 50c - .2368..| 50c - .19*...|
PK5| 50c - .14*...| 50c - .19 ...|
PK6| $2 -- .2368..| $1*-- .19*...|
*Denotes lower takeout rate

It seems some in racing are finally listening to horseplayer advocates and giving rank-and-file players a shot to wind up in the black after two days of wagering on this year's Breeders’ Cup.

Since my preferred pools are the Superfecta, Trifecta, Pick Four, Pick Three, and Exacta, I'm especially encouraged. The only wager missing is the parlay…but more on that later.

Apparently, Cup executives are hoping that small bankroll bettors like me will be more likely to play the Pick six individually, and in partnership with friends. I just might if no "Player Pool" is permitted to accumulate "overkill funding" and "buy" a winning combination for little or no profit.

This experiment is a necessary gamble for the BC in view of a precipitous handle drop on that $2 minimum wager that last year which failed to meet the pool guarantee shown below. And that BC 2014 Saturday card included the meeting of California Chrome and Shared Belief in the BC Classic! Perhaps bettors found the four 14-horse fields in the sequence too daunting.

Day/Year | $2-Pick6 | 50c-Pick4| 50c-Pick5|
Fri| 2012 |$1,448,645|$1,904,328| $745,442 |
Sat| 2012 |$3,139,394|$3,418,043| $964,968 |
Fri| 2013 |$1,000,000|$2,693,116|$1,037,105|
Sat| 2013 |$3,227,873|$3,730,236|$6,438,510|
Fri| 2014 |$1,074,619|$2,665,171|$1,050,235|
Sat| 2014 |$2,500,000|$3,977,449|$1,313,922|

The 2013 Friday Pick Six failed to meet its guarantee. Note that the Pick Four ending with the same four races attracted more handle than the Pick Six on the same card and has been maintaining that trend.

Meanwhile, the 50-cent Pick Five starting with the first race has been gathering strength. It should be noted that the huge figure for 2013 on Saturday included a carryover from the Friday card.

Interestingly, a third Pick Four has been added this year ending in the final race, thus overlapping the last three races of the second Pick Four. Whether it will cannibalize the other wager pools starting with that race remains to be seen.

Pool cannibalization may be a factor in Keeneland's recently initiating a Pick Six, Pick Five, and Pick Four in consecutive races ending with the last race at the present meet. The following grid shows the results of that strategy during the first three days of 2015 and in comparison to corresponding results from last year:

2014-15 Day $2-Pk6 | 50c-Pk4 | 50c-Pk5|
Fri| 2015 | $10,631 | $313,274 | $184,436 |
Sat| 2015 | $21,522 | $372,484 | $214,342 |
Sun| 2015 | $19,991 | $418,375 l $167,016 |
Fri| 2014 | N/A | $240,856 | $157,408 |
Sat| 2014 | N/A | $430,729 | $295,701 |
Sun| 2014 | N/A | $298,240 | $199,134 |

To date, the Pick Six pools have been dwarfed by the other two. Maybe the minimum should be instituted sooner rather than later. Either way, I'll be prepping for Breeders’ Cup as usual.

Is Santa Anita Wasting two Grade I races?

When I checked the" target="_new">Blood-Horse Stakes Calendar following “Super Saturday,” it contained the Santa Anita 2015-16 winter meet stakes schedule.

It showed the G1 Malibu and G1 La Brea--7-furlong sprints for males and females, respectively--scheduled for the traditional December 26 opening, along with the G2 Mathis Brothers Mile and G3 Daytona. With many 2015 Eclipse Awards votes having been cast, winners of these races miss out in 2015 and 2016.

The simplest remedy would be to move both races back a week to the following Saturday, January 2. Another possibility could be for the Malibu to swap places with the G2 San Carlos and the La Brea with the G3 Santa Monica, both at 7 furlongs. In any case, there are plenty of candidates for opening day stakes that can enhance the attractiveness of this always highly anticipated event.

Personally, I'd prefer to see the G2 San Pasqual at 8.5 furlongs on opening day in place of the Malibu, not only to increase the former's spacing with the Feb. 6 G2 San Antonio toward the Mr. 12 Santa Anita Handicap. Focusing attention on the Classic division from the start should be paramount.

Track management should then promote that series as vigorously as its Triple Crown preps. One possible vehicle could be a free win parlay to reward on-track patrons able to select the winners of all legs with a voucher whose value would be determined parimutuelly. A live parlay ticket should entitle the bearer to no parking or admission charges if their parlay was still in play.

A similar promotion also could be applied to the graded stakes sequence for three-year-olds ending with the Santa Anita Derby. Promoting the gambling aspect of the game by using events that accentuates the sport could be a winning ticket.

Written by Indulto

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Should Zayat Be Rolling Classic Dice?

LOS ANGELES, September 11, 2015—The retirement of two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan announced on Labor Day, ending his preparation for a comeback at age eight in Sunday's Woodbine Mile, was a sad disappointment.

The venerable gelding earned $7,552,920 from 23 wins and 2 seconds in 31 career starts. A Grade I winner on both turf and dirt, he was first and foremost a turf mile specialist – best-known for the Breeders' Cup Miles he won on his way to the ultimate Eclipse honor in 2012 at 5 and again the following year.

An intended “three-peat” ala Forego was compromised by a bout with colic requiring surgery and then, following recovery, abandoned due to an ankle injury. The latter affliction healed without surgery but the discovery of a tendon tear a week prior to his intended return proved the final tipping point.

One can only imagine what it must have taken to keep Kelso going through his five-year Horse of the Year reign.

Because Wise Dan was gelded he got the chance to eventually achieve the potential promised by the bloodlines of early-developing Triple Crown winners, Secretariat and Affirmed--even if it seemed to elude the progeny that produced him.

His owner/breeder, Morton Fink, is to be admired and applauded for his vision, patience, and responsible oversight of the gift he shared with racing fans. Fink will be respected for his decision to provide as happy an ending as possible to a wonderful story at a time when racing could use more of the same.

Horse of the Year is, of course, in the eyes of the beholder. There is no rule, no right or wrong – only opinion – and a majority of enabled voters must share it to bestow the honor, deserved or not. All fans can hope that somehow the best horse confirms his/her superiority on the racetrack.

Normally, only divisional champions are considered Horse of the Year worthy, but sometimes accomplishments are less important in determining the distinction than the recipient's impact in the minds of racing fans and Eclipse Award voters alike.

This year's Triple Crown winner is three-year-old division champion assuming he never races again or even loses again to a divisional rival. Five nationally televised events have focused fan attention and wagering favoritism on American Pharoah. Four of those times his admirers were rewarded with victories over less talented or less mature rivals.

The tables were turned at Saratoga on Travers day when one maturing rival finally challenged the champion's speed, and another his stamina in the stretch. The latter also benefited from continued improvement, aided by his exposure in four of those events.

One race does not Horse of the Year make, but if Keen Ice were to win the BC Classic at the expense of both American Pharoah and older horses, there will be some who would seriously consider supporting the later bloomer.

Awaiting both sophomores may be the older Liam's Map, likely to contest the early pace without a Frosted-like challenge. Metropolitan Mile and Whitney winner Honor Code, and Pacific Classic dominatrix Beholder, might well be well capable of running down the classy early leaders in the Keeneland homestretch.

A Jockey Gold Cup victory would enhance the credentials of all other challengers, but perhaps there could be some hangover from the consecutive, three-year Horse of the Year reign by distaffers Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and Harve de Grace whereby Beholder could attract gender-based support.

Entrepreneur Ahmed Zayat might be better served to “trust his gut” and play it safe. As things stand, his horse is a Horse of the Year shoo-in, ensuring that the cash register will ring at least 200 times a year unless his stud career resembles those of Secretariat or Affirmed.

Parenthetically, it’s interesting to note at this point that the successful stud Storm Cat – and thus his great sire, Storm Bird -- appears in both the pedigree of American Pharoah and Wise Dan.

Can Zayat he be certain that a sweep by Keen Ice of three successive 10-furlong Grade I stakes against top competition wouldn't freeze his own horse out?

The chances of that happening would improve greatly if American Pharoah were again among the vanquished. But that could only happen if Keen Ice were to prep in, and win, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which currently is not on the dance card of the Travers upsetter.

There is another question which must be asked: Is a fairy tale ending whereby American Pharoah wins the Breeders' Cup Classic and goes to stud an incontestably deserving and highly acclaimed Horse of the Year worth risking further diminished stature or worse, possible injury?

Let me posit this: Is owning another Triple Crown winner more or less likely than owning another Horse of the Year? Recall that Jess Jackson purchased eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin before the Derby and Rachel Alexandra just in time for the Preakness. Between them, Jackson collected three consecutive Horse of the Year Eclipses.

It does seem unlikely, however, that the notoriously hard-bargaining Zayat would take the same costly approach as Jackson.

Who knows, in the end money may talk and Zayat could walk. As generous as he’s been in sharing his champion with America, he has made no secret of the profit motive behind his involvement in the game.

As the Egyptian-born real-life “American Pharaoh,” Zayat is likely to preside over many future Triple Crown and even Horse of the Year campaigns with the stock he breeds, buys or otherwise acquires. Someday he might even wind up with more horses in the Derby starting gate than Todd Pletcher.

Written by Indulto

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