"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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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Adventures in Horseplayer Advocacy

LOS ANGELES, December 14, 2015—Occasionally a "Players Up" blog piece will generate commentary outside of HRI, so from time to time I'll fire up Google to find such occurrences. The post-Thanksgiving weekend lull in graded stakes provided the time for such extra-curricular web surfing.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) had apparently planned to discuss a portion of a previous Players Up Blog piece in a Pari-Mutuel, ADW, and Simulcast Committee Meeting on October 21, 2015.

My search located an excerpt from the piece on Breeders' Cup takeout and wager minimums in the package of materials prepared for that committee meeting at October 2015 Pari-Mutuel/ADW and Simulcast Committee for referencing from the meeting agenda at October 2015 Pari Mutuel/ADW and Simulcast Committee Meeting.

Any details, conclusions, etc. from such discussion in committee, however, would be made public only if they appeared in the committee's report at the full CHRB board meeting in the transcript at October 2015. Apparently that window was devoted to Fantasy Sports; once again relegating the topic of optimum takeout to the back burner.

The particular excerpt published in Item 8 of the package was taken from an email distributed by Andy Asaro to his "A-List" of recipients which includes CHRB board members among a host of other influential racing participants.

Andy's A-List emails include the trailer, "We never quit." He really means it. I kiddingly, though admiringly, refer to him as "Indefatigable Incarnate," but this situation demonstrates that he can be an effective conduit to at least some of racing's decision-makers.

Recently, the attention of those decision-makers was focused on the Racing Symposium in Arizona whose sessions typically generated less than enthusiastic feedback from media observers.

In his related piece, HRI's Tom Jicha wrote, "Do you notice a glaring absence? None of these people primarily speaks for the fan. Where was a representative of HANA? How about Andy Asaro? Or John Pricci? My guess is the swells didn’t want to hear their ideas."

His point may have been made in a session on Digital Marketing described in the Blood-Horse.
'Rob Key ... encouraged racing to move beyond just counting the number of Twitter followers and engage in the conversations.

… if conversations turn negative, ... realize the agenda ... on the other end of those conversations, noting some people can be won over through education while others already have made up their minds …
… Racing can make efforts to educate and win over the first group, which he called "reasonable detractors," but should isolate the second group … called "determined detractors."'

I'd sure like to see how Mr. Key would go about isolating Mr. Asaro.

In any event, Andy resourcefully re-asserted his usual relevance with support from Jeff Platt by following up Jicha's HRI column with a HANA Blog piece of his own describing how California racing could sell itself as a gambling game of skill. The well-received piece was also published at the Paulick Report.

"The best way to begin an optimal takeout experiment in California is to eliminate breakage on win, place, and show (currently 15.43% takeout) and to lower exacta takeout to 16%.

... Horseplayers everywhere will not only applaud the change, they will support the first jurisdiction to eliminate breakage on win, place, and show with their gambling dollars."

In the continued absence of broad-based horseplayer representation pursuing a wider effect, I support Andy's approach to improving the situation in California with an emphasis on high churn wagers. But besides breakage, I believe changes in purse funding to increase field size should be part of the equation. Paying full purse distributions to participants of short fields attracting insufficient handle isn't sustainable in the long term.

Even when not experimenting with takeout rates, why shouldn't graded stakes purses exceeding the minimum for grade have that excess funded by advertisers, competing owners, and breeders? Maybe the latter should contribute portions inversely proportional to order of finish of their sires' progeny?

It seems to me that further on-line engagement by racing leadership with individuals that don't formally and accountably represent horseplayers is a waste of time. Self-appointed entities such as the HANA board of directors and individuals like Mr. Asaro are not always on the same page.

One factor is the number of issues at play; some of which may not be good candidates for collective pursuit by horseplayers. While race day use of Lasix is relevant to handicapping, the conflict regarding its continuation is a field-leveling issue for horsemen only. Another is diverging interests within issues, e.g., lowering direct takeout for all versus lowering effective takeout for a select few through rebates.

In my opinion, restoring a level parimutuel playing field with optimal direct takeout for all determined on a pool-by-pool basis, should be the top priority for the recreational player majority. Reclaiming the excess in pieces of the parimutuel pie from existing rebated players, ADWs, and simulcasters, however, will require strength in numbers effectively organized to exert commensurate influence.

The next highest horseplayer priority should be the formation of a centralized racing authority that addresses uniform rules of wagering as well as racing. I'd prefer a National Horse Racing Commission with the authority to enable residents of all fifty states to watch and wager on horse racing on-line with equal access and customer protection.

Getting back to Mr. Key, my impression is that there are more on-line racing detractors in evidence today than ever before. He may believe that the determined ones are in the minority, but I think he's the one headed for isolation.

Written by Indulto

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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 Indulto

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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

Comments (33)


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