"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, April 05, 2016

Who’s Your Daddy?

LOS ANGELES, April 5, 2016—Inquiring minds want to know as Kentucky Derby preps seem to have turned into soirees for sons of sires with stud fees in the stratosphere.

The Louisiana Derby was contested by three offspring of Uncle Mo, two by Bernardini, and two by Candy Ride, sire of the winning Gun Runner. Earlier that day, a son of Tapit named Lani won the U.A.E. Derby via Dubai.

The previous weekend, Cupid took Rebel Stakes, another son of Tapit, beating three other in the process. Tapit's present stud fee of $300,000 would appear no obstacle to the proliferation of his bloodlines.

The Florida Derby matched the most heralded sons of Uncle Mo and Tapit to date, Nyquist and Mohaymen, respectively, in the most widely anticipated Kentucky Derby eligibility-enabling event of 2016.

Uncle Mo's stud fee is currently "only" $75,000 but it too will skyrocket, helped by Nyquist’s comprehensive Grade 1 victory, his fourth.

Bill Finley summarized the situation this way:

"There has been a major shift over the last few years when it comes to which sires are being bred to the most mares and, therefore, dominating the foal crop. The high-end sires have never been more popular. Everyone, it seems, wants to breed to them, not flinching one bit at their six-figure stud fees."

Other North American-based six-figure-fee daddies besides Tapit include Medaglia d'Oro ($150k), Pioneer of the Nile ($125K), Bernardini ($100K), Curlin ($100K), Distorted Humor ($100K), Kitten's Joy ($100K) and Speightstown ($100K).

Dropping a notch, upper five-figure fellows in addition to Uncle Mo are Malibu Moon ($95K), Giant's Causeway ($85K), Awesome Again ($75K), Super Saver ($65K), Candy Ride ($60K), Ghostzapper ($60K) and Tiznow ($60K).

Since Gun Runner became this year's first 150+ eligibility points winner--as were the last three Derby Winners--Candy Ride appears to be this year's bargain.

However, his son Twirling Candy ($15K), sire of San Felipe winner Danzing Candy could fight for that distinction should Danzing Candy succeed at Santa Anita on Saturday.

Of course, the reigning ultimate breeding bargain has is Lucky Pulpit ($7.5K), sire of California Chrome -- the comeback kid of 2016 and then some. His second straight graded stakes victory in the much sought-after Dubai World Cup, coming after last year’s place finish, has returned him to center stage in advance of his own stud career at stud, penciled in for post-Breeders' Cup Classic.

Indeed, the opportunity for California Chrome to also avenge his third place finish in the 2014 Classic will be awaited anxiously by any serious fan of the sport and maybe some not-so-serious, too.

Meanwhile, speculation on his next start has already begun. When interviewed in Dubai, owner Perry Martin mentioned the potential $12 Million race at Gulfstream Park being put together by Frank Stronach. I presume he was referring to Stronach's Pegasus project; purchased shares in a portion of the day's pari-mutuel handle by the connections of entrants in that race.

Despite his willingness to participate in such an enterprise, I hope Martin isn't holding his breath waiting for that arrangement to come to fruition.

The NYRA could step into the breach here and showcase a second Horse of the Year campaign for racing's resurgent superstar. The G2 Brooklyn is one possibility in place, giving Chrome a chance to avenge his 12-furlong Belmont Stakes defeat.

But the chances of his leaving California, site of the Pacific Classic and BC Classic, —even if a large bonus were tied to, say, a Brooklyn-Classic sweep or some other seven-figure incentive, seems like a longshot.

Tapit-sired 2014 Triple-Crown-upsetter Tonalist entered stud this year with a fee of $30,000. Regardless of his initial fee, California Chrome likely will still need his share of quality mares to prove his worth at stud.

Parenthetically, that could be tricky if 2015 Triple-Crown-winner American Pharoah is able to emulate Uncle Mo's meteoric rise in popularity and the success of the sires mentioned above continues unabated.

However good Chrome may yet prove to be on the track, the flip side of the coin is that Derby and Preakness winners Smarty Jones and Big Brown, as well as Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex have been unable to reproduce runners that attained their lofty heights.

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Stakes Scheduling for 2016 and Beyond?

LOS ANGELES, January 4, 2016—With the exception of Keeneland, tracks hosting Kentucky Derby qualifying preps have already announced their 2016 graded stakes schedules through April.

When Keeneland announced its Spring 2015 schedule, they caught some by surprise by moving both of its points-awarding preps up one week; scheduling the Bluegrass Stakes on the same day as the Wood Memorial, and the Santa Anita Derby and the Lexington Stakes on Arkansas Derby Saturday.

Interestingly, it was a least-rested/last-tested Kentucky Derby starter that ended the Triple Crown drought so Keeneland's move had no apparent effect on the process.

Neither did its switch back to natural dirt, as was also the case for Meydan’s UAE Derby. The only remaining sophomore preps on a synthetic surface are the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields and the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

The emergence of a Triple Crown champion seems to have some tracks thinking about playing the latest version of musical scheduling, altering the number of weeks between their preps and the Derby.

The El Camino moves up a month to join the Rebel Stakes at seven weeks pre-Louisville; the Spiral moves up a week to join the Florida Derby at five weeks out.

Repositioning the Louisiana Derby forces the Fair Ground's to alter their series, as the LeComte and Risen Star are now 12 and 16 weeks, respectively, from May’s first Saturday.

Perhaps Fair Grounds has finally recognized the futility of going head to head with the Florida Derby, or even running on the same weekend.

The UAE Derby doesn't present a similar challenge as the Meydan races will be over well before the Fair Grounds preps begin. Parenthetically, the latter's handle for the day should improve dramatically, even if wagers from DRF Bets customers continue being denied.

The Southwest Stakes, Gotham and Withers each move back a week to nine, 12 and 14 weeks pre-Derby, respectively, the latter conjoined with the Holy Bull thereby eliminating one of two gaps in the present prep schedule.

Maybe the El Camino Real is being moved to augment the national TV coverage of the Rebel which Oaklawn Park is now heralding as a prime stop on the route of Triple Crown champions.

In the older dirt male division, meanwhile, schedule altering seems to have become a tradition at winter race meets. Some are a function of policy that mandates divisional participation on closing day after offering local preps for both sexes.

Traditionally, and especially in recent years, Santa Anita and Gulfstream have served as the winter showcase for the best older males. Curious that despite common ownership that there wouldn’t be more cooperative scheduling that might result in larger fields and handle at both venues.

Santa Anita has the Grade 2 San Pasqual on the same day Gulfstream presents the G3 Hal's Hope. Likewise, the G2 San Antonio goes against the G1 Donn four weeks later.

The next objective for top divisional performers is usually one of the following: the G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap four weeks later; the $1 million G1 Santa Anita Handicap the week after that, or the $10 million G1 Dubai World Cup two weeks after the Big ‘Cap.

New Orleans Handicap, anyone?

The G2 Oaklawn Handicap comes three weeks later followed by the $1.25 million G2 Charles Town Classic the week after. The last three runnings of the CTC have been won by Santa Anita Handicap starters.

Where’s the synergy there? Where’s the synergy between the Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Handicaps?

Fair Ground's G3 Mineshaft and Oaklawn's G3 Razorback are the local preps for the New Orleans and Oaklawn Handicaps, five and four weeks prior to their respective targets. The former is now run two weeks before the Santa Anita Handicap, the latter two weeks after.

Last year, Keeneland offered the G3 Ben Ali the same day as the Oaklawn Handicap. Churchill Downs scheduled the G2 Alysheba the week after Aqueduct’s G3 Excelsior--and a day before Belmont's G3 Westchester.

This year Santa Anita moved the G3 Tokyo City Cup from the same day as the Skip Away to the day after.

Had Santa Anita moved that 12-furlong race to Derby Day, in place of the 8.5-furlong G3 Precisionist, the timing would be better for its starters wanting to run back in the Brooklyn Handicap five weeks on the Belmont undercard.

Santa Anita and Gulfstream, like New York and Kentucky, must find ways to enable as many top older dirt males to compete against each other as much as possible while having a shot at two Grade 1s along the way.

One scenario would involve running the San Pasqual on opening day four weeks prior to the San Antonio and eight weeks before the Donn. The Big ‘Cap then would come four weeks after that.

If the Gulfstream Park Handicap remains at one mile, those runners could target the prestigious Metropolitan Handicap, using the Hal's Hope and Fred Hooper as other stepping stones.

Santa Anita Handicap runners could still turn back to nine furlongs in the Oaklawn Handicap or Charles Town Classic. Accordingly, The Stronach Group might consider expense reimbursements to the connections of any win or place finisher in a graded stakes at any Stronach track to run back in any of their subsequent Grade 1 events.

We realize tracks will continue to schedule races in their own best interests and those of the local horsemen who support them. This is as it should be.

But synergistic scheduling that benefits the entire sport would reflect well on those that make racing as good as it can get, thus attracting the best horses possible in subsequent years. Fans and bettors would love it, too. All-for-one is good-for-all.

Written by Indulto

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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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