"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, 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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Friday, August 07, 2015

Snore at the Shore: A Wakeup Call

LOS ANGELES, August 5, 2015—Thankfully, I was able to watch Sunday's Haskell Invitational on HD-TV without the continually streaming interruptions that marred my viewing of Friday's Curlin and Saturday's Jim Dandy from Saratoga on my ADW's track feed.

Those difficulties notwithstanding, both of those races were more exciting and offered better wagering opportunities despite shorter fields, than did American Pharaoh's purse enhanced public workout at Monmouth.

Maybe I'm just too old and too cynical, but if the practice of beating up on inferior stock--including some already squashed multiple times--is considered sport then so is professional wrestling. Worse, giving in to purse inflation coercion sets a dangerous precedent.

I don't deny that America's best 3-year-old looked very impressive despite the lack of competition. Indeed, the Triple Crown winner was most significantly been tested in the Kentucky Derby by Firing Line and Dortmund; the former now sidelined for the rest of the year.

NYRA executives are now in lockstep with their Monmouth Park counterparts. Perhaps the late ascending Curlin winner, Smart Transition, and the resurgent Jim Dandy victor, Texas Red, will get a chance to make American Pharoah work harder for his next inflated-purse prize.

Fortunately, it appears that the prestige of the Travers might provide that possibility.

Kent Desormeaux's masterful ride on Texas Red to narrowly defeat Joel Rosario on Frosted in the Jim Dandy almost didn't get a chance to happen. Nor would he have been able to garner virtually the same payday the very next day, guiding Keen Ice to a second-place Haskell finish following a breathalyzer dust-up with the California stewards.

Desormeaux rode four races at Del Mar last Wednesday before the stewards decided to perform a breathalyzer test and then took him off his final two mounts. The next day, the jockey claimed he had demonstrated to the stewards that a carbonated beverage affects test results as much as the hard stuff.

Apparently, Desormeaux generated sufficient doubt to, at least, temporarily delay further sanctions. I have yet to read an explanation as to why they wanted to perform the test in the first place.

I'm an unabashed fan of jockey Kent Desormeaux and was happy that his hopes for a big day aboard the most important horse trained by his brother, Keith, weren't thwarted by the SoCal stewards via yet another arbitrary decision.

One of the NBC talking heads had a field day on camera with Kent's difficulties but I must have missed the part where they engaged in any critical discussion on eleventh-hour purse increases.

Perhaps the jockey's enhanced payday was poetic justice but that’s where the slope gets slippery. Can one applaud Desormeaux's good fortune in light of the excess that enabled it? Are his proven issues with alcohol any more off-putting than those allegedly associated with Ahmed Zayat's gambling?

The only perfection we could see in the Shore Snore was American Pharoah's stride as he eased his way to the finish line.

But it was good to see crowds of people enjoying themselves at summertime race meets that traditionally renew a horseplayer's passion, if not his bankroll. Perhaps the increasing frequency of short fields and short prices aren't as aggravating at the track when caught up in the excitement of celebrations too long delayed.

Surely, American Pharoah deserves the same accolades bequeathed Secretariat and Seattle Slew for their superiority in capturing their Triple Crowns at the expense of progressively weaker competition.

The problem with the practice of elevating purses for highly-visible graded stakes is that it also raises the cost of participation for owners in the long term and players in the short term while benefitting only stud farms and a fortunate few owners, trainers and jockeys.

I believe an overwhelming majority of racing's customers would support efforts to ensure fuller, more competitive fields in these “ultra-purse” events.

That, however, would require not only more cooperative scheduling of Grade I and II stakes within divisions but possibly limiting maximum-purse distribution to full fields only. A downward sliding scale could apply to successively fewer starters floored by graded-stakes minimums.

Not practical? Fields would be padded with hopeless entries? Aren't they already? Perhaps other measures could define minimums on earnings; say average speed ratings or other factors to be determined by actual competition?

If Churchill Downs can mandate top-four finishers in specific qualifying races for Derby starters, why can't additional measures of previous performance levels be developed to qualify starters in other high-profile events in all applicable divisions?

I've long advocated bonus-incentivized series to reward cumulative performances across multiple graded events within divisions. Last year's bonus that rewarded victories in the Los Alamitos Derby Pacific Classic and Breeders' Cup Classic might have been won by Shared Belief if not for a seriously compromised start.

Monmouth's effort to create a similar bonus with the Haskell as the first leg, rather than increase its own purse never came to fruition, and executive consultant Dennis Drazin offered to show HRI executive editor John Pricci e-mail documentation.

There just has to be better alternatives to rewarding “the big horse” at the expense of worthy competition between the fences for the horses and for the bettors queued up in betting lines everywhere.

Written by John Pricci

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