"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, 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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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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