"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 23, 2013

Please, California, No More Pointless Exercises

LOS ANGELES, April 18, 2013--In a cleverly-titled," target="_new"> “Illinois Derby tries to rise above being pointless,”, Jay Hovdey wrote, "Pity the poor Illinois Derby, suddenly racing’s unwanted stepchild, all dressed up in its $750,000 finery on Saturday afternoon with no place to go. Except maybe Pimlico.

… The Illinois Derby was left off the list of Kentucky Derby preps, leaving Churchill Downs officials wide open to speculation that the move traced to a local power struggle between Hawthorne and Arlington Park. Churchill Downs Inc. owns Arlington Park."

I applaud Mr. Hovdey and the Daily Racing Form for stepping up and not allowing this irritating injustice to go unnoticed, but in the continued absence of a centralized racing authority, there is nothing to prevent such intended destruction of races (and consequently racetracks) from continuing.

Impetus to fill that void, however, may have resulted from recent revelations regarding the unintended deaths of racehorses in California. Seven sudden deaths from the barn of a single trainer over a period of sixteen months suggests a situation out of control.

One such fatality is not suspicious, two could be considered a coincidence, but three should have rung alarm bells. For the total to have reached seven without sanctions of some sort emits an odor of corruption, incompetence, or both.

The creation of a National Horse Racing Commission (NHRC) is long overdue. The non-cooperation among racing venues must end, as must the one that exists between horsemen/veterinarians and equine medical researchers within those jurisdictions. Uniformity in the regulation of racing and wagering must finally become a reality, not just in the mid-Atlantic region but everywhere.

How much longer will the Federal government continue ignoring such a lack of integrity and the pursuit of profit at the expense of humanity and the animals that enrich them? One doesn’t have to agree with PETA to acknowledge that the sport can no longer be trusted to conduct itself.

A group dedicated to the formation of an NHRC, Bladerunners, has often appeared publicly forthright about their anti-Lasix position. Hopefully the events in California will trigger an expansion of their agenda.

In his piece "In the Great Lasix Debate, the HBPA Proves Too Big To Fail," HRI Executive Editor, John Pricci, rationalized the retreat from reform by the Breeders Cup, the Association of Racing Commissioners, the American Graded Stakes Committee, and the Jockey Club, reflected in their collective capitulation to horsemen: "There’s just no time, money or willingness to take the long view of what’s best for the sport, not when the game’s 2% wield all the power and influence."

I disagree. It seems to me that battle has escalated beyond logic and objectivity to become belief-based -- each side convinced it is acting in the best interests of North American racing. As such, sufficient resources should be available to proponents to advance their positions.

Clearly, opposition to banning raceday use of Lasix on thoroughbreds is no less politically, economically and ideologically motivated than the inability to eliminate domestic possession of automatic weapons for non-military purposes, in order to prevent their illegal, irrational, and inhumane use.

Just as manufacturers, marketers, and consumers of firearms exercise political and economic control in order to maintain a status quo benefitting themselves, it could be argued that so do the breeders, sellers, owners, and conditioners of thoroughbred race horses.

In both situations, the result is sometimes unnecessary or unjustifiable injury, a tragic waste of innocent life. Like the gun, the syringe has the potential for good and bad, depending on circumstances. At what point does the gratification of the owner/consumer outweigh the physical, psychological, and emotional damage done to others, human or equine?

PETA, conversely, seems almost too small to win and too inflexible to win. Further, its own deployment of deception and distortion gave their opposition license to duplicate their disingenuousness.
Moreover, they have transitioned into something so devoid of empathy that opposing them has nearly become a badge of honor.

But what about the less extreme opponents of race day Lasix use whose common sense tells them that racing in this country has degenerated during the last four decades due to permissive medication?

Some economic news recently appeared that gives some hope to those who find their interests being thwarted by the arrogantly powerful. According to Infoworld, first quarter PC sales were down for all but Lenovo who kept the Windows 7 operating system in their computers rather than allow Microsoft force Windows 8 down consumer’s throats, just like the Windows Vista vs. Windows XP scenario.

What was most interesting is that shoppers stopped buying on their own. There was no organized boycott of Windows 8, despite plenty of negative reviews. Maybe this is a model for horseplayers wanting reform to adopt. Simply stop giving any business to those who not only aren’t trying their best to satisfy you but won’t even give it the time of day.

In California, it has been the owners that placed profits over the plight of the horseplayers that make the game go. Perhaps a boycott limited to those races filled by board members of the Thoroughbred Owners of California known for their player-unfriendly policies? We don’t want to hurt the game; only send a message that we want our voices to be heard.

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Better On Fire than Under Fire

LOS ANGELES, April 7, 2013--Last year’s Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, Doug O’Neill is back in the Triple Crown picture again. He is in the midst of a sizzling hot streak fueled by his latest transplanted reinsman, Kevin Krigger. Both trainer and jockey had four winners last Friday. The next day they captured that major Kentucky Derby qualifying prep with a horse that could be a throwback to the 1970s.

The horse, of course, is that golden scents-sniffing, purse-sensitive performer, Goldencents, who runs his best when the stakes are highest. After finishing second in the Champagne to eventual two-year-old champion,Shanghai Bobby, O’Neill showed uncommon sense in bypassing the BC Juvenile (and its Lasix prohibition) and shipping to the Delta Jackpot to continue putting some foundation into his colt despite the Jackpot’s losing its win-and-you’re-in status under CDI’s new eligibility rules.

The now confirmed two-turner became a bullet-working sensation this winter at Santa Anita. Trainer Bob Baffert regularly works his better horses in 1:11 and change and seems to get results in the afternoon; at least from those that can withstand such rigorous conditioning. In perusing past performances for the initial HRI Derby Poll, I noticed that Goldencents had not one, but two works in 1:10 and a few ticks -- not O’Neill’s normal tactics -- suggesting he’s a horse that loves to run.

The San Felipe made doubters out of many Goldencents admirers when he succumbed in a speed duel with the Baffert-trained Flashback that allowed a new star to enter the frame, the fast-closing Hear The Ghost trained by Jerry Hollendorfer.

Then came the controversial installation of heightened Santa Anita Derby security. Hollendorfer was one of the adamantly opposed. Think what you will but once the proposal was accepted, Hear The Ghost disappeared from the Derby Trail in almost the same manner O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another departed last year’s Triple Crown pursuit after increased Belmont Stakes security.

To be fair, however, there were I'll Have Another's physical issues that were treated with the use of a magnetic blanket.

Prior to Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, both Baffert and O’Neil worked on changes to their charges’ running styles. What’s more, Flashback’s stablemate, Super Ninety Nine, would be available as a rabbit after revealing hia limitations in Arkansas. Ostensibly, the plan would be to burn out the impatient Goldencents with Super Ninety Nine, setting up a victory by a restrained Flashback guided by new go-to guy, Garrett Gomez.

Instead, the Baffert pair encountered a more tractable Goldencents.

If O’Neill wins another Triple Crown event this year, he will probably join Baffert and Pletcher in the ranks of sought-after TC trainers. Baffert has nine horses with accumulated points of which two are already qualified. Two more could still qualify. Further, there are others without Derby points he could enter in the last two win-and-you’re-in preps.

Meanwhile, Pletcher has six horses with points – two already qualified with two others nearing the horizon. It is doubtful Pletcher would enter any more point-less runners as his two qualified are among the anticipated betting favorites. O’Neill had a second horse with points but lightning didn’t strike twice for owner Paul Reddam and jockey Gutierrez.

Team O’Neill can handle an upturn in business if required. Brother Dennis functions as a bargain-basement version of Barry Irwin and was responsible for claiming Lava Man prior to that champion’s stakes campaigns, and for acquiring I’ll Have Another and Goldencents.

It would be interesting to see what he comes up with if he got money thrown at him at the same rate Pletcher and Baffert have come to expect.

What may have done the most damage to O’Neill’s image last year was the death of the claimer Burna Dette, shipped to Los Alamitos and dropped severely in price only to break down on the track.

This year, Baffert suffered a similar fate when a former graded stakes winner named Tweebster was dropped in for a claim at Santa Anita. Both trainers, it should be noted, have used the mega-drop strategy successfully in the past.

O’Neill’s equanimity under duress is almost always accompanied by an enthusiasm that has eluded Baffert since suffering his unfortunate heart attack. Any excitement Pletcher exhibits to the media often requires visual enhancement.

In any event, the new day of Derby eligibility that some expected to adversely affect the high-profile, high-volume trainers appears to have actually improved their results thus far.

And it indeed looks as if this year’s Derby field will be the one of the most competitive ever! Imagine what an increase in the number of trainers with multiple Derby starters would bring?

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Is Mike Pegram’s Sphere of Influence Good for California Racing?

LOS ANGELES, April 2, 2013--Three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert appears once again headed toward the scene of those triumphs together with his client, friend, and fellow Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) board member, Mike Pegram.

The two have taken the Triple Crown trail to Louisville on several occasions, and came within a nose of immortality with Real Quiet in 1998 and a second Preakness with Looking at Lucky 12 years later.

The late Jess Jackson’s dream was to campaign the offspring of his two champions, Curlin and Rachel Alexandra; both of whom were purchased prior to Triple Crown events with each winning the Preakness as well.

It seems Pegram has realized that dream and then some; breeding his way into this year’s Derby by mating of his own stellar performers, Midnight Lute to Silverbulletday, producing recent Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie.

Commenting on that victory to Jay Privman, the owner/breeder was guarded in his assessment.

‘"The Derby’s the hardest race in the world to win,” Pegram said. "We all get Derby Fever, and I’ve got it right now. But losing the Derby’s no fun" … "If he’s good enough, he’ll be there. It’ll be up to Bobby. "’

Initially I thought such hesitancy might be related to his Derby experience with Dantheblugrassman in 2002. That entry was a controversial one after the horse finished last in the Santa Anita Derby and was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby due to "cramping." Baffert ultimately won that Derby with another client’s entry, War Emblem.)

However, Pegram was very enthusiastic over another of his three-year-olds by that same sire. In a display of overwhelming force and/or fortune, Pegram took the Sunland Oaks on the Derby undercard with the filly Midnight Lucky.

Pegram is an amazing example of success spawning success -- a multiple McDonalds franchise mogul who parlayed a portion of his profits into horse racing and eventually casinos. His prominence and influence as an owner have evolved into power with his election as the current chairman of the TOC board of directors.

The most engaging account of Pegram’s ascension is Bill Finley’s from 2011, which the TOC uses as Pegram’s profile on its website.

The use of Finley’s piece on Pegram by the TOC seems as ironic as its subject appears heroic considering the turf writer’s position on the California takeout increase legislated in 2010 here, here, and here.

Despite all the "Ray Kroc-isms on customer service" alluded to in the profile, it’s fair to say that Pegram is more concerned with lowering the price of beer at the track than on lowering takeout. Interviewed recently on the Roger Stein radio show, Pegram made it clear he had no intention of giving up any of the legislated increase.

I don’t believe it’s a stretch to say that Pegram wields as much effective veto power over California racing as Governor Cuomo does over New York racing. Unlike the Governor, however, it’s clear that he loves the game and wants others to enjoy as much as he does. But it’s not easy rooting for someone who has his foot on your neck.

In a two-part interview from 2010 by Ray Paulick, Pegram provided an amusing but telling response when asked whether he had any input in the decision to run Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness and then not go to the Belmont: "… when I do offer my opinion, there’s usually fact-based reasons I’m doing this. If there’s a tie, Bobby’s the one who is sleeping with those animals, not me. Fortunately, he needs the money more than I do. That’s one thing about racing that’s right. At least it rewards success."

Parenthetically, Mr. Pegram, allow me this: That racing in California is certainly rewarding your successes, thanks to the legislated subsidy to leading owners paid for primarily by California-resident, recreational bettors ineligible for rebates.

Frankly, horseplayers are tired of your reducing our chances for success without improving the racing product in terms of field size and competitiveness. Our enjoyment comes from trying to beat a fair game that’s visibly beatable by other than professional bettors.

You have said that "… innovation is what is lacking." Then how about experimenting with lower takeout one pool at a time and see if handle gains of the magnitude shown by the Pick 5 are possible in "underperforming" pools?

And why not go a step further? Put recreational bettors on a level playing field with professionals by ensuring that every participant in any pari-mutuel pool is charged the same effective takeout rate like it used to be when racing was popular.

The only thing that seems to have eluded Pegram’s grasp is racetrack ownership. Searching the Internet revealed that he has unfruitfully pursued or entertained various forms of ownership involving the purchases of Ellis Park in 2003, Fairgrounds in 2004, Los Alamitos in 2005, and Del Mar in 2010. The latter two were motivated by the long-awaited closing of Hollywood Park whose redevelopment is finally expected to become reality.

Pegram recently said he was no longer interested in becoming a partner in Los Al but he’s still in the thick of determining suitable sites and planning for the transplanting of HOL racing elsewhere. Apparently not all California horsemen were happy with the way that process had been going. According to the Blood Horse, the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT) are pushing for consideration of Fairplex" as a replacement racing/training facility once HOL is closed for good.

Without the L.A. County Fair in operation, would there be enough Fairplex attendance to bear witness that live races were actually being broadcast? In the latest "Alphonse and Gaston" routine by the two contending sites, Los Al withdrew from the competition, while leaving the door open. What will an environmental impact study say about the increase in horses, people, and traffic in the host city of Cypress -- as well as on the intersecting 405 and 605 freeways -- under a Los Al plan to run afternoons AND evenings?

In a recently distributed email, Harry Hacek wrote, "With the relief from a split meet at Fairplex Park and the Del Mar meeting Santa Anita would be positioned to put on the best of racing. To prepare for their premier winter meeting, and further replenish the turf course, Santa Anita could hold an exclusive dirt-only meeting in [place of] the Hollywood Park fall meet."

That suggested to me that if Fairplex can’t accommodate a mile dirt oval, then perhaps an outer seven furlong turf course might enable combined concurrent replacement meets without conflicting dates, assuming Santa Anita could still support a turf stakes schedule running only on weekends.

Baffert and Pegram have been the inspiration of bobblehead dolls for racetrack give-away promotions but it’s the bettors who are shaking their heads at the duo’s defiant denials that TOC policies support rather than deter dwindling handle, field sizes, and interest in racing.

Is the dominance of the TOC, which effectively prevents California racetracks from pricing their own product, combined with Pegram’s influence, good for racing in California? Or is it merely the bottom-line component of his success as a horse owner?

Written by Indulto

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