"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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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Day the Musings Died

LOS ANGELES, CA, January 27, 2014— Even before we could recover from renowned handicapping theorist and practitioner Cary Fotias’s untimely departure, Paul Moran’s recent passing at 66 reminded many of us eligible for Medicare how short early retirement can be.

News reports indicated that the gifted turf writer left with the dignity of awareness, and in the presence of some who shared significant moments of his life and appreciated his worth. That’s crossing the finish line as a winner, in my book.

By definition, to muse is to “say something in a thoughtful and questioning way.”

The thoroughbred racing musings of Paul Moran often differed from those of his contemporaries in both tone and detail. He frequently appeared independent of the authority others seemed subservient to.

Perhaps some of those still surviving wonder whether that was achieved through abundant will power or the absence of concern for consequences.

I’ll remember Mr. Moran as a professional who was very kind to an anonymous amateur whom he had unknowingly inspired. His words weren’t just enlightening and entertaining, they were enriching like art. Some musicians are gifted with perfect pitch ... Paul Moran produced perfect prose.

Until I began reading his work a little more than a decade ago, I’d never felt the urge to write creatively. The Internet enabled access here on the West Coast to those Newsday articles from the East Coast, and eventually facilitated contact as well.

Indeed, one of the more compelling aspects of the switch from the print medium to cyberspace has been the ability of readers to interact with authors.
While some bloggers appear to embrace communication with their audience, it seemed to me that Mr. Moran had little enthusiasm for it. His public responses were an exercise in economy of expression. Even private responses I received were succinct and to the point.

In 2008, I submitted several opinion pieces for his blog’s Weekend Guest feature. After initially requesting a bio, he published them all after very brief acknowledgements. He became only slightly more expansive when I later thanked him for giving me credibility with other bloggers.

Some of his own pieces that he posted on his blog were published here at HRI, where he was featured along with other talented turf writers including Bill Christine, John Pricci, and Vic Zast. Moran previewed the comments on his own site, but the freedom of speech at this one too often rewarded him with petty abuse. He stayed above it all, publicly, and ignored his detractors.

Having since learned how it feels when they “shoot the messenger,” it was with great satisfaction that I saw my personal admiration for his work so widely mirrored in the myriad of comments throughout cyberspace in the month following his passing.

What I felt was missing from early accolades, however, was appreciation for his fearlessness in expressing disdain for circumstances and individuals that detracted from the game’s integrity and stability. Without writers like Moran to help hold the line, racing’s propensity for self-inflicted damage might have reached critical mass even sooner.

Eventually I encountered a piece by Michael Veitch who wrote the following while noting Moran’s death in the Saratogian: “A veteran of the war in Vietnam, he loved New York racing and always saw the big picture, while never hesitating to criticize those whom he felt were not working in its best interests.”

In his book “Six Weeks in Saratoga,” HRI blogger Brendan O’Meara’s description of a news conference held by then CEO Charles Hayward included this reference to Moran:

‘The closer to New York, the grouchier the racing press gets. Hayward thought that award–winning columnist Paul Moran, formerly of Newsday, used to puncture him. Moran sliced into NYRA after the 2005 Belmont Stakes that NYRA “almost gleefully picks the pockets of those who remain interested in actually attending the races on days when they sense a demand.”

Hayward said, “We are always reluctant to raise our prices.” To which Moran continued, “Can NYRA completely mess up Saratoga too? Tough assignment, but not out of the realm of possibility.”’

I can only imagine Moran’s response to new NYRA CEO Chris Kay’s recent announcement of planned admission price increases at Saratoga and Belmont. The photographs of Moran were not always flattering but I‘m far more likely to remember the pictures he painted with his words. I hope he was a Don McLean fan, and allow me this:

As drug-free racing horsemen forsake
While states impose excessive take
A player couldn’t get a fair shake
The day the musings died

So I’ll be singin’ bye-bye, All-American Guy
With the lighting in your writing
One could read the truth by
The glimpses you gave of those sitting on high
Proved that changing the status quo we must try

Even more musings: Discussion here can become addictive, the real danger being the possibility of deluding oneself that horseplayers can be motivated to join together in sufficient numbers to effect changes in racing’s status quo to their common benefit.

It would seem that old horseplayer advocates don’t fade away, they have to be carried out; especially since we have more to say as age advances. After several years of regular and sometimes adversarial interaction with featured bloggers and fellow readers in the comments section here, I submitted an opinion piece to HRI’s Executive Editor, Mr. Pricci. Fortunately for me he not only has extended me the same kindness that his friend and colleague had but his own friendship as well.

I wanted to find out if support could be mustered at HRI to influence long-needed change to Kentucky Derby eligibility rules. The project evolved into a weekly comparison of proposed points-based eligibility rankings with the existing one based on earnings as the qualifying process proceeded along the road to the 2012 Triple Crown.

Our efforts ultimately were rewarded when Churchill Downs decided to replace its earnings-based eligibility system with a points-based system of their own design.

Of course, we can only speculate as to the extent we actually influenced this action but hopefully it will encourage others to step forward here and keep the recreational player’s perspective in front of racing’s leadership.

This forum needs continually fresh ideas, and those with the topics, tools, and training should take the opportunity to do so. I believe devoted, recreational fans can make a difference.

In a game that depends upon diversity of opinion, shouldn’t there be more horseplayers seeking a debate than a rebate?

Written by Indulto

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Saturday, December 07, 2013

What New York Needs Is… Its Own Triple Crown?

LOS ANGELES, December 6, 2013—New York Governor Cuomo took his lumps recently when he referred to Aqueduct as a “waste;” reviving speculation that the Ozone Park facility would be closed and its racing operation transferred to Belmont Park 10 miles away.

Whether the State maintains two tracks or three, NYRA must offer its patrons a new approach to the racing experience that deploys those facilities to their best advantage.

The sprawling Elmont plant, which contains the only 12-furlong oval in North America, is capable of hosting crowds exceeding 100,000 but it hasn’t filled to capacity since 2008. Such happenstances are limited to attempts to win the Triple Crown; an average of twice per decade since Affirmed in 1978.

Races around both turns of the huge dirt track are rare, and those at 10 furlongs which are forced to start on the clubhouse turn are even rarer. Inadequate maintenance of that section of the track recently compromised the start of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Could this be another obstacle besides weather and politics to prevent Belmont from hosting the Breeders’ Cup; a situation that further devalues the venue? Is there another head-turning option out there?

Belmont as a destination will always suffer in comparison to Saratoga. Ironically, Aqueduct is now located right next to a thriving casino whose clientele represent potential horse race bettors at an upgraded facility that shares its subway access.

So why prefer an isolated location whose physical layout makes one-turn routes out of many distances run around two turns almost everywhere else? Real estate property values for one; those who don’t understand this concept—namely politicians—another.

Going forward with only an outdated, underused property doesn’t seem practical without first demonstrating the ability to reverse declining on-track attendance in the face of growing off-track participation.
The decision is probably best delayed until a future private-sector bidder makes a proposal.

The State’s intention to privatize racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct in the near future, without current VLT revenue, will require innovation to increase the value of its franchise. Thus far, vision has proven myopic.

One opportunity to consider would be to take control of the Triple Crown by offering an alternate path that would increase the likelihood that a potential champion contests the Belmont Stakes. With equine safety consciousness on the rise, the timing is right to challenge the perception of what the Triple Crown represents.

Why shouldn’t any “qualified” three-year-old who, in confirmed graded company, wins at 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May – and then successively at 9.5 and 12 furlongs within eight weeks be deemed a Triple Crown champion?

Purists insist that the five week duration is sacrosanct, that changing the spacing between legs would make it easier to win. Doesn’t it make sense, however, that 4 weeks rest between each leg would enable more contestants to deliver their best effort, thus making it more difficult?

The Triple Crown tournament is limited to the 20 horses that can fit in two starting gates, but why should the contests be limited to the same venues. Isn’t accomplishment more essential than logistics?

Churchill Downs broke with tradition last year by forcing Derby participants to compete in a smaller subset of prep races, giving greater weight to those scheduled within six weeks of the event.

Of course, if the Derby winner is not up to winning the Preakness two weeks later or does but is unable to compete again three weeks after that, the Belmont Stakes becomes significantly less-than, and Churchill management couldn’t care less.

This spring, would Orb have fared better in the Preakness with more rest? Could I’ll Have Another have avoided injury with more time between starts? Would Bodemeister have been more effective with three races in seven weeks than in five?

Where is it written that the road to the Triple Crown must only go through Louisville and Baltimore?

It has been posited that the main obstacle to moving the Preakness back even a week is that Pimlico would lose the heavy college student that has returned home. But what if the “new NYRA” proposed a second path to the Triple Crown, a New York-based path?

The key to an alternate New York path would be a weighted bonus structure for multiple top-four finishes in the series, generating greater earnings for most participants. Once the series catches on, bonuses could be extended to Derby and Preakness runners as well.

New York needs to do something dramatic, something different, and it doesn’t have to be limited to equine participants. Rather than raise admission prices to increase revenue, the NYTC could feature, say, a customer-friendly dollar-minimum Pick Six. Any carryover from the previous day would be suspended and payouts mandated for the Saturday pool only. Try it on a limited basis and see if it bumps attendance. Look outside the box.

Expanded use of Saratoga seems unavoidable if a downstate track is closed. Perhaps two shorter meetings replacing the existing one might work, but only with the town’s support, of course.

Since the area is as beautiful in May as it is in August, a Spa spring meet might prove an attractive launching site for a New York Triple Crown, encompassing a reconfigured Jerome or Dwyer and concluding with the Travers.

Written by Indulto

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Breeders’ Cup 30: Only the Foreshadowing Knows

Los Angeles, November 5, 2013--The term, “foreshadowing,” came to mind with the news that jockey John Velasquez was injured after his mount sustained a catastrophic injury in Saturday’s first Breeders’ Cup event.

My concern for the rider’s well-being was accompanied by the question of who would replace him on the now twice-jockey-jilted Palace Malice; the co-carrier of my schemes to conclude the day successfully with a late running three-year-old in the Classic.

The call eventually went to Rafael Bejarano, the goat of last year’s Classic for failing to get the favored Game On Dude off to a good start. Bejarano, however, proved the difference in Friday’s Dirt Mile when he gunned Goldencents from the extreme outside slip to win the race wire-to-wire.

It was no surprise, then that trainer Todd Pletcher plucked Bejarano from the sidelines to ride Palace Malice as the two had experienced success together with Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby. But wouldn’t you love to know which other riders were under serious consideration? I would.

My only plays on Friday were in the races comprising the Pick Three starting with the Dirt Mile. My insufficient confidence in the winner’s ability to overcome his dreadful post position against Pletcher’s vaunted Verazzano led me to play trainer Bob Baffert’s win-and-you’re-in entrant, Fed Biz.

The foreshadowing may have already begun with this speed-favoring exhibition, not to mention Golden Ticket’s second place finish which undoubtedly alerted some to the strength of the Awesome Again as a Classic prep. Perhaps Verrazano’s loss foreshadowed the fates of Pletcher’s stablemates.

Saturday arrived and my wagering diet didn’t include the two downhill turf sprints preceding the Cup events. Nor did an undernourished Damascus field whet my betting appetite. Bypassing another non-Lasix event helped avoid the tragedy of a breakdown and a subsequent disqualification, but the stage had been set for my bankroll’s demise in the Filly and Mare Turf as three consecutive favorites produced an anemic $49.60 Pick Three. This failed to cover my losses in the accompanying vertical pools.

The Juvenile was not only another non-Lasix event but the race continued to bury New York shippers--as was the case for the Dirt Mile and Distaff--and which would continue to be the case for the remainder of Saturday’s card. The only exception was Juvenile Fillies, and that came via disqualification. Unfortunately, my success was reliant on New York shippers in the Sprint, Turf and Classic.

I can forgive myself for ignoring Magician in the Turf even though I know European trainers frequently win at much longer distances off mile preps, especially with good Racing Post figures. But I could kick myself for discounting Za Approval who turned back from a 9-furlong victory at 9 to repeat his second-place finish to Wise Dan at Woodbine. Ouch!

Still alive in the Pick Three, I lost the Sprint verticals beneath the winner when I zigged with Vosburgh participants over Phoenix prepsters instead of zagging in reverse. Ugh!

Now came the moment of truth. Alive in the Distaff-Classic Double and Pick Three with both primary selections, the scratch of Ron The Greek already altered my strategy for the upcoming Classic. Since I no longer had to use him to key a superfecta play, I could expand my coverage beneath my prime contenders. By embracing my mounting skepticism of Game On Dude, I could look for chaos in both the third and fourth slots, but doing so with both primaries might not be profitable.

With Bejarano’s unfamiliarity with Palace Malice gnawing away at me --as well as my fear of early speedsters-- I made my final adjustment. Unbeknownst to my friends who were watching all this on SKYPE, I decided to cancel previous superfectas and go with only Will Take Charge on top, using Palace Malice, Game On Dude, Mucho Macho Man, Fort Larned, and Flat out in the second slot, and ALL for third and fourth.

Live by the nose; die by the nose!

I thought all was lost when Will Take Charge went extremely wide on the last turn, but then his incredible surge at the end left my body and soul totally numb. Only the camera knew for sure. For a moment I thought I was a winner until someone said otherwise. Unlike the Travers, I wouldn’t win either way the photo went. This time, the nose of Will Take Charge wasn’t long enough and Mucho Macho Man made Gary Stevens’ comeback the equivalent of Babe Ruth’s home run call.

Here’s my story
It’s sad but true
About a horse that I thrice bet
He stole my heart and ran around
Every other horse but one in town

Last Gunfighter finished fifth as the longest shot at 46-1, beating Palace Malice, sixth at 8-1, who finished of the 13-1 Flat Out. So much for the Jockey Club Gold Cup’s recent hold on the Classic!

It was like the bad old days for New York prepsters. Next year, trainers are likely be take a cue from “Macho’s” trainer Kathy Ritvo and prep in California instead.

If you thought Super Saturday fields at Belmont were small this year …

Consider that Mucho Macho Man prepped in the $250,000 Awesome Again instead of the million dollar Gold Cup. Should California be granted a Breeders’ Cup monopoly, here’s something to consider:

Rather than reward “win and you’re in” one-shot wonders, perhaps it’s worth creating several divisional series with bonuses for multiple top four finishes that reward consistently high performances over the duration of a racing schedule, one that’s kind to both man and beast.

Why shouldn’t Super Saturday, say, close out the Belmont Fall meet with the final legs of several such series with opportunities to determine divisional championships as well? If Churchill Downs objects, perhaps they could offer divisional races that compliment, rather than compete with, those at Belmont. By creating a multi-venue exotic, both tracks can offer their on-track patrons and off-track players something special. That sounds like good business.

I seem to have survived the anxiety and excitement of Breeders’ Cup weekend. Passionate participation is what our sport is all about. After watching the replay a few more times, I think I finally understand the devotion of Classic fans enamored of another closer so magnificent in defeat.

Written by Indulto

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