"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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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Derby’s Points System Revisited

LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2013--The 2013 Kentucky Derby is now in the record books and its new eligibility system awaits critiquing and tweaking. Apparently, however, the new rules had little effect on a trainer who was completely focused on a single entrant and probably picked the same spots he would have under the old rules in his attempt to annex the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The best horse won, and the manner in which it was prepared may have re-established the one-horse-one-trainer tradition for Derby Trail aspirants. With tremendous patience and mastery of his craft, Claude McGaughey made a convincing case for concentrated conditioner care; at least for those paying premium prices for premier bloodlines.

In contrast, Todd Pletcher displayed equally masterful management expertise in making multiple TC hopefuls eligible for multiple clients. Yet even with five starters (of which four were widely considered strong contenders), there was no trip for the trainer to the winner’s circle. Perhaps one his owners must be wondering whether full focus on his particular colt would have made a difference; then there are alternatives.

Joel Rosario eliminated all doubts that he is the nation’s top jockey. This year’s game of musical mounts returned Rosario to Orb but appeared to weaken Pletcher’s hand. Recently injured John Velazquez retained his choice of Pletcher mounts on Verrazano.

But Javier Castellano took himself off Revolutionary after having guided that colt to successive victories. There was no Garrett Gomez for Palace Malice because he already took a commitment aboard Vyjack. Joe Bravo opted off Charming Kitten for Black Onyx, who suffered a minor injury and was an early scratch.

It appeared that Orb was a selection more among those who could appreciate the effectiveness of his lengthy preparation at Churchill Downs; something that did not leap off the past performance charts but was noted by several workout observers. Orb’s potential was also camouflaged somewhat by many speed figure makers who thought his Florida Derby was on the slow side.

The sloppy track, the final piece of the handicapping puzzle, left many of us scratching our heads right up until post time.

Finally, did the new rules live up to expectations with respect to the outcome? Yes and no.
The winner was one of two co-top point accumulators with 150. Coming off five weeks rest he is more likely to win two more races in five weeks than if he had run again before the Derby. But the fact that Golden Soul with 14 accumulated points not only finished second to Orb but turned the tables on Revolutionary with 110 points suggests the qualifying point range might be too wide.

As an aside, Black Onyx was eventually scratched due to injury, the result being that the rail position in the starting gate was left empty so no horse suffered any ill effects from the rail post in a 20-horse field. The absence of the rail-position obstacle should be the rule rather than the exception.

Random post position draws are entirely appropriate when entrants require no qualification for entry and there is no significant hindrance associated with one particular post, such as the rail. There must never be a repeat of the Lookin At Lucky episode in 2010 when the top earnings qualifier, betting favorite, and subsequent Preakness winner, lost all chance at the start when pinned against the rail – just as everyone expected he would be!

To excel in mandatory trials only to face arbitrary obstacles at the last moment is self-defeating. Simply selecting post positions in reverse accumulated eligibility point total order might be an improvement but would excessively reward entrants competing in the higher point preps, which may or may not have been the most competitive.

Consider the following concept as a starting point for determining post selection order: Once all eligible starters have been identified, each would be assigned Draw Points. Unlike Eligibility Points, Draw Points would also reward participation in multiple preps, which promotes the creation of rivalries and rooting interests.

Draw Points could be as simple as inversely valuing the top four finishes in any prep; e.g., 1st-4, 2nd-3, 3rd-2, 4th-1.

Draw Points could also reflect the level of the preps by adding 1 if the race were worth 85 qualifying points, or 2 if it were worth 170.

Ties in Draw Point totals would be broken by accumulated eligibility points.

One change Churchill officials could consider is the status of the UAE Derby. I understand the politics. But consider that 3rd and 4th finishers might qualify on points, how realistic is it to expect they would ship into quarantine in a timely manner only perhaps to become also-eligibles?

Besides, winners of that race have yet to perform very well in the Derby, although Lines Of Battle ran creditably indeed, but also without mounting a serious win challenge. Perhaps that race under our guidelines could be downgraded to 85 points with a North American race taking its place at the 170-point level.

Illinois Derby redux, anyone?

The following is a synopsis of how each prep fared this year relative to Derby starters: The most productive prep was the Louisiana Derby with four. Three representatives were qualified by the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, Risen Star, Tampa Bay Derby, Delta Jackpot, and Kentucky Jockey Club.

Those preps sending two were the Arkansas Derby, Rebel, Spiral, LeComte, Holy Bull, Gotham and Remsen. Those with a lone representative included the Santa Anita Derby, UAE Derby, San Felipe, Fountain of Youth, Sam F. Davis, Southwest, Smarty Jones, Withers, Sham, Cash Call Futurity, Breeders’ Futurity and Champagne.

Those with no representatives were the Sunland Derby, Robert E Lewis, El Camino Derby, Derby Trial, Lexington, BC Juvenile, FrontRunner, Grey, and Royal Lodge

There always seem to be instances when races cannibalize one another because of scheduling conflicts within the same basic region. Rather than have short fields in each, perhaps the point values of those races could be tweaked vis a vis scheduling to one another. Those races figure to be weaker due to the likelihood of smaller fields. Consideration should be given to how better to deal with that scenario.

More food for thought: With six starters coming off five weeks rest, including the win-place-show finishers, the Lexington and the Derby Trial are unlikely to contribute again next year. Shouldn’t their point totals decrease from 20? This subtraction might have been enough to qualify an entrant this year from those major preps that should be as strong as possible, even if the later events were intended to enable horses with existing points to move up.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TV and Internet Must Provide Better Racing Coverage

LOS ANGELES, April 30, 2013—The Pull The Pocket blogger launched a true thought-provoker last week.

The piece, "Television is Not Trending Racing's Way" observed in part that "Churchill, the Jockey Club and others have been paying to have racing televised, with the hopes it catches on with the masses that matter - a new viewing audience. So far, it looks like things are not going overly well."

After observing that viewership of the preps had not increased appreciably, he asked "What strategy can be used to up viewership and get people excited to watch racing as a live event?"

The underlying problem is that while such telecasts currently acquaint the new viewer with the actual running of a live race, along with the pre and post-race pageantry, they provide very little of what gets most of us excited about watching a race -- the handicapping and wagering strategizing that precede it.

Until novices get to see the variety of ways players use past performance data to make selections and construct wagers -- and then connect that with what happens both in the pools and on the track -- it’s hard to appreciate all the rewarding challenges the game can generate.

Additional TV money should provide extended exposure as to how past performance data products are used to support informed betting decisions prior to a live race broadcast.

One possible way to do this is to use each prep telecast to demonstrate the application of a product from one of the various popular data vendors, e.g., Daily Racing Form (DRF), Bloodstock Research Information Systems (BRIS), Equibase, Ragozin, Thorograph, EQUIFORM, JCapper, etc., in running down the featured race entrants.

Each telecast could also show that week’s resultant wagers being entered and processed through one of the various ADW vendors, e.g., Twin Spires, XpressBet, DRF Bets, TVG, etc.; all possible weekly advertiser.

The finale would take place on Derby Day when the pre-race activities would include a rundown by each data vendor -- a competition within the competition. A spike in ADW accounts to enable new fans to participate would seem a likely result of prep telecast advertising.

Another factor that increases interest is familiarity with the horses and their connections: Consider that the most well-publicized figure to embark on a recent Triple Crown campaign was Smarty Jones. His following included school children and empathetic connections. The result was unusually voluminous press coverage.

Rooting interests are the key to all sports. Working against this familiarity is the minimizing of opportunities for horses on the Derby trail to face one another multiple times. But taking the path of least resistance has always been part of horse racing’s DNA. Everyone needs to win to get in, but with so many ways to get there, rivalries seldom have a chance to develop.

In addition to the prep telecasts, perhaps more programs like last weekend’s Kentucky Derby Preview show could marry entertainment with education. Racing’s complexities should be embraced, not ignored. Once viewers are comfortable with the content, there would be plenty of time for traditional coverage; features on owners, horsemen, life on the backstretch, celebrities, etc.

Information, PTP points out, is motivation for participation: "... With twenty entrants and a world of social media, health reports, press conferences, clocker reports, video and free past performances at places like Brisnet, there are hundreds of ways and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of reasons to like one of those twenty horses."

"Reasons to like a horse." is a key concept. Whether it’s the Derby itself, a prep, or some other race, bettors want/need more and different perspectives as to who could win under what circumstances. It’s no longer sufficient to parade pontificating "experts" across the screen to deliver folksy one-line summaries of an entrant’s chances.

Lower takeout, lower bet minimums and new wagering opportunities are proving to be viable incentives for increasing fan participation. Suppose takeout and breakage on win bets were uniformly lower at all venues, and minimums on 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6-horse parlays within and across them were $2, $1, $.50, $.25, and $.10, respectively?

Such "Select Six," "Flexible Five," "Friendly Four," "Thrifty Three," and "Daily Deuce" parlays would not only level the playing field with racing’s insiders but it also would reduce the competitive advantage that batch betting by computer teams give wagering syndicates.

Surrounded as we are by technology and its ongoing development, racing must jump on the information bandwagon and provide as much access to as many sources as it cost-effectively can.

One thing that’s missing is readily-accessible, low-cost/free, on-line past performance databases with or without proprietary values, i.e., speed ratings, etc., with a cut-off date disallowing the handicapping of current races). If such data were available such that viewers could look outside the box and discover new ways to interpret traditional data, a “handicapping problem” would be easier to deal with.

An area of viewing concern is that seldom are the horses of individual interest visible during the live race given how races are traditionally viewed by the camera. Views focusing on individual runners must be available for live racing as well as replays. There must be a way to provide multiple camera views simultaneously on a television or computer screen.

The emergence of Twitter and the resultant cult following celebrity handicappers is an interesting phenomenon. Like the Beyer speed ratings, their impact on the tote board is significant. Determining value has become increasingly difficult.

Imagine an app capable of creating a true odds line for any race and identify legitimate last-minute(s)-to-post overlays by factoring in actual odds movement, Tweeted information, and other relevant, late-breaking input, etc. Anything is possible if fresh minds are given free rein.

Written by Indulto

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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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