"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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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Doubling Down

LOS ANGELES, January 28, 2013--The news that two of racing's most prominent and polarizing personalities had joined forces appeared to some to be as inappropriate as it was ironic.

Indeed the announced partnering of Frank Stronach with Keith Brackpool was not greeted with enthusiasm by many of the latter’s detractors who would have preferred that the sometimes abrasive and frequently dismissive former Chairman of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) have little influence and no control over California racing once he stepped down from the board.

Brackpool told the Daily Racing Form that 'he has taken an "equity share" in the Stronach Group of racetracks and horse racing-related entities' and 'he will direct Stronach's West Coast operations...'

'"I'm a huge fan of the sport," Brackpool said. "We can do amazing things with the sport or I wouldn't put my money where my mouth is."'

What some horseplayers found amazing was the arrogance with which he put their money in the mouths of the California horse owning and training elite by raising takeout on exotic wagers to increase purses.

According to the Blood Horse, 'Keith Brackpool has entered into an agreement to acquire a minor stake in The Stronach Group. The company's Racing and Gaming Group announced Jan. 19 that Brackpool has joined the group's board of directors and has been appointed chairman of its operations in California.

"I have had a chance to interface with Keith over the past few years and have been extremely impressed with his knowledge and commitment to horseracing in California. We look forward to our future partnership," said Frank Stronach, co-chairman and founder of The Stronach Group.'

Gregory A. Hall viewed the relationship a little differently in his Stronach taps regulator as new executive,"There's a saying in the news business that writers aren't talented enough to make up this stuff. The latest in the long parade of executives tapped by Frank Stronach fits the bill."

Still another viewpoint appeared in a public email to Andy Asaro's industry distribution list, in which columnist/handicapper Richard Eng wrote, "These moves deserve an explanation.

In Nevada, when a commissioner leaves the Gaming Control Board, there is a 1-year grace period before he or she can take a job in the gaming industry. This is to avoid any hint of impropriety while serving as a board member in charge of overseeing the gaming industry."

Eng followed up with, "I find it interesting there has been no reaction to the movement among Mr. Brackpool, the CHRB and the Stronach Group.

This type of maneuvering would not be allowed in the Gaming Industry in Nevada."

The "revolving door" policy was addressed at the Paulick Report: "Brackpool, …, is prohibited from lobbying the horse racing board for one year under regulations of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Title 2, Division 6, California Code of Regulations."

"There is a very strict one-year policy, and we are completely in adherence to that law," Brackpool told the Paulick Report. "It will be completely respected."

The benefits of Brackpool’s contacts to the Stronach Group may well have already accrued. How many "interactions" between the regulator and the regulated were required (and how much time) to lay the groundwork for their becoming "one?"

Interestingly, Brackpool’s New York State counterpart, recently retired Racing and Wagering Board chairman, John Sabini, said, "… he left before that [agency’s closing] date because he isn’t allowed by state ethics law to pursue other jobs while still chairman."

Too bad no equity opportunity opened up for him overnight!

The DRF article mentioned that "Brackpool owns the Manhattan Beach (Calif.) Country Club and is a close associate of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa." The B-H noted that "Brackpool was appointed to the racing board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sept. 24, 2009. He became chairman in January 2010. His appointment was through July 26, 2013."

How does one get so close to both a Republican governor and a mayor who's a Democrat? One can only speculate as to the roles of campaign contributions, country club comforts, and charismatic companionship in establishing the connections with the two enablers

Only one aspect of this union is predictable: if and when Stronach decides he's had enough -- equity position or not -- the egress will be Brackpool's.

Now that the head horseplayer alienator us gone, the sometime seemingly headless one is now in charge as CHRB Vice Chairman David Israel assumed the duties of chairman. Prior to his announcement, Brackpool was noticeably if not conveniently absent from the previous day's CHRB meeting at which Hollywood Park President, Jack Liebau, became the first California racing stakeholder to publicly, albeit belatedly, challenge the Brackpool-spearheaded takeout increase.

To a man, every horseplayer I know was motivated by this now classic 2010 editorial by former HRI blogger, Bill Christine, "Get Out the Lifeboats" in advance f the Players' Boycott. He wrote, "... it's definitely time for Brackpool and David Israel, ..., to move on. They are supposed to lead racing out of the wilderness, but they can't see the thickets for the shrubs."

The preceding and many other articles justifying the boycott can be found here, including one of my own in response to a symposium speech of Mr. Israel's. My passion at that time has been partially re-ignited by Mr. Liebau's remarks. Hopefully other horseplayer advocates will also see them as the vanguard of customer representation at the CHRB.

Perhaps outside of Brackpool's shadow, Mr. Israel will more equitably deal with horseplayer interests. That would be more likely if the appointed replacement is someone who already has that perspective. An excellent choice would be the above-referenced veteran turf writer, Mr. Christine, who's seen and heard it all before, and isn't afraid to tell it the way it really is.

Raw ambition and ruthlessness are said to run rampant in racing. The expansion of exotic wagering reflects the fortune seeking nature of the game's participants. Those who run racing tend to be existing fortune holders seeking greater fortunes. The term "fortune hunter" is an unflattering one applied to seekers of wealth through marriage. The more formidable the fortune focused upon, the further the hunter must be prepared to go with fewer restraints. While it's not clear who is exploiting whom in this marriage of financial and political resources, it's safe to say that racing's customers will be paying for the wedding … and its aftermath.

Written by Indulto

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Transparency or Invisibility, That Is the Question

LOS ANGELES, January 14, 2013--I had a vision: Governor Cuomo was sitting between the Everly Brothers as they all harmonized to the tune of "Crying in the Rain:"

I’ll never let you see
The Inspector General’s Report to me
I’ve done my crying and I know how to hide
The incompetence I disdain
Until no overseers remain

It came to me in a vision sometime last week following the announcement in the Saratogian, that "John Sabini was stepping down as chairman of the New York Racing & Wagering Board to pursue other career opportunities."

"The Racing & Wagering Board will cease functioning independently Feb. 1, when it merges with the state Division of Lottery to form a new State Gaming Commission."

"Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t announced who will be on the commission. Members, including the chairman, will be paid on a nominal, per diem basis. They are not full-time salaried positions."

For once it was possible to laugh with the ex-NYSRWB Chairman as he implicitly acknowledged that sometimes he has been the target of press corps humor when he shared a self-deprecating moment with writer, Paul Post: ‘… the board itself reduced 30 percent of its full-time staff, which he said had become “a political dumping ground for certain political folks.”

"We got the board in better fiscal shape," Sabini said.

(As the former chairman secured his pension in advance of his agency’s--and his own job’s demise--it wasn’t clear whether that 30% included his position with its salary of $124,476).

Until reporter James Odato can pry the report out of Team Cuomo by using the Freedom of Information Law--unless someone on the second floor of the State Capitol leeks it to him first--we won’t know just how remiss the NYSRWB was in not fulfilling its assigned oversight responsibility, thereby contributing to the takeout fiasco.

But even that might not work: Odato. It seems unlikely we’ll ever know to what degree more vigilance on the part of the Franchise Oversight Board, chaired by Robert Megna, who now sits on the New NYRA Board, might have eliminated or shortened the 15-month takeout overcharge.

Does this give us more or less confidence in his continued involvement in New York racing, I wonder? Is he, perhaps even more than Chairman Skorton, the Governor’s fly on the boardroom wall?

The remainder of the Sabini interview might suggest to some that despite his claimed accomplishments in the wake of NYCOTB’s bankruptcy, he left New York racing pretty much the way he found it.

‘"NYRA has been very focused on getting people in the Capital District to spend a day at the track with their friends," said Sabini, a Queens resident. "It’s not marketed down here as well."

Possible suggestions included fewer, shorter racing days including a scaled back Aqueduct winter meet, he said. NYRA’s year-round calendar has 250 racing programs.

Downstate fans, in particular, are saturated from September to mid-July, he said. "There’s nothing special about it," Sabini said.

With the exception of events such as Showcase Day, Holidayfest, the Wood Memorial, Met Mile and Belmont Stakes, it isn’t. And, sadly, that’s the case at any and all American racetracks.

Rather than promote that Belmont Stakes as the traditional "Test of Champions" for a horse who gallantly captured the first two legs, the 2012 Belmont became a hostile-to-horsemen environment of suspicion orchestrated by Sabini.

The trainer of the Triple Crown candidate was treated as if he were a Manchurian Candidate. Whether or not it was deserved, no such official attitude was observed in Kentucky or Maryland.

Do NYRA’s customers, both in and out-of-state, desire a jurisdiction more restrictive than those existing elsewhere, or do they want to see uniformity among venues that supports fairness and equality for both horsemen and horseplayers?

Does reinforcing suggestions that the game is not on the level promote it properly while little is being done to change it?

The "specialness" of Belmont Fall has definitely been compromised. Even Jockey Club Gold Cup day has failed to draw crowds commensurate with the quality of the horses competing. This is due not only to colder weather, a competing mainstream sports calendar and Grade 1 events serving mainly as Breeders’ Cup preps, but smaller foal crops have resulted in fields short on quality and quantity, a less attractive gambling proposition.

In addition, none are the culmination of a bonus-incentivized series.

To elevate the status of at least a sub-set of its rich array of graded stakes, NYRA must recognize and reward the cumulative accomplishments of its participants. Just as Churchill Downs has circumvented the Graded Stakes Committee and specified its own qualifying races, so should NYRA – not only for berths in the starting gate, but also for bonuses based on performances across a series of races.

Suppose, for example, finishing 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in the Jockey Gold Cup could make each of those horses eligible for a variable bonus based on their cumulative top four finishes in the Metropolitan, Suburban, Whitney, and/or Woodward.

The JCGC still would attract horses prepping for the Classic (the last three BC winners were JCGC starters that finished behind the winner), but now other proven performers within the division, possibly reluctant to compete a furlong further, might do so for a bigger payday. And such a concept need not be limited to older males.

What gets people to the track are a) good horses, b) good gambling opportunities, c) good weather and d) good company. More effective marketing would be to concentrate on these areas, rather than concerts, giveaways and the like.

When the Pick Six first came to California, seminars by professional handicapper Gordon Jones, were very popular with new players. He would handicap the Pick Six with input from the audience and structure the tickets. The audience was then invited to participate to purchase shares for any amount each of them wished.

(Jones covered what remained and – as I understood it – returned the purchased percentage of the payoff balance after withholding. The Hollywood seminars were held on-track while those at Santa Anita were conducted off-track at nearby restaurants.)

Belmont is big enough for competing handicappers to simultaneously conduct on-track educational handicapping sessions and create class project mini-whales. Some of the NYRA social media handicapping personalities are so popular they’d never have to put up a dime of their own—if they were allowed to do so.

Add to that the ability of tracks to distribute tax liability among on-track players with IDs forming any ad-hoc partnership and attendance could explode.

"We have to try different things to make the product more interesting and the on-track experience more fun," Sabini added. Do you think that this is what he or the new Gaming Commission had in mind?

Me either.

Written by Indulto

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Monday, January 07, 2013

What Will the Next Meeting Bring?

LOS ANGELES, January, 7, 2013-Three respected observers weighed in on the New NYRA Board of Directors' initial integrity test in the sunlight of greater transparency.

Steven Crist described the moment as "comic" in the DRF:

"Among the various resolutions the new board was asked to approve was one prohibiting corporate officers from wagering on the races. This is a silly and unnecessary restriction, unfairly suggesting impropriety, and it raised some eyebrows.

"Why would we prohibit officers wagering, since we're in the wagering business? " asked Stuart Janney, a board member and the chairman of the Jockey Club.

I thought I heard some assenting murmurs, and it seemed for a moment that there might be some actual discussion and dissension amid the thud of rubber-stamp approvals. Then someone pointed out that board members are not technically corporate officers and could continue playing the races.

The room exhaled, and the resolution passed unanimously."

To paraphrase an old saw, one writer's comedy is another's tragedy. Teresa Genero appeared to take the moment fairly seriously in Forbes , questioning whether integrity of the sport would be strengthened by such a policy. She noted that: 'New board chair Dr. David Skorton, president of Cornell University, said in supporting the resolution, "The idea is that the loyalty and responsibility of the people managing the organization, the most senior people, are focusing on whatever it is that the board decides needs to be done, not any acts that might conceivably bring personal recompense.'

Then continued: "It seems curious, though, that the policy doesn't apply to the NYRA board of directors, which is also in a position to make decisions that should be, to quote Skorton, unencumbered by the possibility of personal recompense. "

In one example countering the policy, Genero wrote, "At Keeneland Race Course, one of the most prestigious tracks in the country, employees are not expressly prohibited from wagering, according to a spokesperson. Unsurprisingly for an enterprise that features exemplary customer service, Keeneland asks that employees wager early in the day to avoid interference with their professional responsibilities and creating additional wait time in wagering lines for guests."

Though he seemed unmoved by the moment, Tom Noonan questioned its necessity in his blog:

"There was one telling discussion during the meeting. It had to do with a proposal to ban wagering by NYRA's corporate officers. I did not understand the need for such a ban since there had not been any problems identified in the past from allowing wagering, and I could not think of a possible rationale for the revision…

“I personally find Keeneland's position the most reasonable… However, I do see the board eventually accepting a similar restriction on its members. Anything less would brand them as either a bunch of hypocrites or else compulsive gamblers incapable of supporting the "greater good."

I wonder if Dr. Skorton momentarily considered suggesting that possibility to the board whose voting majority is still comprised of veterans from prior NYRA boards, or if he was relieved that confrontation had been avoided on his maiden voyage into the sun.

I also wonder if this policy is tied to some finding in the still-not-released Inspector General's report on the takeout fiasco. Was evidence of excessive wagering activity by executives uncovered by investigators? If so, did it play any role in the Governor's decision to shake things up? As Ms. Genero so aptly put it, "Gamblers need not apply. "

Indeed, will past gambling activity be held against new applicants? I can only imagine how many qualified candidates that would eliminate! Is the Governor and his New NYRA Board Chairman dangerously close to proverbially throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Could a suggestion that recreational betting on horse racing might be less socially acceptable than another form of gambling or entertainment further dampen enthusiasm for the sport, becoming an unintended consequence?

When I started attending the races at Saratoga in the '60s, gambling there considered a positive social experience that engaged people of all backgrounds and bankrolls.

In upstate New York where I grew up, virtually everyone I knew had a family member who attended Saratoga at least once each year. It wasn't unusual during August in the Capital District for a working stiff to request a day off to go to the races without getting hassled by his employer.

After re-locating downstate, it dawned on me that horseplayers there were markedly less visible and often stereotyped as less-than; a notion reinforced when Off Track Betting was introduced.

Eventually, on-line wagering would negate the effects of social stigma but often squalled OTB parlors became an obstacle to attracting new customers. In New York, the barrier to recruitment also includes politicians who lord over the game because they can by playing the society card.

Just recently, Tom Noonan resumed his assault on the logic behind NYRA’s executive wagering ban "I’m shocked … gambling is going on in here," skewered Skorton.

"If he thinks the lure of putting down a wager indicates an insufficient commitment to one’s employer, what would he say of the President of an Ivy League college taking a part-time gig that not only requires travel to Manhattan or Saratoga Springs from Ithaca, but that (hopefully) requires a significant commitment to carrying out one of the Governor’s major initiatives?"

"What I find troubling, however, is what this says about the new Chair’s mindset on the gambling that is an essential part of the industry. It is hard to draw any inference other than that he thinks it reflects negatively on someone who does enjoy betting when he cannot trust highly paid executives to carry out their responsibilities while also placing an occasional wager."

Noonan credited Ms. Genero’s article as motivating his "revisiting" the subject. Indeed both bloggers have been challenging the Governor’s motives and justification for reorganizing NYRA since the plan was announced. In the process, they have raised serious questions regarding the takeout fiasco which remain unanswered.

Hayward’s firing did not sit well with either of the above who have contended that state agency heads assigned oversight responsibility for NYRA were no less derelict in their duty than NYRA executives in failing to observe the statutory sunsetting of the temporary takeout increase enacted when the state took over NYCOTB. I agree with them about the latter, but not the former.

Leaking partial contents of the Inspector General’s report does not rise to the level of transparency promised by Team Cuomo. Their reluctance to release that report in the light of this latest misstep suggests that doing so might reveal more of them.

For those of us who hoped, if not expected, the NYRA reorganization would yield positive racing-related reform, this is a step backward – perhaps as far back as 17th century England’s Puritan Protectorate:
"Cromwell's government divided the country into 11 districts, each under a major general who were responsible not only for tax collection and justice, but for guarding public morality as well. Church attendance was compulsory.

Written by Indulto

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