"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, February 12, 2013

The Roaring Teens

LOS ANGELES, February 10, 2013--Ray Paulick Tweeted, "My old hometown Chicago is nation's #murdercapital w 42 killed in January. Meanwhile, it's illegal to make an ADW horseracing wager there."

Indeed, the impediments to horseplayer confidence within voting distance of the President's residence have set new precedents in 2013.

The crime against horseplayers is their inability to wager on-line because elected representatives failed to renew recently expired ADW legislation during the lame duck session.

It's not quite as bad as it is in Arizona where Internet wagering has already been mowed down by shady characters. However, like Arizona tracks, the Illinois tracks will benefit during this period from increased simulcasting host fees while there is no live racing in the state.

Land of Lincoln lawmakers do not have their crosshairs trained on horseplayers the way the California legislature does. But the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) did a California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) imitation when it allowed Hawthorne Race Course to steal $250K in purse money from its fall meet to try recover from the Illinois Derby mugging at the hands of Churchill Downs.

The crime of the century impacting Illinois racing actually took place in Kentucky. Recently the Chicago Tribune reported, "Now that Churchill Downs has turned the Illinois Derby into a dead end street on its new Road to the Kentucky Derby series, Hawthorne Race Course is trying to remake it into a superhighway to the Preakness.

Hawthorne has increased the purse of the Chicago circuit's premier main track race for 3-year-olds from $500,000 to $750,000 and will run it April 20, two weeks before the Kentucky Derby and four weeks before the Preakness."

Hawthorne honcho, Tim Carey, said, "... we're looking to get sponsorship so we can increase the purse even more."

During its annual racing dates award meeting back in September, the IRB shifted several hundred thousand dollars worth of simulcast host commissions from Arlington to Hawthorne. "... Carey testified to the IRB that additional money steered Hawthorne's direction could be used to boost the purse of the Illinois Derby to $750,000 or $1 million, but Carey said after the meeting that no specific plans had been formulated."

Hawthorne was granted 19 more such days (17 at Arlington's expense) as "...the Board appeared miffed at the decision of Churchill Downs to leave the Illinois Derby off Churchill's newly devised points system that qualifies horses for the Kentucky Derby..."

The decision to increase the IL Derby purse was supported by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, "but with a string attached: Hawthorne agreed to reduce purses at its fall meeting by an equal amount and put the money into daily purses at its ... spring meeting." But however they try to spin it, the $250K purse increase comes at the expense of the fall meeting.

I'm on record as being one of those offended by Churchill Down's decision to exclude the IL Derby as a KY Derby qualification race. It was a petty and unnecessary exception to an otherwise sensible strategy that encourages all starters to compete as three-year-olds in open races on dirt and synthetics at a mile and over. More importantly, it funnels most contenders' preparation into a period from 7 to 3 weeks prior to the main event; forcing them to face higher levels of competition in the process.

I believe that this type of purse increase is misuse of funds by Hawthorne. If they want to see a horse come out of the IL Derby and beat the KY Derby winner in the Preakness, then such a horse must actually start in the Preakness. The purse increase accomplishes nothing if nobody goes!

A better strategy might have been to use the money for bonuses (sponsor/insurance paid?) to each IL Derby starter who starts in Preakness, with further incentives for those finishing in the top three.

Even without the purse increase, the IL Derby would still be the most lucrative Preakness prep not called the KY Derby. A "mere" $250K increase wouldn't change that. One can understand Hawthorne's desire to derail the Triple Crown applecart this year, but it's just another example of how the industry cannot cooperate even in an endeavor that should unite it.

In a year that promises to send more competitive performers to the KY Derby, the odds against a horse coming out of the IL Derby winning the Preakness against several KY Derby qualified contestants would seem astronomical.

If Mr. Carey goes ahead with a flawed plan that throws good money after bad, it would effectively reward the vindictive CDI with a double dose of damage to the racing program at Hawthorne.

Written by Indulto

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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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