Indulto

"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, October 29, 2017


With Win and You’re In, More Is Better


For the benefit of the sport and its loyal fans, should the “Win and You’re In” concept for major events become a “Win TWICE and You’re In” qualifying model?

The reason for this is simple: Multiple prep winners are not only more likely to win the main event and subsequent important races should enjoy a larger audience.

Further, it would avoid rewarding horses that prove to be one-hit wonders which, depending on circumstances, made their bones against smaller and/or vastly weaker competition.

As stated above, horses that have successfully run through a tougher gamut would generate wider fan recognition and popularity in the process--with a more likely chance that legitimate rivalries could be created.

As it stands now, horsemen have myriad choices of preps, which generally result in beating the weakest competition for the biggest purses.

Admittedly, as a wishful owner, the path of least resistance for the big money is extremely tempting for its pragmatism. But I’m a player, not a PLAYER.

I believe a tougher requirement would improve the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, especially with respect to the Classic. So, what to do about the Challenge series for each division that guarantees a slot in the starting gate and pays for entry fees with travel stipends that makes it better for fans and bettors?

I have no argument with recruiting foreign runners for turf routes off single wins because it’s the only way to attract world-class competition in those divisions. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to the Classic, Distaff or Dirt Mile.

The world’s best dirt horses already compete on this continent. Raising the bar to multiple wins (W2AYI), would encourage the owners of more horses to compete more often. The most accomplished runners would be rewarded accordingly.

The selected events have varied, but certain domestic races have served as worthy staples for the Breeders' Cup Challenge, races such as the Stephen Foster, Haskell, Whitney, Pacific Classic, Awesome Again and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In recent years, the Haskell for three-year-olds has produced two Classic winners; American Pharoah in 2015 and Bayern in 2014. In 2016, Arrogate became the third straight Classic winner for trainer Bob Baffert, but the Travers for 3YOs that he won in legendary fashion wasn’t part of the Challenge series.

A prior staple, the Hollywood Gold Cup, now the Gold Cup at Santa Anita, was dropped for 2017 after no winner of that race ever won the Classic as a Challenge qualifier. The Pacific Classic might one day follow in its footsteps for the same reason. Ponder that.

Only eight horses ran in the 2017 Foster and only seven started in the remaining four Classic Challenge races. Does a single victory in a small field truly merit a free pass to a $6 million payday?

Last year, Arrogate ended the BC Challenge’s four-year streak of producing Classic winners but had to pay his own way again this year after finishing second to stablemate Connected in the Pacific Classic.

And this despite the former’s stellar victories in the Pegasus World Cup and Dubai World Cup, both of which should be part of an expanded Classic Challenge series that would require two wins for a 100% discount on entry fees and travel stipends. (A single win might still deserve a lesser discount).

The Kentucky Derby uses 35 domestic and 12 foreign races to qualify a 20-horse field. A Breeders’ Cup prep series might require almost as many to qualify 14 starters due to the attrition of three-year-olds that get worn out on the Triple Crown trail.

Using the top four finishers in each Classic Division G1 and G2 race since the 2016 BCC, and then the top four in each stakes contested by each of those, I compiled grids that included 40 potential candidates for such a series.

Only 10 of 40 potential preps had at least 10 starters; seven races had 8 or 9, and 23 preps had 7 or fewer starters. W2AYI could be just the tonic to populate those smaller fields.

Twelve of the top 51 domestic dirt specialists were pre-entered in the 2017 Classic including Gun Runner, Collected, Mubtaahij, and Diversity, who all got free passes. Arguably more accomplished rivals West Coast and Arrogate did not.

And what do we make of two Aidan O’Brien Europeans lacking actual dirt form?

Once horsemen adjust their sights on winning multiple qualifiers, not only is it likely that an entire field of 14 worthy starters would all be significant winners but conceivably multiple ones as well.

Imagine trying to handicap a field with that amount of quality, with its excellent blend of field size and betability?

Written by Indulto

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Saturday, September 09, 2017


Are You Really Willing to Fight for Greater Integrity?


Attempts to organize horseplayers to collectively address issues that affect them adversely have seldom attracted sufficient support to achieve the desired result.

Although boycotts by players in response to takeout increases at Santa Anita in 2010, and at Churchill Downs in 2014, succeeded in lowering handle for those meets, the amount was not sufficient to substantially decrease short-term revenue from takeout, and the rates were never rolled back.

Yet another boycott is now being organized by the usual suspects, i.e., the HANA leadership, in response to Keeneland’s announced takeout hike effective next month.

I doubt the result will be any different this time around unless 1) The takeout issue is expanded beyond just rolling back rates to reforming takeout distribution and 2) The need for takeout reform is viewed as only one component of a larger integrity issue that would become the central justification for the planned protest.

As the first achievable step in addressing all component issues, however, reversing the blatantly unnecessary takeout rate increase would establish a precedent for collective horseplayer success in pushing back against the greed-driven corruption and short-sighted decisions that plague the sport.

Last week, HRI columnist, Mark Berner,
"compellingly described the state of disrepair racing has allowed itself to reach:

"Thoroughbred racing in the US ... will drown in a sea of drugs, deaths and litigation. Its destiny is our hands.

… Uncontradicted testimony [in the Federal trial of trainer Murray Rojas] described widespread, in fact, nearly universal, cheating; regulators asleep on the job; a corrupted and ineffectual testing system.

… It is time to change the stewards of our sport if this is the best they can offer ..."


Indeed the term, "racing integrity," is becoming an oxymoron. Hardly a week goes by without some reference to medication abuse, cheating, lack of full disclosure, questionable steward rulings, spikes in equine breakdowns, or the absence of uniform rules, standards, and penalties resulting in their inconsistent interpretation and enforcement.

What is less transparent, however, is the institutionalized edge-taking which includes the behind-the-scenes appropriation of takeout by tracks, ADWs, horsemen, and rebated bettors. Some see that as a greed-based issue because the excess extracted within artificially high current rates from the vast majority of non-rebated bettors effectively subsidizes the tiny minority of high-volume, rebated bettors.

Racing may call itself a sport but the game is not played on a level playing field.

Ironically, rebates are defended by some as "reducing effective takeout" for bettors contributing the preponderance of handle. Wouldn’t simply reducing direct takeout for all produce the same effect? No, because the reality is that rebates give a clear edge to players that receive them, and to bet-takers that provide them.

Rebated players dominate HANA’s Board of Directors. It’s possible that the effective rates they currently enjoy won’t change despite the increase in the direct rate. But suppose some factor, e.g., a concurrent signal fee increase, were to cause their effective rate(s) to rise as well? In that case, they would be seeking assistance from non-rebated players in order to maintain their advantage over them.

Does that seem like equal representation for players of all bankroll sizes?

Is it any wonder, then, that HANA’s membership hasn’t grown appreciably over time? If players can see through their charade, can’t track operators, state regulators, and horsemen as well? Would Keeneland have turned its back on small-bankroll bettors if they thought they actually had functional representation?

Horseplayers have a real opportunity to start the reform ball rolling by bringing their combined willpower to bear at Keeneland, but we need to convince all the other parties mentioned above that their primary objective is to make the game work more fairly for all groups involved.

If even one track operator can be forced to treat all bettors fairly, then management of all tracks will be susceptible to similar pressure to treat them fairly. If the industry can be made to treat horseplayers fairly, they will have to treat horsemen fairly as well. And so on.

Potential new objectives might look something like this:

1. Prove that a sizable, determined horseplaying constituency exists that must and can be dealt with in the future:

Abstain from wagering on the Keeneland product so that its cumulative handle is reduced sufficiently that operating revenue from takeout is markedly lower than it was for the same period in the previous year.

2. Establish horseplayer representation that is directly accountable to its membership with all leaders/negotiators, policies, objectives, and actions confirmed by a vote of Dues Paying Members (DPM).

If HANA’s name recognition and resources could be utilized, including existing decision-makers committed to leveling the playing field for all its members, so much the better.

3. Establish funding (at least in part) for a workgroup to conduct ongoing research (in conjunction with other industry group representatives) that would develop strategies for determining -- and experimenting with -- optimal takeout levels as they might relate to various factors such as venue, wager type, field size, etc.

Some will argue that takeout rates cannot be isolated from other factors such as field size, pool size, purse levels, product popularity, etc., in order to achieve a sustainable balance among handle, purses, churn, etc. This group would have the credentials to separate fact from opinion.

This is reminiscent of an old "Happy Days" episode where Fonzie tries to teach Richie how to build up his image and confidence in dealing with bullies. After Richie shows he has the posturing down pat, Fonzie points out to him: "Somewhere, sometime, somebody has to have seen you actually throw a punch."

It’s time for horseplayers to throw that collective punch at Keeneland. Otherwise jurisdictional bullies will raise takeout whenever they feel like it.

LOS ANGELES, September 8, 2017

Written by Indulto

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Sunday, August 20, 2017


Horseplayers Need Leadership and a New Beginning; Possible Keeneland Boycott Gaining Momentum


Los Angeles, CA, August 19, 2017--Just when horseplayers thought takeout relief at a major racing venue was a real possibility following encouraging remarks by Tim Ritvo regarding Santa Anita’s future viability, Keeneland shed its former horseplayer-friendly mantle by announcing substantial increases to takeout rates for its upcoming fall meet.

Last November, U.S. voters voiced their dissatisfaction with the political status quo and used their collective strength to demand a change in course. Whether or not the proposed new course is the best one is not the issue here but at least now politicians recognize that the electorate can no longer be taken for granted.

Well, a similar lesson needs to be learned by racing’s empowered stakeholders. Not all regulators, horsemen’s groups and track operators have demonstrated the same disdain and disrespect for racing’s customers but those that have are doing so with impunity.

The media is already pitting HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) against its former lover, Keeneland, whom it has perennially placed at the top of its popular Track Ratings, singing its praises as a model for properly treating horseplayers.

HANA President, Jeff Platt, teased in the above link , ‘… HANA members are “tossing around the possibility” of organizing a betting boycott similar to the one HANA backed in 2014 … [against] Churchill Downs … We’ll vote on [organizing a boycott],” Platt said. “But whether we do it, or whether some other horseplayers take the ball and run with it, there’s going to be a boycott, and there is going to be significant players’ pushback.”’

And on Thursday Platt felt compelled to act, issuing this email statement [edited for brevity and context]:

“Citing takeout increases of 9.375% in the straight pools to 17.5%, and exotics by 15.79% to 22% (the maximum allowed by Kentucky statute), PLAYERSBOYCOTT.org is asking horseplayers to join us in sending a clear message by not betting one track -- Keeneland -- for one month -- October, 2017…

“PLAYERSBOYCOTT.org is asking horseplayers to consider the idea they are consumers and that every handle dollar bet at Keeneland is a vote for higher takeout everywhere…

“HANA surveyed its membership about the Keeneland takeout increase. When asked whether or not HANA should organize a boycott the results were: 63% Yes, 28% No and 9% other; 77% favored the use of the Playertsboycott.org site [to accomplish this goal]…

“As a horseplayer I've decided to join the boycott because I believe higher takeout is harmful to the long term health of thoroughbred racing. As a horseplayer I believe sitting on the sidelines is not an option for me because everybody in the industry is waiting to see how players react to this.

“I believe that if a clear message isn't sent: Not just Keeneland -- other tracks will have takeout increases too. When we boycotted Churchill in 2014 because of their takeout increase they were down a solid 25% outside of the Derby.

“How much of that was the market speaking and how much came from us drawing attention to the takeout increase is hard to say. But we sent a pretty clear message. I expect Keeneland Fall 2017 numbers to mirror Churchill 2014 numbers - and be down a similar 25% to 30%.

“But that may not be a strong enough message...

“I am asking you to join us by not betting one track -- Keeneland -- for one month -- October 2017. That's it. I believe that together -- by getting the message out to as many horseplayers as possible -- we can knock Keeneland numbers down significantly -- and convince them to reverse their decision.

“If we can do THAT -- the message to the industry will be crystal clear: Higher takeout is not the answer and only serves to compound the many already existing problems racing faces and needs to address.”

A more confrontational perspective came from Rich Halvey in this discussion thread at pacedavantage.com: "… I've long argued that until horseplayers flex their muscle, there is no reason for track management to care about what we think. The tracks are usually most worried about the horsemen not the gamblers who essentially fund the track and everyone who races there.

... If horseplayers don't speak with their money, what other options do they have to influence policies that are often either for the horsemen or the betting whales?

… I'm supportive of the idea that we can't continue to function in a way that de facto sends the message we'll put up with anything. You can't play the boycott card for just anything, but there are 22 American tracks running. Surely not betting one of them for a few days is not too much to ask to send an important message."


Advocating greater unity among horseplayers in his blog piece, "Saving Santa Anita, Halvey pointed out that horseplayers would need representation in order to take advantage of Tim Ritvo's apparent willingness to cooperate with them.

"We all appreciate Ritvo calling out the bettors as being the base of the racing pyramid, but the reality is that for years they have been at the bottom of the Santa Anita hierarchy, with the owners and trainers ahead of them. When Ritvo was asked about changes, he said, “I’m going to be the guy that goes to the TOC (owners), the trainers’ association, and the breeders.”

Did you notice any group missing, as usual?

If Ritvo is serious, the bettors will have the same seat at the table as the owners and the horsemen. To this point the bettors have not been well organized. There is no real equivalent of the HBPA or the Thoroughbred Owners of California for horseplayers, although perhaps HANA comes closest."


Sometimes I fear that without someone with stature, and clout, the enormous collective strength of horseplayers may never be harnessed to best advantage.

To be clear, my beef is not with the HANA membership collectively nor with the board members individually; the latter are intelligent and accomplished individuals.

But other than achieving name recognition, the primary result of their combined efforts has been the expansion of the rebated minority to the detriment of the rank and file majority. Rebates are only possible when takeout is too high to begin with. HANA’s lack of strong support for a level playing field for all is lamentable.

I share my frustration with others who also believe that leadership never saw fit to expand its representation to players of all bankroll sizes by establishing funding for its operations and staffing as merited. Money talks, and gets things done.

Depending solely on unreimbursed volunteers without accountability to membership does not support the idea of addressing new and old issues that impact all players.

One individual who definitely would be worth his weight in gold to represent horseplayers is former track executive Bill Nader whose recent analysis of the rebate factor relative to the Keeneland situation suggests player reconciliation may actually be possible:

"Does anyone say I will bet Santa Anita because of its low takeout (15.43) on Win, Place and Show but not play its Exactas at 22? Not really, due in large part to the current business model which rebates to the big customers. Otherwise, there would be a loud, sustained scream.

... In almost all cases and it may or may not be true in the Keeneland example, the big customer escapes the pricing increase because the rebate is adjusted upward and the [effective] takeout remains unchanged.

... We know that lower takeout is the purest form of rebate, one in which everyone benefits. But it would work best for the major racetracks in this country to agree on this type of strategic direction and move forward together.

… The big guys need the little guys and the industry needs the little guys to bring liquidity and sustainable growth to the customer base and the pari-mutuel pools.

… There needs to be a unified approach to bring everything back into alignment. The new Keeneland takeout is misguided."


Why isn't this guy currently running a racing association somewhere or, better yet, a horseplayer’s group representing the entire betting population?

Addendum:
Here's one very successful horseman, Ken Ramsey, who gets it. Click the link to hear his knowledgeable and extremely candid remarks on the proposed takeout hike at Keeneland:

LATalkRadio link: http://latalkradio.com/content/horse-081517%20#audio_play

Scroll to about the 35:30 mark to begin hearing Ramsey’s take on the Keeneland takeout increase.

Written by Indulto

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