"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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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Search for a Level Playing Never Stops

LOS ANGELES, December 12, 2018--Through no fault of my own, I’ve become what I’ve roiled against for the last fourteen years: A rebated horseplayer! Well, at least for one month anyway.

NYRA Bets is automatically applying a 3% rebate to every wager on a race at Aqueduct during December.

My very first rebated wager was a Dime Super play on the Cigar Mile with Mendelssohn and Patternrecognition on top and ALL on the bottom. Had True Timber finished 4th instead of 2nd, I’d have cashed, but wait, now I still will!

My $12.00 investment may be long gone but the 36 cents that will soon hit my ADW account is going to pay for three of those 120 combinations.

That sure beats the old "sharp stick in the eye!" So I shouldn’t complain, right?

However, "all that glitters is not gold." The playing field still isn’t level.

Some of my parimutuel competitors who regularly bet hundreds more one a race than I do get more than three times back on each dollar bet, win or lose. In many cases, a lot more.

And it’s any race, at any track, at any time!

What’s more, if one can approach betting on a break-even basis, one can wind up with a sizable accumulation of cash not considered profit and, therefore, tax free!

Surely the IRS was cognizant of the capacity of this form of rebating for inequitable revenue reduction (as well as its attractiveness as a money laundering vehicle) when it recently revised its rules regarding withholding tax on winnings.

As a result, I resent this current institutional perversion of the parimutuel system, both as a taxpaying citizen and as a recreational horseplayer.

But this still could be an initial step in the right direction--if it leads to equal effective takeout for all parimutuel participants.

My passion against rebates was ignited in 2004 by Steven Crist, "Rebates for all: Lower the take," perhaps best remembered for its comparison of an “average player” with “a clownfish trying to swim with the whales.” Crist persuasively put this reality in proper perspective:

"There is, of course, an entirely fair and democratic alternative to rebating: reducing the takeout. In fact, the growth of the former is due largely to the failure to do the latter."

"… If takeout were somewhere in the optimal 10 to 12 percent range instead of up to twice as much, rebates would be both impossible and unnecessary."
"...That rebates are necessary to keep the whales in the game speaks to the fact that takeout is too high. That the money to pay for rebates is available speaks just as loudly to the fact that there is plenty of money available to reduce the takeout for everyone."

Crist, quoting economist and writer Maury Wolff:

"Reduce takeout is universal rebating …"
"I now support rebating because it's easier to achieve because reducing takeout has proven so difficult politically."

Ah, but what Wolff and subsequent horseplayer-advocate disciples such as HANA’s Jeff Platt neglected to pursue earnestly was the idea of equivalent rebates for all!

NYRA is putting itself in a position to assume the mantle of Great Horseplayer Emancipator if it can go that extra mile toward customer equality.

Perhaps it finally has recognized this "hidden edge" that professional whales enjoy over recreational bettors. And sometimes this seems as insurmountable as ridding the sport of drugs, legal or otherwise.

Leveling the playing field for all should be the goal: Fairness is an integrity issue.

Younger bettors view selective rebating as customer abuse, as opposed to the many existing victims at whose expense this practice was first stealthily deployed.

There has been an increased willingness to address animal abuse issues. The debate over threshold-level accuracy in medication detection has increased public awareness, not only because medication use is widespread but how legal medications can be misused.

Any misgivings are reinforced by the conclusion that racing is no longer a sport but a means of deep-pocketed success through deception, the frequent flouting of inconsistent rules and an overall disregard of traditional ethics.

Not surprisingly, racing continues struggling to keep its existing customers, never mind having time to recruit new ones. The increase in legalized gambling entertainment options has flourished in part because it is unencumbered by questions of trust.

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Case For and Against Justify: a Vote for Triumph or a Travesty?

LOS ANGELES, November 26, 2018--As more Eclipse Award voters have written about their expectation of--if not commitment to--a vote for Justify over Accelerate as Horse-of-the-Year, I found some of the logic employed to rationalize their position to be as entertaining as they were enlightening.

Few made their case as evenhandedly as Dick Powell, who pointed out most of the strengths and weaknesses on both sides in this piece, which should be read in its entirety for context pertaining to the financial aspects of racing versus breeding.

Nor has anyone else I’ve read made it quite as clear how often Justify’s success was achieved over tracks that may have compromised his competition:
"… [Following] his career debut ... An allowance race over a muddy track going a two-turn mile was next up …

... for his one chance to earn Derby eligibility points ... Baffert chose the Santa Anita Derby, where he faced the very good Bolt d'Oro.

Over a dry but slow main track, Justify won easily and earned a monstrous BRIS speed rating of 114. … Over a sloppy track [in the Derby], he stalked an insane pace, opened up on the field and held on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. The final time was slow over a track that was not conducive to fast running times.

… As luck would have it, the Pimlico surface was even worse… Justify was gallant and courageous. Challenged early and often by juvenile champion Good Magic, Justify put him away and held off the late charges of Bravazo and Tenfold."

Apparently it was actually three wet surfaces and a slow dry one that paved Justify’s path to the Belmont where human nature replaced Mother Nature by running interference for him.
"… With history within his grasp, Baffert ... was taking no chances. ... And just to make sure, he entered Restoring Hope [in the Belmont] as a pace maker. Florent Geroux appeared to play games with the field aboard Restoring Hope on the first turn and there was Justify loose on the lead while others struggled in traffic."

Powell’s positive presentation of Accelerate’s campaign provided some possible unintended humor:

"… Accelerate ran the table the second half of the year. By the time the Belmont was over, Accelerate already won the Santa Anita H. (G1) and Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1). His first start after the Belmont was in August at Del Mar and he crushed the Pacific Classic (G1) by over 12 lengths and earned a Justify-like BRIS speed rating of 114. He prepped for the Breeders' Cup Classic with a win in the Awesome Again (G1) and then capped off a terrific four-year-old season with a win in the Classic by a length in a wide trip from post 14."

It tickled me that when applied to Justify, the 114 BRIS figure was "monstrous" but when applied to Accelerate, it was "Justify-like." And didn’t the "very good" Bolt d’Oro not only fail to catch Justify in the Santa Anita Derby but then also finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby before finishing last in the Met Mile?

Given differences in perception, perhaps the subsequent exploits of those challengers Justify "gallantly and courageously" "held off" in the Preakness, warrant review.

The closest any horse ever came to Justify was Bravazo’s 2nd in the Preakness by half a length, after losing to him by 8 lengths in the Derby and by 8-1/2 in the Belmont. In the Preakness, Tenfold was a neck back in 3rd, a neck ahead of Good Magic in 4th, who was a length ahead of fifth finisher Lone Sailor. This cluster of close finishes seems to contradict the assessment of Pimlico’s track condition.

Fast forward to the Haskell where Good Magic notched his second G1 of the year with Bravazo 2nd and Lone Sailor 3rd. The top pair were defeated in the Travers -- along with Tenfold and Gronkowski (2nd in Belmont) -- at the hooves of Catholic Boy with Derby-troubled Mendelssohn the runnerup.

The Travers marked the end of Good Magic’s racing career. Catholic Boy and Mendelssohn, along with Lone Sailor, did go on to contest the BC Classic. Mendelssohn finished four lengths behind Accelerate in fifth. Lone Sailor finished sixth and Catholic Boy was a disappointing 13th.

A strong case against Justify was uniquely expressed by renowned sage, Tinky, from the Paulick Report who put it this way:

"… He enjoyed big advantages in all three Triple Crown races, ran historically slowly in each one of them, and did not beat a single, really high-class (let alone top-class) horse. Then he was predictably retired prematurely so that his owners could cash in, rather than keep him in training so that he might have had an opportunity to actually prove any claims of greatness.

… He handled the off-tracks in the first two legs well, while many of his opponents struggled. In the Belmont, he controlled an easy pace, thanks in part to highly questionable tactics employed by the rider of a stablemate.

… in a sense ... some of his competition were handicapped... In the Belmont, [Justify] was able to control a very comfortable pace, which is a significant advantage in any dirt race but particularly that one, given that so few American runners are suited to 12 furlongs. Justify's stamina was not seriously tested ...

… What he actually proved in the TC was, under close inspection, little more than that he was a superior horse in a sub-standard crop."

My own take is that Accelerate beat all seven other G1 route winners who showed up for the BC Classic despite exhibiting the same reluctance to load that he did at Oaklawn Park.

While some argue that Accelerate was also the best of a bad lot, his lone loss in 2018 was to a razor-sharp eventual BC Dirt Mile winner, City of Light. The latter held off Accelerate by a neck at nine furlongs in the G2 Oaklawn Handicap but subsequently lost to him in the G1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita going a mile and a quarter.

City of Light’s connections did not pursue the opportunity for another nine furlong face-off with Accelerate in the G1 Awesome Again. Nor were Bravazo’s connections anxious for him to share a starting gate with Accelerate, opting instead for the Dirt Mile in which he was beaten 5-1/4 lengths by City of Light.

Even if it was actually Pennsylvania Derby winner, McKinzie, that they were avoiding, Bravazo’s previous conqueror lost to Accelerate by over 30 lengths.

American Pharoah’s maiden loss eliminated the term "undefeated" from the Triple Crown hyperbole, an achievement that his Travers defeat couldn’t diminish. His Classic dominance only enhanced his reputation.

Despite his own unprecedented upside, he was allowed to engage the public competitively for the duration of racing’s exposure in the spotlight. His connections didn’t hang out a "do not disturb" sign while they "counted out their money."

Those entrusted with this year’s Horse of the Year vote ultimately will determine whether the award will represent a celebratory triumph of achievement or a travesty that rewards a lack of sportsmanship.

Written by Indulto

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Roll Your Own Horizontals

LOS ANGELES, October 22, 2018—It is well documented that the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs November 2nd and 3rd will reflect scheduling changes that comprise the Friday and Saturday cards.

The familiar “Filly Friday” format will be replaced by “Future Stars Friday” featuring five races on Dirt and Turf for two year olds.

This returns the Distaff to its original Saturday placement and adds the newer Dirt Mile and Filly and Mare Sprint to the program.

Saturday features four races for older horses on turf interspersed with five on dirt. One might correctly surmise that race sequence is a positive handle-generating factor, as it often is.

But in shifting surfaces throughout the 9-race program, terminating with the $8M Classic following the $6M Turf, BC Ltd. is maintaining tradition.

The full schedule appears here.

The same alternating strategy is not being deployed on Friday when the two best races will be run on the same surface but not consecutively. The sequence is a Turf/Dirt Daily Double for Juvenile Fillies followed by another for Juvenile Males.

Some believe that a Juvenile Double on the Dirt would be more significant, if not more attractive, since the Future Stars could include the winners of both the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, traditionally offered as a Double.

In this instance, an all-turf Pick 3 preceding an all-dirt Double might prove more popular, augmenting what should be appetizing Pick 5 and Pick 4 sequences. But think of it this way:

How many horizontal exotic bettors have NOT felt the sting of an unexpected surface switch that subverted their play whereby post time favorites replaced their scratched selection(s)?

Such concerns become more serious on Saturday. Might not bettors play with greater confidence if an all-turf Pick 4 were to precede an all-dirt Pick 5?

Weather notwithstanding, using the Turf and Classic, respectively as book-ends to the Pick 6 has several advantages, too:

1) The only race in which a surface switch could impact the wager would be the first leg Turf, giving that pool’s participants maximum preparation for substitutions, albeit extremely unlikely.

2) That lone leg would be most likely to involve maximum quality.

3) And the three preceding races could provide insight as to how intended turf performers would handle the main track. [Again, surface switches are extremely unlikely].

Grouping by surface and/or sex won’t satisfy everyone. Surely most would prefer grouping by payoff potential but that determination is subject to wide, subjective interpretation.

Not always is there safety in numbers.

The majority would agree, however, that racing needs to provide more betting options to maintain its customer base and maybe even expand it. Technology exists to fit these square into the round holes, and do it profitably.

Think about how often a potential horizontal-exotics player turned off by a sequence compromised pool. It’s either too competitive and too expensive, or too little payoff potential, or likely to come off the turf, or events that simply lack interest.

The time has come for a “Pick Your Own” wager (PYO) and the Breeders’ Cup, at some point, should prime this pump by experimenting with a PYO-2 and PYO-3.

For those thinking parlays, consider the disadvantages:

1) The payoffs are not fixed at the finish of the first leg.

2) The parlayed amount is visible at the beginning of the next active leg’s pool, tipping off rival bettors and worse, expanding the negative impact of robotic-play.

3) The takeout from multiple win pools exceeds that of a single horizontal exotic pool.

There is another reason to consider moving forward with PYOs. It has the potential for creating a level playing field for smaller or recreational players, free of domination by rebated and/or robotic players.

The status quo caters to high-volume, professional bettors may well continue to survive the steady decline in the ranks of recreational bettors for some time.

However, despite modest handle increases stimulated by rebates and expanded robotics--could be masking a decline of customers—there has been no growth in the area of new customer recruitment.

The rebate subsidy is entrenched and no track will risk short term losses by eliminating it. So there seems to be little incentive to change the status quo until a new market is created.

Ideally, PYO sequences would close at published post time for the first leg; not generate rebates; not permit access for instantaneous, last-minute batch betting; provide no special access to cumulative-combination totals other than the limited payoff subsets available to all.

Additionally, PYOs provide an opportunity to cap takeout in this multiple pool at a reasonable 19%.

Just as there are hedging opportunities for today’s Pick wagers, the same options would still exist, including new viability in the place and show pools since PYOs are less likely to attract rebated spread bettors.

Giving players a choice to optimize winnings while helping maintain liquidity and encourage wagering in additional pools is a conceivable win-win for all.

Written by Indulto

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