"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, January 20, 2019

Racing Requires Revolutionary--Not Evolutionary--Change

LOS ANGELES, January 19, 2019--HorseRaceInsider’s Managing Editor Mark Berner recently entertained the possibility of the Breeders Cup owning its own home:
"Holding the event at the home of the Kentucky Derby highlighted the fact that the Breeders’ Cup still suffers from Derby envy.

… Coming of age … involves owning your own house … Breeders’ Cup Ltd. should buy a permanent home for its event in a city with a warm climate …

… New Orleans is a southern city that knows how to host a party. Its racetrack, the Fair Grounds, for many years opened its meeting on Thanksgiving...

… As long as we are thinking outside the oval, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. should buy the track and build a modern facility. If the Breeders’ Cup is to come of age and shake off its Derby envy, it should showcase the sport’s most important day as never before… at the racetrack of the future."

Berner’s reasoning is worth considering in its entirety, if one hasn’t already. My objective would be an expansion of his concept to include a broader issue: Drug Regulation.

The problem isn’t so much acquiring the actual property as it is to extend existing Louisiana regulations, submitting to the local horsemen’s group to the issues medication, takeout and wagering menus, etc.

Racing’s downward spiral won’t be halted until it escapes from the uncooperative, uneven, and ineffective oversight of disparate state regulatory agencies. Fear of federal regulation permeates the industry. It might be enough for the industry to act.

Of course, the most practical remedy would be united self-regulation, not unlike that of Major League sports. But racing’s existing stakeholders continue to remain too polarized and too provincial to work in concert.

The strength of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. is the enormous popularity of its product based on extremely high quality that isn’t dependent on a single event, a single division, a single foal crop. It features the best of everything racing has to offer.

Its influence derives strength from its flexibility and relatively independent operation which places the organization in a unique position: To assume the mantel of leadership in Thoroughbred racing, ushering it into a brighter future.

A permanent home for the Breeders’ Cup could seize the day and possibly introduce an oversight model for one central authority--something all reasonable stakeholders want and what this industry needs.

Achieving this would require the support and resources from The Jockey Club, the body most closely associated with preserving U.S. racing as the sport’s registrar and insists it conducts itself at the highest attainable level of integrity.

At its last Round Table Symposium at Saratoga, the Jockey Club announced an interest in possibly acquiring distressed racetrack properties as either a buyer or lessor of last resort.

But east of Louisiana and north of Florida lies the state of Georgia which is preparing for a vote in 2019 to legalize parimutuel racing.

At the same time, a group there led by Ken Reeves -- owner of 2013 BC Classic winner, Mucho Macho Man -- is promoting the construction of a state-of-the-art racing facility.

Does it strain the imagination to think that circumstances may converge whereby "preparation could meet opportunity?" Could the Jockey Club and a southern-based current non-racing state combine to form the basis of a unified sport for one day? How’s that for revolutionary?

By ensuring higher operating standards, more humane and consistently fair equine competition in a transparent, equitable and trustworthy fashion, it could inspire increased confidence and participation by both existing and new customers.

The first step toward accomplishing meaningful reform might be to offer a functional, transparent alternative to every existing example of incompetence and/or corrupt regulation that presently exists at some level in various states.

Old problems need new, original solutions. But would the Jockey Club dare use its registration clout to mandate change among the sport’s true power brokers, the breeders?

The success of Major League sports suggests that a single commission office overseeing all franchises at a championship defining event should be the most appropriate model.

With broad powers to define and enforce forward-thinking regulations and standards for its event, the Jockey Club could ensure that the Breeders’ Cup championships are comprehensively staffed and technologically equipped to monitor a cleaner game with uniform regulations.

Isn’t that in the best model for improving the breed—the charter by which they exist—and lead the sport toward a promising future? How could self-proclaimed caring breeders and horsemen object? On what basis? Fairness and firmness must become the new normal.

Obviously, this cannot happen in a vacuum. Some modification to the Interstate Horseracing Act would need to happen, stating that unique Jockey Club/Breeders’ Cup Consortium regulations must apply to a championship event and hopefully beyond.

In this “new world,” a league of racetracks could be formed leading up to racing’s defining moments. The new regulatory body could convince (compel?) league tracks to conform to rules closer to these new championship requirements. Extremely difficult? Yes, but not impossible.

The continuation of simulcasting approval by horsemen’s groups should no longer be allowed to dictate gambling or medication policies. The current power structure would be unthinkable under a championship-consortium model.

Does the Jockey Club have the will to flex its muscle to improve the breed in the long term? At stake is nothing less than the sport’s survival and future.

Reform can no longer be delayed in the face of the real threat posed by animal rights activists and changing attitudes about animals in general. There are extreme supporters on both sides; a standard must come from negotiated middle ground.

Women outnumber men in this country. By nature they are more nurturing and care deeply about animals. Racing needs women to accept the sport as a wholesome pastime in which equine athletes receive the very best care.

The continued use of raceday medication doesn’t allow for this; neither does the excessive use of punishing riding crops. And all this becomes a turn-off. The industry must decide if it wants to survive badly enough to make substantive change.

That road would be long, arduous and expensive. Someone needs to take the lead. Something old might survive and even grow if stakeholders have the will to change. We’ve heard the talk; someone needs to walk it.

Written by Indulto

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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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