"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, December 12, 2017

Prepping for Pegasus: Win, Lose or Post-Draw

LOS ANGELES, December 11, 2017—As I perused Santa Anita's recently released stakes schedule for its upcoming 2017-18 winter meet, one significant improvement jumped out at me:

The track will finally offer a handicap division race on opening day -- one of its three top attendance days, along with Santa Anita Handicap and Santa Anita Derby days.

It's never too soon to revive memories of racing's top competitors or to establish new rooting interests for subsequent stakes.

The vehicle will be the $300K G2 San Antonio Stakes which used to serve as a 9-furlong prep in February for the 10-furlong Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March.

Shortened to 8.5 furlongs last year, the San Antonio will now trade places with the $200,000 G2 San Pasqual that formerly preceded it in January.

The primary reason for the switch appears to be this prep's new target event, one held 3,000 miles away at another Stronach Group facility: the $16-million G1 Pegasus World Cup 32 days later at Gulfstream Park.

Pegasus preps at Gulfstream include the $100K 8.5-furlong G3 Harlan's Holiday and the $100K 9-furlong G3 Skip Away. The former is 6 weeks prior to the main event, the latter two weeks.

The San Antonio fits nicely in between them but two-week spacing through this progression of preps seems impossible by today's training standards; it's hard to imagine a serious Pegasus contender starting on two weeks rest.

The Gulfstream stakes schedule -- released well in advance of Santa Anita's -- also showed the $100K one mile G3 Hal's Hope moving to four weeks after the Hooper, with the $400K G2 Gulfstream Mile to Florida Derby Day five weeks later.

This three-race sequence of dirt miles offers an excellent opportunity to experiment with bonuses rewarding two or more placings in the series for horses competing in multiple legs. Bonus amounts would reflect number of legs started and orders of finish better than fifth.

This might be the best way to get good horses to face each other multiple times, creating rooting interests and divisional rivalries. One mile out of a chute supports full fields free of post-position bias, the pole position notwithstanding.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about the Pegasus which remains at 9 furlongs despite its short run to the first turn that severely compromises contestants breaking from outer post posts in full fields.

Since Big Brown won the 2008 Florida Derby, only one other horse has won a 9 furlong race from post 12 at Gulfstream Park.

Undaunted by that reality, it appears that this year's Pegasus could be far more contentious than the original. The possible novelty of five Classic runners taking on two Distaff rivals is an intriguing storyline.

Gun Runner undoubtedly will enter the starting gate as reigning Horse of the Year with an entourage of his four closest Classic pursuers: Collected, West Coast, War Story and Gunnevera.

The million-dollar entry fee is no obstacle for Charles Fipke’s Distaff- winning Forever Unbridled nor for her long-time rival, Stellar Wind.

And Forever Unbridled could be accompanied by her stablemate, G1 Clark-winning Seeking the Soul. Stellar Wind is expected to stay in training following her $8 million post-Breeders’ Cup purchase.

Cigar Mile winner Sharp Azteca is the seventh G1 winner expected to join the preceding nine probables.

Three more would be needed to fill the starting gate and fans could do worse than root for the G3 Native Diver winner Prime Attraction to enhance his resume in the San Antonio and join the Pegasus party.

To do so, however, likely would require Prime Attraction to defeat one or more Bob Baffert trainees also likely to be prepping for a date with destiny.

The Baffert contingent could include not only the duo denied by Gun Runner in the Del Mar stretch, but also dual Breeders’ Cup disappointments Mor Spirit and Cupid.

Multiple-horse entries always raises the specter of one horse serving as a “rabbit” for its late-running mates, even if only a Looney Tunes would put up a million bucks to see a bunny bug the hero.

The most intriguing aspect of the Pegasus concept remains the latitude afforded deep-pocketed owners to make deals on every side of the table providing 12 Thoroughbreds start.

All financial arrangements remain private among the principals. What could possibly go wrong amid all this uncoupled chaos?

It’s interesting to note that Toast of New York recently returned from a tendon injury and an unsuccessful stud career to win at Lingfield.

The connections of the 2014 Classic runner-up reportedly are considering the Pegasus, as are those of Giuseppe the Great, a Gulfstream allowance winner over the weekend.

One might describe Pegasus entries as closing with a rush off a snail's pace. Maybe it was the early disinterest which kept discussion about extending the Pegasus distance to a post-position friendly 1-3/16 miles.

If Gun Runner's or Forever Unbridled's fate winds up prematurely determined by their post-position draw, as was California Chrome's last year, Pegasus could trample itself in the shadow of its own towering image.

Written by Indulto

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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

Comments (17)


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

Comments (21)


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