"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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Monday, June 25, 2018

Triple Crown Reform Rendered Unjustified

LOS ANGELES, June 25, 2018—In the week leading up to the Belmont Stakes, former NYRA CEO, Charles Hayward opined,
"… whatever the outcome, the Belmont Stakes, as the last leg of the Triple Crown at a mile and a half, has outlived its usefulness ...

… Whether there is a runner eligible for the Triple Crown going into the Belmont or not, the outcome of the race has been consistently disappointing.

… over the last two decades the quality of the Belmont field, as compared to the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, has been sorely lacking

... for the horses that do not win the Derby, their connections regroup and put together three-to-six-month plans for those who do not continue on the Triple Crown tour.

... the mile-and-a-half Belmont is a lone wolf - there is no other Grade 1 stake at that distance on the dirt in the U.S.

... no trainer in the U.S. under normal circumstances would run a horse at a mile and a quarter, a mile and three sixteenths and a mile and a half over five-week period.

... the current distances and race spacing are no longer consistent with current industry practices."

Following the well-attended running of the final TC leg, Bob Ehalt observed,
"… after six different horses won the next six Triple Crown races in 2016 and 2017 ... you wondered how long would it be before ... the clamor for change started anew.

Now, thanks to Justify, that notion of altering the series can be put to rest."

Indeed as long as the public continues to demonstrate its willingness to pay a premium to experience the proceedings in the manner it has twice in the last four years, the Belmont Stakes will continue to be conducted at what has become its traditional distance and spacing.

Whether or not any of the Hayward snippets reflect any truth or wisdom, his “lone wolf” characterization is totally under NYRA’s control.

The Association could easily move the Brooklyn Handicap to a point on the calendar conducive to the current year’s Belmont winner competing against older horses. It could also restore the Jockey Club Gold Cup to its former 12-furlong distance last won by Easy Goer in 1989.

By offering variable bonuses to top-four finishers in two or more of a series including its own 10-furlong minimum Graded I and II stakes along with the BC Classic, NYRA could raise the level of awareness, enthusiasm, and competition for Belmont Park’s signature contest conditions.

The latest Triple Crown winner not only shattered several shibboleths, he also set the stage for subsequent emulation of his preparation.

By eradicating the belief that any horse unraced at two could not win the Kentucky Derby, he ensured expansion of fields for sophomore preps, and conversely, contraction of them in juvenile preps; especially if the disparity in their point allocations continues.

But perhaps the currently undefeated three-year-old’s most significant impact on racing was the unprecedented focus on his interlocking ownership with several other TC candidates.

The illusion of collusion that flourished during the entire series, and culminated in the perception of deception that infected the Belmont Stakes, must be addressed if that final leg is to retain its significance.

What accounts for this recent proliferation of shares in multiple thoroughbreds among the wealthiest ownership entities in equine talent expected to compete at the highest level both on-track and in the breeding shed?

Has sportsmanship finally succumbed to profit-making as the primary motivating factor in all facets of racing? How can this latest manifestation of obfuscation be offset?

The surest way to rekindle controversy next year is to not restore the practice of coupling entries. Clearly the downside of uncoupled entries outweighs any perceived upside.

Horses with either the same ownership participation or stable affiliation should be coupled for betting purposes. Disqualification of any coupled entrant should disqualify all coupled with it relative to the fouled party. Any benefit to manipulators and abusers of uncoupled entries is derived at the direct expense of the betting public.

I disagree with those who believe the shenanigans that marred the running of the Belmont actually tarnished Justify's accomplishment; only the reputations of the interlocking connections took a hit.

What more proof is required that sportsmanship is in short supply than the post-race utterances by Mike Repole, after he took the baton from Steve Coburn and lowered the level of post-Belmont sour grapes.

The owner’s hypocritical reviling of the rider of his reality-challenged rabbit makes one wonder what he wouldn’t do to win.

David Grening reported,
’… Repole was also frustrated with jockey Javier Castellano, who rode Noble Indy for him and WinStar Farm; the latter also co-owns Justify. Repole said he and Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Noble Indy and Vino Rosso, instructed Castellano to make the lead.

Castellano said his horse broke slowly and hit the side of the gate. He said he tried to get the horse forwardly placed, but soon realized he wasn't going to be able to get ahead of Justify.

"He wanted me to be on the lead, but I didn’t have enough speed to get to the lead," Castellano said… "Javier opted to go to his plan B,” Pletcher said. “Mike and I didn’t discuss a plan B."

… "You get to run in this race one time in your life, you would expect to follow directions," Repole said. "He chose an audible, that doesn’t sit well with me. It’ll be awhile before you see Javier in the blue and orange silks."’

Yet when the intention to run Noble Indy in the Belmont was announced, Grening had written,
"Walden said he has discussed with Repole that Noble Indy would not be used to put pressure on Justify to aid the late-running Vino Rosso, whom Repole owns with Vinnie Viola.

"He’s not going to be used as a rabbit,” Walden said. “From that standpoint, Mike’s on board, I’m on board."

Perhaps the plan B discussion involved Elliott Walden.

The only thing that could conceivably diminish Justify’s achievement would be the continued orchestrated absence of competition going forward. Reputation solidification possible in future Grade I contests won't happen if later-developing rivals remain on the sidelines.

What's the likelihood Justify will ever face Audible again? Or the older West Coast for the first time? Will his connections risk ending his streak against determined rabbit-assisted entries? Would they really expose him to another Arrogate-like August apparition that might deny him the Travers and/or the BC Classic?

Following the Belmont, Hayward offered more useful commentary:

"A decade ago, the rule for coupling was very strict and it would have been likely the Baffert horses, and the Pletcher pair, would have been coupled at that time. It would even have been possible that all four horses could have been coupled together.

“The uncoupling of owner/trainer concerns has been largely driven by a desire to increase betting interest … it is essential that the stewards ... avoid perceived or real conflicts due to common interests."

Regardless of future accomplishments, Justify will be remembered for shining through both the machinations of insiders and the cynicism of outsiders, and preserving the Triple Crown as most prefer it--at least until the last baby boom horseplayer is laid to rest.

Written by Indulto

Comments (33)


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Counterpoint: Winning Races Should Qualify the Derby Entrants

LOS ANGELES, May 14, 2018—The fact that the heavens opened two years in succession to rain on the Kentucky Derby post parade -- and thrice since the reign of vindictive venue restriction began – might suggest to some that the cosmos has colluded with climate change to compromise the proceedings on Derby Day.

Even if a higher power isn't manifesting its displeasure, genuine concern would not be misplaced over what has arguably become a calendar-confining, creativity-crushing qualification process that imposes Churchill Downs’ concept of candidate correctness on all Derby starters.

By casting the road to the Kentucky Derby in concrete, with little accommodation for individual development and adversity, CDI may be guilty of competition constraint and career contraction among its equine campaigners.

The 144th “Run for the Roses” was the sixth time starter eligibility was determined through performances in a selected series of qualifying prep races with preference given to participation within six weeks of the main event.

No longer is eligibility based on total earnings accumulated in any combination of graded stakes races. While the latter had been independent of surface, distance, gender, and venue, the former removed turf routes, all sprints, all filly races, and certain tracks, from the equation.

Was it the success and popularity of the Kentucky Derby that emboldened the operators of the host track to usurp the power to dictate where and when runners could qualify for their race?

Or was it the determination of deep-pocketed owners to pursue their Derby dreams at almost any cost that encouraged CDI to take control of prep participation as well as the main event?

Among the eligibility inequities fans hoped would be eliminated by a new system based on points, was the effective guarantee of starting gate berths to top finishers in all the highest purse preps; some of which were seldom the source of commensurate talent; most egregiously the UAE and Sunland Derbies.

That “reform” never materialized, as CDI assigned excessive point awards to the same races, effectively making them “Win And You’re In” (WAYI) events; thereby lowering the significance of earlier preps -- even in combination -- due to the disparity in points each contributed to eligibility.

Ironically, the BC Juvenile became undervalued in the rush to reduce the relevance of races for two-year-olds.

Whatever their motivation and intent, CDI has created conditions which, in its first six years of implementation, have produced results too consistent to be considered coincidental:

1) Six consecutive Kentucky Derby-winning favorites.
2) All won a maximum points prep in its last start within 5 weeks of the Derby.
3) Three won the Florida Derby.
4) Two won the Santa Anita Derby
5) Jockey Victor Espinoza won twice
6) Trainer Bob Baffert won twice
7) Trainer Todd Pletcher qualified 21 starters including the winners of 4 Florida Derbies, 3 Wood Memorials, 2 Arkansas Derbies, 2 Louisiana Derbies, and 1 Blue Grass.

This year Pletcher engineered victories in 4 of the 7 maximum point preps; all the more impressive since he also managed to avoid running those he qualified against one another.

The flip side of Pletcher’s Derby prep successes, however, is that neither of his two Derby winners subsequently won a race, and only his Belmont winner, Palace Malice, won a Grade I stake against older horses. Incredibly, all three Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby doublers have also failed to win another race since 2013.

The obstacles created by 20-horse fields seldom deter the connections of less accomplished and/or talented performers from sacrificing their futures. Neither do they seem to have any difficulty ignoring the new reality dominated by race timing and significance reinforced annually by conditioners capable of exploiting them.

Is racing in North America sustainable with a handicap division devoid of accomplished and recognizable talent being squandered if not injured along the Triple Crown trail?

Like 2016, this year’s top three betting choices finished 1-2-3. While perpetual predictability produces popular winners, it precludes exciting upsets, and huge payoffs in many pools. That only last prep winners represent the real competition for Triple Crown aspirations under the new system is evident.

For example, the 2013 Florida Derby winner (Orb) went on to win the Kentucky Derby as the 2nd-ranked eligibility point earner. The runner-up (Itsmyluckyday) finished 15th in Louisville as the 12th-ranked qualifier.

Similarly, the 2018 Santa Anita Derby winner (Justify) won the Kentucky Derby as the 9th-ranked qualifier while the 7th-ranked runner-up (Bolt d’Oro) finished 12th, and the 26th-ranked outsider (Instilled Regard) finished 4th.

Note that in both races, the Superfecta included two horses exiting the same final prep; a pattern that has now repeated itself three times in succession.

Not only have the last prep also-rans in the above grid never won, they rarely reversed relative finish order with their fellow same last prep contestants unless trouble was a factor. Perhaps this phenomenon is due to the relative lack of incentive to attempt qualification earlier than March with so few points attainable from September through February.

Perhaps Derby fields could be strengthened by a) ensuring that such also-rans are eligible only if they're also earlier prep winners, and b) not forcing multiple early prep winners to continue developing and maintaining their fitness in qualifying races alone.

Trainers still need distance, spacing, and surface options to adjust for individuality, injury, or inclement weather.

One might wonder whether we’ll ever see another fascinating upset featuring a frantic stretch run like Mine That Bird’s in the mud, or a brilliant speed display like Secretariat’s in the sunshine as he lowered the track record by running successively faster quarters. Neither won their last prep race, and both qualified on the strength of their campaigns as two-year-olds.

In my opinion, the currency of eligibility should not be earnings or points, but victories. Derby starters should be preferred by total wins in qualified preps. Such races should be increased in number, and their significance distributed more equitably over the eight months preceding the Derby.

A horse incapable of winning at least one prep probably doesn’t belong in the Derby, but winning only one prep should not guarantee a starting berth. Points tiers would still be useful in ranking horses within each victory total level, but too great a differential between them would not support a preference based on win total.

Hopefully, Churchil Downs will consider the following changes:

1) Retain, but modify three tiers awarding 100, 50, and 10 points to winners (PTW), respectively, to 50, 40, and 30, so that any two wins would be worth more than any one of them.
2) Assign higher tiers to certain Juvenile races: 50 PTW for the BC Juvenile, and 40 for the Champagne, Breeders’ Futurity, Frontrunner, and Los Alamitos Futurity.
3) Award points only to top-four finishers who beat at least four horses
4) Add potentially high-quality opportunities to win a prep, e.g., the BC Juvenile Turf, Illinois Derby, and Frederico Tessio,with 40 PTW.
5) Either reserve the rail post in 20-horse fields for the starter with the lowest eligibility point total, or else draw for it first among the group with the lowest win total.

As Vince Lombardi is often quoted, "Winning isn’t everything; it's the only thing."

Written by John Pricci

Comments (4)


Thursday, April 05, 2018

Will Keeneland’s Incremental Takeout Rollback Result in Handle Uptick?

With the opening of Keeneland’s spring 2018 meet tomorrow, racing industry observers will begin keeping a close watch on the extent to which its management has succeeded in rebuilding the track’s once fan-friendly image.

In February, the track announced it would lower takeout rates in some wagering pools. Great news, right?

Well, for many of us, not so much because this sudden "largesse" follows their infamous takeout increase in all pools but one at the fall 2017 meet.

Last year, Matt Hegarty reported, "Keeneland … will raise its takeout ... from 16 percent to 17.5 percent on win, place, and show wagers and from 19 percent to 22 percent on all other bets ..."

This year, he wrote, "Takeout rates on win, place, and show wagers will be reduced from 17.5 percent to 16 percent, the rate that preceded the increase. ... On exactas ... from 22 percent to 19.5 percent ... higher than the rate prior to the increase…

“All other takeouts on exotic wagers ... will remain 22 percent ... the pick five will remain at 15 percent … lowered last year with the takeout increases in several other pools…

“When Keeneland raised its takeout rates, it split the extra revenue from the increases with host sites. Most host sites that award rebates to their biggest customers then increased the size of the awards so that rebated players did not play against the full increase in the takeout rates."

So, then, the bottom line here is that exotic wagers, which offer small bankroll bettors, minnows, the biggest bang for their buck, remain at the higher rate.

But the resultant squeeze on the profitability of those wagers, however, doesn't affect big-bankroll bettors, whales, because they are subsidized with a rebated percentage of their wagers.

Win or lose -- that keeps their EFFECTIVE takeout rate at a much lower level.

The main advantage of this subsidy is derived from the strategy of accumulating significant profits as tax-free--unreported rebates despite varying degrees of break-even, minimal losses or gains on pari-mutuel payoffs.

Only a tiny, well-informed subset of the non-rebated majority of bettors can show a profit from straight bets; the more-predictable but lower-payoff option.

Minnows have a much better chance for a big day with the most popular and affordable exotic wagers; exactas, trifectas, superfectas, doubles, Pick 3s and Pick 4s. Only now the whales' advantage in those pools is even more pronounced.

Hegarty also pointed out that "Keeneland’s reputation as a fan-friendly venue was significantly tarnished by the decision, with players complaining that the racetrack had betrayed one of its core constituencies."

Indeed, the number of recreational players who boycotted the fall meet was sufficient to reduce handle by 8.5% even as the privileged rebatees continued on their predatory path to profits.

Although the decline in handle did not decrease Keeneland’s revenue from the increased takeout rates, the improved handle at other racetracks indicated that Keeneland missed out on the initial boon attributed to the tax law changes.

Is there any doubt that, as a result of the increase, Keeneland lost considerable business to its competitors?

Whatever the motivation, it was enough to make Keeneland have second thoughts about having sacrificed its fan-friendly brand.

By offering an insignificant rollback in rates that still victimizes 90% of players, who now contribute only 10-20% of handle, they managed to convince some horseplayer advocates into thinking their resistance produced meaningful results.

Gaining advocate support to repair its image was a shrewd move, but DON’T BE FOOLED! The figures above show that rank and file customers are the ones still bearing the brunt of Keeneland’s raised rates.

Indeed the game that many of us found so intriguingly entertaining through the millennium has been turned inside-out by simulcasting into a series of parallel puzzles where robots handicap people handicapping horses; rendering the toteboard useless to the latter.

The net result may be, in a fashion, that money is being laundered more than exchanged.

Keeneland is not the only provider of welfare for whales, but it is the ideal place for recreational bettors to start regaining equal opportunity for financial success. Their recent walk-back backtracking is a sign of weakness that should be exploited.

The nature of Keeneland’s short meetings doesn’t allow them to wait for a weakening of our resolve. Getting the playing field leveled has to be the customer’s top priority.

It’s not about takeout per se; it’s about EFFECTIVE takeout rates. High rebates for all should be the new mantra. Isn’t loyalty also based on how many gambling sessions a customer makes?

Shouldn’t rebates be also about how often a customer supports the game, and not just how much he wagers?

Written by Indulto

Comments (6)


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