"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.

Most recent entries

Monthly Archives


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), is asking horseplayers to join us in sending a clear message by not betting one track -- Keeneland -- for one month -- October, 2017…

“ 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 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 "… 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?

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:

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

Written by Indulto

Comments (66)


Thursday, June 15, 2017

RITVO: “…Give them a level playing field…”

LOS ANGELES, June 14, 2017--Like the sun, Tim Ritvo has been dispatched from the East by a force of nature to try and brighten Santa Anita’s prospects for survival. Santa Anita is, after all, one jewel in The Stronach Group's crown that in recent years has become tarnished.

Current COO and chief troubleshooter Ritvo has given several interviews in which the primary theme was that the property is "under-performing" relative to its value.

Prior to last weekend, Ritvo used those forums to outline potential areas for changes as to how horsemen might handle their business in order to achieve better results for all.

On Belmont Stakes Day, however, he appeared on the Roger Stein Show and said some of the things many horseplayers have been saying for years, waiting only for track operators to act on their concerns.

"The customer, the player, they're the economic engine. When they stop playing, when they stop coming, racing will cease to exist. So we need to do everything we can to give them a level playing field with the highest level of integrity, and good betting platforms or field sizes, and [friendly] wagering platforms.

“We gotta be creative and we gotta give them what they want. It comes down to supply and demand. Bottom line is there's a bunch of signals out there every single day. The tracks that do the best job will
get the handle…"

"[Takeout] definitely has to be reduced ….

Anybody who has any brains knows that you cannot churn at 20% day in and day out and still survive."

His remarks on live radio were not always clear nor comprehensive enough, but hopefully he will expand on those issues in future comments:

"There are a majority of [higher end customers] people that are getting really good rebates… those rebates have to be reduced at some portion, [given] to the main population...

“The bottom line is that if the rebated customer continues just to play against the rebated customer, and the everyday customer goes away, they're going to struggle too.

"Who [are they] really playing against?

"Just reducing takeout and not adjusting rebates properly to the higher end customer [is problematic]...

“One guy's playing at 26% and another guy might be playing at 18% because he's such a big player and a higher rebated customer. Maybe that margin shouldn't be that much. Maybe both of them have to give a little...

“The right number, someday, if we should ever get there, will be 12 to 14% overall… You're taking out half your revenue not sure if the growth will be there...

“We're looking at rebated customers, compared to non-rebated customers, and high roller customers, and trying to come up with a formula."

The "level playing field" remark was music to my ears but subsequent statements suggest that he and I may not be on the same page.

Doesn’t “level playing field” suggest that the rate of return on a wager is the same regardless of the amount wagered amount, or who’s placing it?

That’s the way it was pre-simulcasting, and still is for casino games, comps notwithstanding. The opportunity for profit should be equal for all players and all bankroll sizes.

Ritvo likened rebates to discounts on larger purchases. In reality, however, they are not simply a lower-priced ticket but rather a subsidy for high-volume bettors that is paid out on every wager whether or not it generates a pari-mutuel payoff.

One wonders how bankroll-challenged bettors can expect to compete successfully with professionals and high-rollers without equal rewards for their participation. It's the reason why higher takeout rates, coupled with rebates, amounts to regressive taxation.

Of course, the answer is they can’t and today’s potential new recruits, who may be underfunded, are too savvy to embrace the game under prevailing conditions.

If Ritvo really means what he said about leveling the playing field, he has two options, which may or may not qualify as fantasy:

Either give equal rebates to everybody who wants them, either on-line or at any brick-and-mortar facility, or eliminate rebates entirely and schedule to lower takeout rates on a timetable to his suggested 12-14% levels in every qualifying parimutuel pool.

What’s the worst that could happen if everybody got the same rebate? The existing rebated players represent a small minority of players who supply the vast majority of handle. That’s unlikely to change, given their technological advantage.

Among all players, however, more churning and profit-generating will occur; it always has. Profitable recreational players could be promoted as evidence that the chances of winning have been enhanced, improved.

The influx of new players and the return of previously disenchanted veterans would then become a reasonable expectation.

Like purses, takeout for pools in any given race could vary according to field size and projected total accumulated handle. Optimal combinations of purses, takeouts, and handle are possible when large competitive fields create attractive betting opportunities.

Parenthetically, why do Stronach Group tracks like Gulfstream, Pimlico, and Laurel offer 50-Cent minimum Trifectas and Pick Threes, while Santa Anita and Golden Gate do not? Betting menus are also part of this equation.

Even Del Mar offered 50-Cent Trifectas in California temporarily. Why does Gulfstream offer a twenty-cent minimum Jackpot Pick Six while Santa Anita holds the line at two dollars for the same wager?

Field size relates to other pools as well. A Dime Super player is also the 50-Cent Trifecta player. When scratches eliminate the Superfecta in a race, they don’t suddenly become candidates for dollar minimum Trifectas, do they?

A similar situation exists with Pick Threes. A player who loses the first leg of a 50-Cent Pick Four is not as likely to pursue the follow-up Pick Three at a dollar minimum as he would if 50-Cent Pick Threes were available.

As for the integrity issue, it has reached critical mass and is a strong reason why newbies have stayed away the game and why oldies from straying from it.

Also, there are the highly questionable stewards’ calls, ineffective race-conditions, abuse of stall allocations, lack of transparency, failure to provide accurate entry information, etc., etc. And many of these issues were on parade this weekend at Santa Anita, right under Ritvo’s nose.

If his olfactory senses ignore the aromatics, a repeat of his East Coast successes doesn’t seem likely. But I won't be betting against Ritvo. If anything, I think last weekend’s events will light a fire under him instead.

Written by Indulto

Comments (46)


Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Graded Stakes Committee on the Downgrade

Not only did the downgrading of two former Grade I Triple Crown preps by the American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC) dominate discussion of their graded stakes list for 2017 this winter, it has been the talk of the industry since and diverted deserved attention away from the committee’s failure to reduce the total number of graded stakes, as was expected.

According to the group’s spokesman, Andy Schweigardt, “… the time is right to begin reducing the number of graded races in the U.S. [given] the sharp decline in the foal crop from 2007-12 and a comparable decline in the number of races held in recent years…

"These races are getting harder and harder to fill and that’s because there just aren’t the horses to fill them... So we’re going to look at the total number of Grade 1s and try to make that number commensurate with the number of horses in inventory..."

"The committee is likely to start trimming the number of Grade 1 races this year and will then seek to trim Grade 2 and Grade 3 races from the roster in subsequent years. It’s not going to happen in one fell swoop ... "’

So the graded stakes total for this year remains at 464. Although there are two fewer G1s at 107, and five fewer G2s at 128, there are now seven more G3s at 229.

Schweigardt further indicated that the committee wished to work from the top down in a process that will take years to complete.

The “one fell swoop” Shakespearean reference became a self-fulfilling prophecy. More of a "foul swipe," the committee took a slice out of traditional fixtures by "hacking off" a pair of G1s that fuel enthusiasm for the sport via nationwide telecasts.

In our opinion, the action that downgraded the storied Blue Grass Stakes and Wood Memorial was disrespectful of racing’s history and traditions. Worse, it affirms a lack of common sense.

Field size for 2016’s G1 Triple Crown preps were 12 at Gulfstream Park, eight for the Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial, and 10 for the Arkansas Derby. If field size was a legitimate issue, why was the Blue Grass penalized after attracting 14 runners?

Or for that matter, the Wood, which matched the number of starters at Santa Anita, the base of recent Kentucky Derby winners, but not their Derby itself. And since when did eight become a low number, anyway? It can’t always be about handle.

In fact, the Mother Goose was the only one of 39 G1s downgraded that featured a field with seven starters or less.

No races, with two notable exceptions, assigned G1 or G2 status will actually go away. The real candidates for extinction should the plethora of G3s that mean little in the big picture, bold print on a catalogue page notwithstanding.

Too many of them existed even before the committee downgraded the stock on seven Grade 2s.

Whichever G1s survive should be worthy of focused attention whenever and wherever they are renewed; a celebration of America’s best racing to be enjoyed with its fan base.

Unfortunately, national stakes scheduling doesn’t allow for proper focus on those most worthy. Instead they are too frequently combined on single cards or are in conflict across disparate venues.

Of the 45 days in 2016 when at least one G1 was scheduled, there were 25 days on which two or more G1s were scheduled; 12 of them involved two racetracks, and two of those at a third track as well.

Santa Anita carded two or more G1s on the same day 8 times (includes both Breeders’ Cup days), Belmont Park four times and Saratoga thrice. Churchill and Keeneland had two such days and Arlington, Aqueduct, Del Mar, and Gulfstream once each, a total of 23 multiple-stakes cards.

Further, consider that there were 11 days on which three or more Grade 1s were carded and eight cards with two Grade 1s, including two Breeders’ Cup prep "Super Saturdays."

The 7-Grade 1 day was the result of three major Triple Crown prep days created last year when Keeneland moved the Blue Grass up one week. Despite the conflict with the Wood and Santa Anita Derby, it attracted a field almost as large as the other two combined.

Aqueduct’s spring stakes schedule has the newly downgraded Wood still competing for starters on the same day as two other major preps but will do so with a 25% purse reduction.

If targeting Grade 1 excess on "Big Days" has become the AGSC’s strategy for the future, then NYRA is wearing a bulls-eye with the clustering of its 36 Grade 1 events at the expense of other weekend opportunities.

Saratoga hosted 16 Grade 1s at its 7-weekend race meet. Why couldn’t one G1 have been run each Saturday and Sunday and on the closing holiday Monday? Belmont hosted 17 Grade 1s during its 11-week summer meet and its 7-week fall meet.

Belmont day used up six Grade 1s, excluding two "Super Saturdays" that carded seven Grade 1s between them, leaving only four for the remaining 16 weekends of racing.

Parenthetically, NYRA capped attendance for both of its six-Grade 1 days, featuring the Belmont Stakes and Travers. The logic behind keeping their core customers away from one-third of their Grade 1 schedule continues to elude me.

Of California’s 30 non-Breeders’ Cup Grade 1s, 19 were run at Santa Anita in 12 days, eight at Del Mar in 7 days and two at Los Alamitos in one day. Santa Anita gets away with purses of only $300k for each of 4 Grade 1s on its first "Super Saturday." Attendance was sub-par, too.

Not surprisingly, the race-rating arm of the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Associations has preserved the status quo for the benefit of commercial breeders, not racing’s customers.

Graded stakes excess hurts overall competition which has a negative impact on creating greater interest and increased handle.

The wisdom of scheduling more than one Grade 1 race on a single card also escapes me. Surely 94 non-Breeders’ Cup Grade 1s could be distributed more equitably across additional Saturdays, Sundays, Filly Fridays and holidays.

Why not reduce the number of graded stakes across all levels by 20% by 2018 without favoring any particular venue or region by focusing on the divisions themselves?

Start by looking at the 12 non-BC Grade 1s restricted to two-year-olds which in 2016 featured seven races with seven or fewer starters. They might also consider the five G1 turf routes and four G1 dirt sprints restricted to 3-year-olds. Those 21 races alone represent 19.6% of the glut of Grade 1s.

The spotlight of racing shines longest on the final 10 weeks of the Triple Crown trail. In my opinion, that should never have been tampered with. Still, four representatives from five Grade 1 venues stood by and let it happen.

As for the Blue Grass and Wood under-performing in recent years in terms of being winning stepping stones, aren’t preps by their very nature and the random nature of things by definition cyclical?

If, hypothetically, McCraken were to win the Blue Grass, remain undefeated and become the Kentucky Derby favorite, how would a Derby loss reflect poorly on a Derby prep run hard by this country’s most famous Thoroughbred nurseries?

And what if Battalion Runner goes out and wins the Wood in the same impressive manner his stablemate took the Florida Derby? He becomes a single-digit-odds Derby player but then is defeated. Didn’t the Wood do its job by getting him there in high-profile style?

Does that mean the Wood--which produced two of the 1970’s three Triple Crown winners—is no longer deserving to be New York’s Grade 1 three-year-old spring showcase? Aren’t New York fans deserving of a spring championship event?

Maybe the next time the Four Horsemen of Racing’s Apocalypse appear under the same roof they should focus on creating a cohesive national stakes schedule that produces the constructive results they seek.

Events such as the Blue Grass and Wood have more than enough history to stand alone and not be viewed through a narrow Kentucky Derby prism. If the foal crop were to drop below 20,000 or somehow reach 35,000 again, there still will be only one Kentucky Derby hero left standing.

LOS ANGELES, April 3, 2017

Written by Indulto

Comments (18)


Page 3 of 33 pages « FirstP  <  1 2 3 4 5 >  Last »