"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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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)


Monday, February 06, 2017

Pegasus: Counterpoint

LOS ANGELES, February 5, 2017 – The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic ended the two-day event on an unprecedented high note with the face-off between Arrogate and California Chrome and extending the thrills generated by the showdown between Beholder and Songbird the previous day.

The best faced the best and all the star performers actually gave their best when asked for it. It was Thoroughbred Theater at its best.

Fans were left thirsting for more of the same and Frank Stronach’s Pegasus stood poised to deliver the remunerative rematch designed to divert would-be stallions from lucrative liaisons.

The confrontation was expected to exhibit not only equine excellence but an entertaining clash of cultures and providing a mixture of motives and machinations among the connections.

Executed in the shadow of the enormous extravagance that enshrines Stronach’s love of all things equine, an enthusiastic elite embraced elevated attendance expenses which begs a question:

Can excessive pricing be expected to rekindle interest in Thoroughbred racing?

The event was well-promoted, albeit narrowly targeted, including a self-financed network telecast. Avid horseplayers anticipated attractive betting opportunities among an ample supply of undercard stakes, including a final Pick Four with 12 horses per leg and preceded by a maiden race with 14 runners to begin a second Pick Five.

Although the weather in the Sunshine State lived up to its billing, the rematch of Eclipse Award winners did not. While the consistent brilliance of Arrogate continued to be confirmed, the familiar quickness and stamina of two-time Horse-of-the Year, California Chrome, failed to materialize in his final on-track appearance.

Post-race reports from Chrome’s connections indicated the horse sustained an injury to its knee.

While some may be willing to write off that result to misfortune, it could be argued that the conditions of the race were indirect contributors given the extraordinary influence of an enormous entry fee and purse to the winner.

As misfortune had it, Chrome was stranded in the outside post in a full field with ample early speed inside him to overcome a position so close to the first turn.

Indeed it would have unfairly penalized any entrant unlucky enough to draw it, with the possible exception of a deep closer.

Under different circumstances the horse might have been scratched to run another day rather than face such a proven obstacle as well as a freakishly talented rival.

But there would be no refund for the million-dollar entry fee so, counter to the animal’s best interests, Chrome started as planned.

We’ll never know for certain how or when the alleged injury occurred. Maybe it was it during the all-or-nothing-at-all run to the first turn but perhaps a predisposing weakness developed earlier, even if his local workouts were counter-indications that nothing was amiss.

Dreams and Schemes and Circus Crowds

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it seems reasonable to challenge the wisdom of Chrome’s paid workout at Los Alamitos against far inferior opposition and ask why he was put in a position to break a track record while extremely wide all the way around.

Why subject the animal’s bones to stress for a winner’s share of $50,000 when the main objective was a share 140 times greater? One possible answer is the increased value of a track record on his stallion resume.

“Thank you Los Al” came off as a hard sell to us.

Personally, the running of the Pegasus World Cup left a familiar bad taste in my mouth. To me, it Big Brown’s Belmont redux, or Looking at Lucky’s Kentucky Derby disaster.

While the heralded co-headliner that was expected to win actually did, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was Chrome’s connections that compromised him most.

‘To say "I [pick] you" right out loud’

One of the surprises was Neolithic’s third place finish at 23-1 just ahead of his 16-1 stablemate Keen Ice, whom I had considered to be the unintended beneficiary of the former’s early speed as they are owned by separate interests.

Another was Breaking Lucky’s odds of 70-1 following his Grade 1 placing in the Clark compared to 20-1 for his established rival, Shaman Ghost, who had finished third in the same race. The former became my focus but he failed to fire, finishing eighth while the latter finished second for the event’s creator.

“I’ve looked at [luck] from both sides now”

At the end of the day, several developments were clear:
A. The wagering total exceeded $40M with half bet on the PWG.
B. A great horse gave a great performance.
C. The rich got richer.
D. The foolish got fleeced.
E. The event was declared a phenomenal success, at least by the connections of the top two finishers, and -- too often – by a fawning media.

In my opinion, the Pegasus model has yet to prove its viability for the future. It succeeded this year because:
1) The best thoroughbred since Secretariat was able to participate.
2) The most beloved horse in America was able to participate.
3) There were no scheduling conflicts to divert eligible participants.
4) Novelty has its own appeal.
5) The driving force behind it, the most influential individual in racing, was able to marshal all the necessary ancillary resources and was given the benefit of the doubt by deep-pocketed, curious risk-takers.

Fundamental flaws in funding and fairness which had been identified beforehand will require correction before the risk-takers ante-up again. Consequently, the distance of the race at Gulfstream Park will likely be expanded to 9.5 furlongs, and the purse distribution more variably tied to order of finish.

If Arrogate remains available for next year’s renewal, doesn’t his presence virtually take the top prize off the table? Will 11 other “investors” still be willing to risk $1 million for possible representation of some other 99-1 shot?

Written by John Pricci

Comments (3)


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