To see a small sign of a profound change in thoroughbred racing, go to the Internet and visit www.compuraceinc.com.
This Web site--where viewers may see replays from races at various major tracks--is the brainchild of Frank and Fred Arrias of Las Vegas, who made their initial foray into the sport when they developed sophisticated race-replay kiosks used at the California tracks. Before the Arriases' innovation, fans who wanted to watch a past race had to ask an attendant to locate a cassette and put it into a videotape player. The newer kiosks are computerized, touch-screen operations that allow fans to obtain a replay almost instantly. But even as the Arriases changed the technology of replays, they were looking ahead to another step. "We envisioned going to the Internet," Frank Arrias said.
The CompuRace Web site has a backlog of races from the New York and California tracks, as well as Monmouth Park in New Jersey and Woodbine in Ontario. Arrias expects to have many more tracks on the roster soon. A user can click his mouse to indicate the races he wants, download them, watch them and (if he wishes) save them on a disk or his computer's hard drive for future reference. It's all free; Arrias said he expects that his revenue will come from advertising.
The video quality of CompuRace is acceptable--not as clear as television, but good enough for a serious handicapper to follow the action and make notes on the performance of the horses. The only serious drawback is the time needed to download the replays; on a computer with a 56K modem, it takes eight to 15 minutes to download a race. All this will change when cable companies start putting better lines into homes--a process that already has begun in various parts of the country. "With a cable modem," Arias said, "it will take a minute to download a race."
To children of the computer generation, CompuRace probably seems unremarkable. But to those of us who grew up in the dark ages, it is revolutionary. When I started going to the track, there were no instant replays. You got one chance to watch a race--live, through your binoculars. Replays were a godsend to horseplayers. You could see an immediate replay after the race was run, and if you came to the track early you could see a rerun of the previous day's card. In the mid-1980s, Laurel president Frank de Francis pioneered the use of replay centers at the track. At the same time, many tracks were putting race-replay shows on a local or regional sports station. Yet even today, horseplayers who want to view races at far-flung tracks will encounter numerous frustrations. A Marylander trying to follow Keeneland and Churchill Downs won't be able to find replays of races from the Kentucky tracks--not even on DirecTV. But the Internet will eventually fill in these gaps of information.
The increased availability of race replays is just one example of the information explosion in thoroughbred racing. Bettors can obtain more information more easily and cheaply about virtually every aspect of handicapping. When I wanted to study a racetrack--Churchill Downs, for example--I would buy one or two months of back issues of the Midwest regional edition of the Daily Racing Form. That was the only way to obtain the result charts from Churchill. But now the charts from almost every track are available, free, at www.equibase.com. To compile information about trainers, I used to maintain index cards on which I laboriously noted the circumstances under which a trainer scored each of his victories. Now many publications and on-line services make available voluminous statistics about trainers.
The result of all these changes is that a horseplayer can now play the game intelligently and efficiently without leaving his computer screen. I could suggest this viable strategy: Study the replays at the CompuRace Web site and the result charts at the Equibase site. Compile a list of horses to watch and enter them in the StableMail section of the Daily Racing Form site (www.drf2000.com).
This free service sends an e-mail notification when a horse on your list appears in the entries at any track. When one of your horses is entered, download the race from the Daily Racing Form or one of the many sites that offer past performances. If your horse appears to be in a good spot, bet him online with YouBet (www.youbet.com) and watch the race live at YouBet or at a racetrack's Web site.
In such an approach, one traditional ingredient is obviously missing; going to the track. Of course, even hard-core gamblers may attend the races because they enjoy the ambience and aesthetics. But if a track lacks such virtues, bettors may find little reason to leave their homes when they can find everything they need on their computer screens.