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Today's Horseplayer Is Online, Not on Rail

By Andrew Beyer

Saturday, July 3, 1999; Page D09 

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
Arrias's 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 and Woodbine. 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 has
already begun in various parts of the country. "With a cable modem,"
Arrias 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, 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
eventually will 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 remote 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 online 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. 



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