- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Back in the day, thoroughbred trainer Bob Holthus would call each of his clients on Sunday to save on long-distance charges. The owners would get updates from Holthus on their horses’ activity from the previous week and when the next scheduled race would be.

Those days are gone.

Now his clients occasionally know the official time of a workout before he does. His clients offer suggestions on which tracks to run because they have watched replays on the Internet. His clients “are more involved,” Holthus admits.

“I’m not saying if it’s good or bad, but it sometimes make a trainer’s life more hectic,” he said. “It’s something we’ve had to adjust to.”

Everybody in horse racing has had to adjust. Heading into Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, the serious horse player already has past performances printed out, has watched the prep races and the Kentucky Derby more than once via a high-speed Internet connection and has glanced at the workout times of the horses that didn’t race in the Derby but will run Saturday.

“The biggest thing between 1987 and 2007 is the amount of information that is readily available to anybody that owns a horse, from the times of the works being instantly e-mailed out to the watching replays of the races,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “The Internet has changed everything.”

Although the sites are of varying quality, every major track in the United States has its own home page.

Yesterday, a visit to Pimlico Race Course’s official Web site — www.pimlico.com — offered several avenues to pursue.

A click on “Wagering” directs the visitor to Xpressbet.com, where the horse player can wager on events at 21 different thoroughbred/harness tracks worldwide, starting with the Philadelphia Park card at 12:25 p.m. and ending with the Australia B at 10:23 p.m.

The tabs labeled “Entries” and “Results” provide the race charts from last weekend’s action and the lineups for the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday cards.

Finally, a click on “Audio/Video” redirects the visitor to Xpressbet’s video service, which streams race replays from 11 tracks for $10.99.

The advancements in video replay have allowed jockeys, trainers and owners to size up the competition before big races.

Maryland-based rider Mario Pino, who rode Hard Spun to a second-place finish at the Kentucky Derby, spent hours leading up to the Derby watching all of the key prep races on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s home page (www.ntra.com). Trainers can watch allowance and maiden races at other tracks to finalize where and when to race a horse. And owners can scour cyberspace looking for their next big purchase and keep up with their current horses-in-training.

Several top trainers, including Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, have their own Web sites.

Pletcher’s site — toddpletcherracing.com — has entry, result and workout information for all 200 horses in his barn. A trip around his site yesterday showed that 21 of his horses had morning workouts at four race tracks.

Former trainer Elliott Walden, now vice president and racing manager for WinStar Farm, said the Internet and cell phones have allowed trainers to have super-sized stables.

“Using Todd as an example, he would not be able to have 200 horses if he did a bad job, and trainers now are a product of how much they can do a good job with,” Walden said. “The Internet and cell phones have enabled him to do a good job with more horses. He doesn’t need to call owners and tell them how the horse worked. They know the information almost as soon as the horse gets off the track. That allows him more time to think about more horses.”

Pletcher’s Web site doesn’t feature workout videos, but when cable network TVG introduced its show, “The Works,” several years ago, the buzz was instant. Owners would watch their horses practice on live television. They knew how far they were running, how long it took them to finish the work and what commentators like Amoss thought about the performance. TVG didn’t broadcast workouts from Churchill Downs this year because of a contract dispute.

“That show changed things,” Amoss said. “We were analyzing the works as they happened on television, and I would get feedback from trainers who said, ‘You didn’t talk well about my horse, and my phone started ringing five minutes later.’ Being critiqued by a lot of different people can add pressure to a trainer.”

Those horses are running for higher purses at several tracks because of the introduction of slot machines. But online gambling also has had a positive effect.

In addition to Xpressbet, horse players can gamble at Youbet.com, Bodog.com and Interbets.com, and recently Churchill Downs Inc. introduced Twinspires.com, an online wagering service that includes races from Churchill, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. Players can wager on the Internet or by phone, and nearly 100,000 transactions were handled on Derby Weekend.

Youbet, whose advertisements were displayed prominently throughout Churchill Downs during Derby Week, reported $35 million in first-quarter revenues, an increase of 26 percent from last year, according to the Daily Racing Form. Their net income of $1.59 million was up 17 percent.

If they choose to attend the race in person, owners have become more involved in the on-track aspects of the horse, which is fine with Bill Kaplan, a former horse owner who trained two Kentucky Derby starters earlier this month.

“They’re more up on what the horses do on a daily basis,” he said. “It doesn’t change my training, but the owners are a bigger part of things, and I’m big on that.

“I won’t put a horse into the race without talking to the owners about it — I want them involved. Owning horses is a tough way to make some money, and if they’re not enjoying it, they’re not going to stay in the game.”

Computers also have made some enthusiasts think they know more about the sport than they actually do.

Lukas said an individual approached him days after the Lexington Stakes, which Lukas’ horse, Starbase, lost by 3½ lengths.

“The guy said my horse ran 33½ feet further than the winner,” Lukas said. “He had this computer that figured things like that out, and he made sure to tell me that if my horse had a better trip, we would have been the winner. I said that was encouraging and told him to send it to Keeneland to see if they could send me the winner’s check.”

Despite the advancements to make information more available, Kentucky- and New York-based trainer Chuck Simon, a diehard baseball fan, said the sport can learn from Major League Baseball’s online nerve center, which has links to every team.

“The industry has done a weak job utilizing the technology,” Simon said. “Everything has been done individually instead of collectively. Baseball has its own Web site, and you can access every team’s page from that site and do it easily and also get game times, statistics, highlights — everything. Here, some tracks show their videos; other tracks require signing up. It’s so muddled. We haven’t put our best foot forward.”

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