12/29/2006 12:00AM

Blog becomes the source for Barbaro


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Alex Brown launched a website for Fair Hill trainer Tim Woolley two years ago, he saw the project as a way to distribute stable information to clients and advertise Woolley's business. But the site, www.timwoolleyracing.com, became something altogether different on May 21.

That was the day Barbaro, a Fair Hill resident, underwent surgery at the nearby University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center to repair multiple fractures in his right hind leg. Brown, a freelance exercise rider for Woolley at Fair Hill and an internet marketing instructor at the University of Delaware, suddenly found himself in the perfect position to provide updates and background information on Barbaro. In the months since, the website, which started as a small training establishment's blog, has become an indispensable resource for Barbaro fans, and Brown, 42, also has become one of Barbaro's caretakers.

Brown estimates that before the Barbaro watch began, the Tim Woolley website averaged about six hits a day. Then Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby and trainer Michael Matz prepared him for the Preakness by bringing him to Fair Hill, where Brown, galloping by every morning, had a perfect view of Barbaro's training preparations. His Barbaro notes and Google ads advertising them helped build the traffic to about 120 hits a day by the Preakness. When Barbaro broke down in the race on May 20, Brown said: "I presumed that was it. Obviously, Barbaro was clearly in jeopardy. I didn't want to continue the Web site stuff, because I didn't want to be seen as exploiting the situation."

But then Brown logged on to check the Woolley site's traffic, and he found the beginning of a trend.

"I could see through the stats that we had a lot of people who were desperately seeking information about Barbaro," he said. "We were getting a lot of traffic coming from Fair Hill's site, and what I assumed was that people were Googling and going for anything they could find."

When a Fair Hill veterinarian and friend called Brown at about 7:30 p.m. on May 21 to let him know Barbaro was out of surgery and in the recovery pool, Brown decided to post the update.

"We got 3,000 visits and the site crashed," Brown said.

Needless to say, Brown got the site up and running again. Timwoolleyracing.com now provides daily updates on Barbaro's recovery, and, after peaking at about 15,000 daily hits in the summer, the site now gets between 7,000 and 8,000 hits a day.

Brown posts the regular press releases the New Bolton Center issues and also provides links to other media coverage, giving the self-described "Barbaromaniacs" a clearinghouse of articles from around the nation and sometimes beyond. He's also begun providing articles on everything from synthetic racing surfaces to the attempt to ban equine slaughter. Most important to his readers, though, are the first-person updates he provides from his own visits to New Bolton and the information he gleans from conversations with Barbaro's co-owner Gretchen Jackson, trainer Matz, exercise rider Peter Brette, and surgeon Dr. Dean Richardson.

For Brown, the best thing to come from his experience as Barbaro's webmaster is a chance to get to know Barbaro himself. Brown has visited Barbaro in New Bolton's intensive care unit six times. Now that Matz and Brette are in Florida for the winter, Brown has been deputized to hand-walk and groom Barbaro when Roy and Gretchen Jackson's farm manager is unable to do it.

"I love it," Brown said. "On Christmas day, I had him outside for about 45 minutes, just me and him, hanging out. It was cool. I can't deny it: I wouldn't trade that for anything. The routine now when I go and help out is go into the ICU, clean him up - you know, groom him - and take him out for about 45 minutes, of which he'll walk for five minutes and hand-graze the rest of the time. Then I bring him back in and groom him again, tidy him up. It's brilliant.

"He has so much charisma and brilliance, you know you're in the company of something special," Brown said.

Barretts January mixed sale

Barretts has cataloged 580 horses at its January mixed sale on Jan. 22-23 at Fairplex Park in Pomona, Calif. The catalog features dispersals by Granja Vista Del Rio, the estate of Jack Grossman, Edward Nahem, and Pepper Oaks Farm's commercial operation.

The sale will offer 72 horses of racing age, including Granja Vista Del Rio's Selvatica, a three-time stakes winner with $219,720 in earnings; 161 yearlings; 126 juveniles; and 216 broodmares.

The auction is set to begin each day at 11 a.m.