01/16/2002 1:00AM

Using the Internet to help fill in the gaps

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Are you frustrated with being unable to watch Gulfstream and Santa Anita on Television Games Network this winter? Join the club.

There is, however, a solution - not perfect, but adequate. Thanks to the Internet, racing can be viewed from your home or work computer. The quality isn't nearly as good as regular television, and the picture size is small, but at least the Internet presents an opportunity to view the highest class of winter racing. To me, it's far more appealing than watching an insignificant race from a low-level track on television.

For those unfamiliar with viewing video over the Internet, it's important to realize that it comes over almost like a fast slide show. It's jumpy, and the video seems to pause every second or so. But combined with a clear audio feed, viewers can get a decent feel for what is happening in a race. It's not television, but it's better than nothing.

There are even aspects of it that I prefer over watching races on TVG. The video is the simulcast feed from the track; so odds and probable exotic payoffs are regularly on screen. Additionally, you get access to the track paddock hosts - whom by the way are very good at Santa Anita and Gulfstream.

If your computer has adequate memory, you can watch the feed while simultaneously working on another computer program. For example, you could be watching the feature from Gulfstream while at the same time typing a letter to your boss, requesting a raise. (I don't necessarily recommend this. It's just a thought.)

One thing to keep in mind if you want to watch races on the Internet - it works best with high-memory computers with cable or DSL modems. A dial-up connection is pitifully slow and frustrating.

This week, I fiddled with various track websites, testing their online services. I found Gulfstream's video to be above average - so I kept their signal up all afternoon. I had one eye on my computer, and the other on my television so as to not miss races from Turfway and Fair Grounds on TVG. The system worked well.

Of course, Gulfstream and Santa Anita aren't alone in offering video over the Internet. Many tracks offer the same service, although it's been my experience that the clarity of the footage differs from track to track.

Fair Grounds also offers video, which goes through the web-based wagering system - fgnetbet.com. It's worth checking out.

On Tuesday, I watched races from Philadelphia Park and other small tracks through its system while at the same time viewing program pages and updated odds. Unfortunately, the quality of the feed didn't seem to match the Gulfstream footage. It was choppy.

Besides the obvious advantages of watching races on the Internet, a computer also can provide you with other key racing information.

You can check TVG's website to see its broadcast schedule, thereby avoiding the last-minute frustration of finding out that TVG isn't showing a race you want to see. You can check the Fair Grounds website to gain information on first-time starters. All the training races contested there are listed. So handicappers can easily check times, competition, and read comments from the clocker.

And at Santa Anita's site, you can check with one of the country's best publicity departments. They list daily barn notes - the same ones the media receives - that list what's happening on the Southern California racing scene. Once a week, it also runs a comprehensive listing of where the top local horses are expected to run - a must-have for the fantasy racing stable player.

The Internet isn't a replacement for going out to the races, or even for TVG. But on days when you don't have the time or the inclination to attend a track, it's a fair alternative.