Updated on 09/16/2011 8:28AM

Video-stream knowledge is power


WASHINGTON - After entries for the Breeders' Cup are announced Wednesday, bettors across the country will begin studying the horses' records intensely. The races Oct. 26 at Arlington Park near Chicago feature a pick six with a guaranteed $3 million pool that could produce a monumental payoff. The Breeders' Cup always poses a supreme handicapping challenge, but this year horseplayers have a new and valuable tool to aid them in picking winners.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association's website (www.ntra.com) offers of some 80 important prep races for the Breeders' Cup. With the click of a mouse, handicappers can watch Europe's best horse, Rock of Gibraltar, in action. They can see the troubled trip of Banks Hill in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita, the perfect trip of Take Charge Lady in the Spinster Stakes at Keeneland, the powerful move by Vindication in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, and countless other races in which a visual assessment of the horses is crucial.

The opportunity to study these important prep races online is part of a nascent handicapping revolution. In addition to the NTRA, several tracks have put archives of past races online, making a good computer and a high-speed Internet connection essential equipment for horseplayers.

The NTRA is making the replays available free because informed horseplayers are likely to bet more money on the Cup races. In the last two years, films of prep races were offered on videotapes and DVD's, but the NTRA had to charge $30 to cover its costs. Putting the races on a website is much easier and cheaper.

Belmont Park, Keeneland, Gulfstream, and Del Mar are among the tracks that give horseplayers free access to their video archives. "This is a service for our customers," said Bill Nader, senior vice president of the New York Racing Association. "We're positioning ourselves for the future in which Internet wagering will be as commonplace as betting on self-service terminals at the track. We've made a big investment in our website."

Churchill Downs Inc. - which owns Hollywood Park and Calder in addition to the Kentucky track - charges for access to its replays; customers must subscribe to RaceReplays.com and pay $9.95 a month. (Karl Schmitt, the company's director of communications, admits that this policy might be "a little mercenary," but argues that the product is well worth the low price.) While some horseplayers may object to paying for something that other tracks give away free, RaceReplays.com seems poised to become a vital source of racing information that will make the $9.95 look cheap.

The company is an offshoot of Post Time Technologies, a leader in developing race-replay systems for tracks. The New York Racing Association employs them, Nader said, "because they offer a better-quality product than we can."

Hardave Gill, president of Post Time Technologies, said, "It is our intention to offer as many tracks as possible." Because a large lineup of available races would boost his business, Gill said he would add tracks to his website with little or no charge to those tracks. Because midlevel tracks may not have the resources to develop sophisticated websites of their own, they will be able to put their races in cyberspace through RaceReplays.com.

It was not so long ago that any video on a computer resembled a herky-jerky old-time movie. But now the quality is good enough for a horseplayer to study a race, even though it is still not as clear as a videotape. Identifying horses can be difficult at tracks that employ a split screen in their race coverage, with a pan shot of the field on top and a close-up of the leaders on the bottom. Keeneland's pan shot is so broad that even on a normal TV the horses look like ants; on a computer screen, they are indistinguishable.

I find replays especially useful when a strong bias exists at a particular racetrack. In the spring, horses on the rail had an almost insuperable advantage at Keeneland. Thanks to the track's website, I could review all the races - noting the horses who were on the rail and those who were parked wide - and compiled a list of the ones who had run creditably against the bias. This information produced plenty of good betting opportunities when the horses shipped to Churchill Downs.

Replays are particularly valuable at tracks that offer pick sixes or other wagers with a carryover jackpot. Like most horseplayers, I am enticed by the massive pools in California pick sixes, but I have found it difficult to play them because I don't follow the Western tracks on a daily basis and haven't seen the horses run. Now, I can watch the replays of horses entered in the pick six and wager on those races with some intelligence.

Like the rest of America's horseplayers, I hope I will bet the Breeders' Cup pick six with intelligence, too. As always, most of the races will consist of tough, evenly matched 14-horse fields, but - thanks to technology - handicappers can be better informed than ever before as they tackle the challenge.

(c) 2002, The Washington Post