Derby fever 101

The days left on the official Kentucky Derby countdown clock are now down to double digits. Shanghai Bobby, the champion 2-year-old of 2012, has made his first start of 2013, even though it wasn't a winning one. New names are emerging every week, and as we work our way out of winter, Derby Fever is slowly spreading throughout the horse racing industry.

Try as they might to deny it, it is rare to find a fan of horse racing who is completely immune to the power of Derby Fever. For some it strikes in the depths of winter, while others fight it off until the first Saturday in May. Regardless, in the end, without fail this fever turns into an epidemic by the time the horses step out on to the track at Churchill Downs and the crowd sways to 'My Old Kentucky Home.'

You need to become acquainted with all of the free information that is to be found on Equibase.com. Both the Virtual Stable and the "horse search" function give racing fans a plethora of information for free.

The closer we get to the big day, the easier it is to find information on the competitors. Come Derby week, the barns at Churchill Downs have just as many reporters in them as they do equines. Whether you are an old hat or a complete newbie to the sport, information is never easier to find.

But what about now? If you are new to horse racing and curious how to track some of you potential favorites, read on. Beyond the obvious news sites, you need to become acquainted with all of the free information that is to be found on Equibase.com. Both the Virtual Stable and the "horse search" function give racing fans a plethora of information for free.

Virtual Stable, which is found on the left hand column of the website, is one of the most entertaining and helpful tools of the trade for fans in existence. It is a free service that lets you track leading contenders in a race series or create your own "Horses to Watch" list. All you have to do is sign up.

For Derby Trail purposes, you probably want to sign up to get "Road to the Triple Crown" notifications. That option is offered under the racing series tab of Virtual Stable. However, making your own list of horses is a wise option as well. Any horse you are interested can go into your personalized stable, not just Derby contenders.

So, what do you get when you create these stables? Emails to alert you when your horses are doing something -- namely, when they have official work outs, when they are entered into a race, and when they complete a race. You can also request for information about carryovers, jockeys, trainers and stakes races to be sent.

Let's say you set up your virtual stable but late in the game you want information on a horse that had not been on your radar before. Equibase can help you with that, too.

On the top right hand side of the page is a box that has a default setting of Horse Name. It is as simple as it sounds. For example, if you type in last year's Kentucky Derby winner, I'll Have Another, and hit search, a load of information will come your way. In this case, because other horses have been named I'll Have Another, the first box that pops up is a list of the three horses registered with that name. Usually looking at YOB (year of birth) box will make it easy to tell which one you want.

Once you click on the horse's name, you will be given his pedigree information, information about his connections, what class of racing he achieved, his racing stats, and a chronological list of every race he ever ran in, along with every race's official chart.

Remember, this is all for free.

You can also change the search function to look for statistical information about owners, trainers, jockeys and racetracks. Instead of a list of previous races, you will be able to see if they are currently entered in any upcoming races.

The Derby Trail is a fun one to traverse, but it is more entertaining if you travel it with a guide map of sorts. That way, when we start firing Triple Crown stories your way, they will be even more enjoyable. Here's hoping the fever is headed your way soon.

Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Among her other duties, she is an editor for Gallop Magazine. Write to her at amanda.duckworth@ymail.com.