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Many horse racing fans swear by - and sometimes swear at - the Daily Racing Form. It is the newspaper of the thoroughbred industry. Before you bet that exacta, you can check out a horse's pedigree, race experience and morning workout times.

Keeneland racetrack in Lexington, Kentucky holds a vast Daily Racing Form collection, and efforts are now under way to preserve every issue and to begin a digital archive. NPR's Noah Adams has the story.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: The Keeneland Association had been wanting to build a proper library - and when the Daily Racing Form collection came along 10 years ago - as a donation - they had the reason. Keeneland's president Nick Nicholson took me into the archival basement.

NICK NICHOLSON: If the fire alarm goes off, you run immediately to the closest door. You don't ask me any questions and we'll talk about it when we get outside because you've got 10 seconds before the oxygen is sucked out of this room.

ADAMS: November 19th 1894, the first Daily Racing Form was published, in Chicago. The earliest issues are missing but most of the others from down through the decades, are in this room.

NICHOLSON: There's no collection like it anywhere in the world. Most of the volumes you're looking at right now are the sole surviving copy.

ADAMS: The newspapers are bound into leather-covered volumes. They are dry and crumbling. But historians, novelists, movie makers could bring alive the vibrant stories on these shelves. Just imagine what a particular day at the race track could sound like. How about opening day of Keeneland this fall?

(SOUNDBITE OF BUGLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And they're off. (Unintelligible)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ADAMS: The Keeneland second race is over. Doug Marques of Buffalo, New York has the winner. He bought a Racing Form at the track - $4 - started making notes. And he learned this about the five horse.

DOUG MARQUES: That he loves the Polytrack.

ADAMS: Keeneland has a synthetic surface. In the Form's small type, Doug Marques spotted an impressive morning workout on Polytrack.

MARQUES: He works out faster than 55 other ponies, new trainer just loved him.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSES GALLOPING)

ADAMS: These sounds at a training track in the early morning...

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSES GALLOPING)

ADAMS: ...become numbers on stopwatches and then entries in the Daily Racing Form. The clockers send in the workout times from tracks all around the country.

MICHELLE NIHEI: There is nothing more beautiful than being on the back of a horse galloping around and watching the starting of the colors coming up on the sunrise. That horizon kind of lifts all by itself as you're moving around the racetrack.

ADAMS: A trainer who's brought 14 horses to the Keeneland fall meet, Michelle Nihei is her name. Nihei, some days is reading the Racing Form before 5 a.m.

NIHEI: In order to talk to your owners, you know, about how a race is shaping up. They're looking at the form, so you've got to be articulate about how to interpret what you see in that form and convey that or discuss that with them.

ADAMS: If the weather's nice in Kentucky, you might want to walk from Michelle Nihei's Barn 41, 15 minutes over the hill to the Keeneland Library, where the work is underway preserve to fragile narrative of racetrack history.

BECKY RYDER: Here's the Racing Form July 23, 1949. Calumet Trio Seeks Arlington, Coaltown, Armed and Ponder Have Six Foes in Handicap, Stud Poker After Second Win in Fifty Thousand Stake. So these are big races at Arlington.

ADAMS: Becky Ryder of the Keeneland Library. She likes to read the headlines. It is Keeneland's dream that all this collection would be digitized. Online. Searchable. Free. That project is far too expensive for the moment. And in any event, you have to save the pages first. The bound volumes are taken apart.

RYDER: You cut through the hinge...

(SOUNDBITE OF CUTTING)

RYDER: ...which is just going to separate the cover from the text block.

ADAMS: We're getting dust from 1937.

RYDER: Mm-hmm. That's right.

ADAMS: The pages are separated and trimmed, and then nestled into custom-made alkaline-buffered cardboard boxes. Keeneland already has 200,000 Daily Racing Form pages online. That sounds like a lot until you add up the pages that remain.

RYDER: Well, we think there's 11 million, and it's still publishing.

ADAMS: In the preservation-and-go digital field there has been some research that offers a glimmer of hope.

RYDER: The basic concept of it would be if you could digitize the contents of a book without opening it up. Be kind of like an MRI. Well, that's fantasy right now, but, you know, a lot of fantasies become science.

ADAMS: Becky Ryder of the Keeneland Library in Lexington, watching over a century of the Daily Racing Form.

Noah Adams, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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