Why We're Doing This, and How You Can Help

What would inspire two men, ages 65 and 59, to take on 11 racetracks in 21 stages and 25 days over 1,000 kilometers...on their bicycles?

The way we see it, Thoroughbred race horses have contributed to the very meaning of life, so they too deserve to retire with dignity and not be sent to the slaughterhouse just because they now do six furlongs in 1:16 instead of 1:12.

As American expatriates living in Paris, we have decided to ride our own Tour de France--riding from racetrack to racetrack across France--during the 'real' Tour de France to raise money for Thoroughbred retirement. But we need your help.

We invite you to follow our journey, and if you'd like to sponsor us, just click on www.firstgiving.com/trf or on the Sponsor Us link below.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation currently cares for over 1200 unwanted horses. When you sponsor us, we are helping them in their mission to save ALL unwanted racehorses.



Sunday, July 25, 2010

STAGE 20: GRAND FINALE: UNPLANNED TRIATHLON

STAGE 20: UNPLANNED TRIATHELON
The final day plan was to bicycle back and forth to the races at Maisons-Laffitte and then go to the Arc de Triomphe to meet up with the finale of the Tour de France. Alan did his usual swimming laps in the morning (he's accumulated at least 18 kilometers during our three weeks).
Then I got a flat tire.
The pump did no good. The air went in and back out, but the tire strangely held about 20% of its capacity.
"Are you sure this is a flat?" I asked a mechanic.
He said, "Yes, but we're closing. Bring it back Monday."
This turned our day into a triathlon. Alan, swimming and cycling to Maisons-Laffitte, and I, walking my bicycle from outside of Paris all the way to the Arc de Triomphe to meet up with Alan for a filmed victory lap. It took me nearly as long to walk the wounded bike as it did Alan to cycle to Maisons-Laffitte, and I think my route was more strenuous.

Our Mileage
It was a 46-kilometer round trip for Alan, and quite a l-o-n-g bicycle walk for me. We began the day with 936 km and added 46, for a total of 982. That's 613 3/4 miles. Hey Ed and Susan, would that get us all the way from New York to South Carolina? We're short of our 1,000 km goal by only 18 km. What do you think? Can you count Alan's swimming mileage?

Flashback: Islands in the Loire
I found out from a colleague why we saw all those herons, statuesquely set on the islands in the Loire. Mainland foxes eat heron eggs, but can't get across the water, so the islands serve for assuring the next generation.

More on Statistical Handicapping
I think I have proved from this trip that many American handicapping methods are applicable anywhere in the world, even where horse racing seems the most different. I'd like to prove this point with a book called Handicapping On The Road.
Today, my recent near-misses in Multis (the 4-horse quinella) were atoned for, as my PMU wager hit the 7th race Multi at Maisons-Laffitte. The second-place 25-1 horse that made it a generous payoff was barely qualifier on the basic minimum trainer stat, but passed the horse-for-course test making him an automatic qualifier.
In my only other bet for the day, 7th race at Graignes (trot), I decided to go against a positive trainer stat and exclude a 47-1 horse because it had been DQed 60%of the time and had other past performance blemishes.
The MULTI finished with 4 longshots in the winning combination, three of them my choices and the fourth one (actually the winner) was precisely the one that I had eliminated when I tried to outsmart my own trainer stat. The 4-horse cold combination paid off at 2,310 - 1.
It was still a good day. No woulda-coulda-shoulda here ... only a good lesson for handicappers on the validity of the trainer stat factor. Remember that it was yesterday when Gina Rarick's 44-1 horse triggered another huge Multi at Vichy.
If you're reading this, Gina, I do not look at you as a statistic. The statistic is simply an image of a very human training skill.

Grand Finale: Arc de Triomphe
Ani, one of Alan's two charming daughters, filmed our Arc de Triomphe arrival. She is currently working as an intern with the camera crew, on a Woody Allen movie.
My wife Martha accompanied me for much of the walk with the limping bicycle. We met Alan and Ani at the Parc Monceau, walking to the Arc de Triomphe in time to see the ceremony with the Tour de France teams.
The Tour de France is one of the world's great events because it integrates a beautiful sport with stunning geography and history. We missed the winners' ceremony but we caught a part that most people don't see: when the teams are cheered by the crowd JUST BECAUSE THEY ARRIVED. At this moment, THEY ARE ALL WINNERS. You can see it on their glowing faces. Some of the riders stop to sign autographs. Others mingle by riding their bikes near the crowd.
Meanwhile Alan and I do a few circles on our bikes in front of the Arc de Triomphe. My tire has just enough air in it to do this final ceremonial act. We have done nearly 1,000 kilometers of purposeful exercise. We are at that age where we have the expectation of a meaningful retirement and the horses that have given us a passion in life deserve their own retirement in return. Please don't forget the horses.
This is our last official posting, but fundraising will continue. If you're reading this before the posted visuals, please revisit.
One of the generous donators to this cause had given me a bottle of commemorative Seabiscuit wine, several years ago. It comes from where owner Charles Howard took his cherished Seabiscuit for a splendid retirement among the hills, streams and redwoods.
Like Alberto Contador in the Tour de France, Seabicuit was a champion, but after the Tour de France, all the riders were treated as winners.
After the races, all the horses should be treated like winners as well. They gave us the spectacle. Even a proven loser in the claiming ranks looks beautiful when he or she gallops. So let's give them all a well-deserved retirement.
It was a time for celebration but I decided to hold off on the uncorking of the Seabiscuit wine because Alan's wife was away on a business trip. Soon as all four of us are here, we'll celebrate, for the horses.
Walking the bike on the way home, Martha and I passed two policemen on shiny horses. The horses looked like Northern Dancer and John Henry while carrying their human partners.
Our thanks to so many people who encouraged this tour de France (including Gina Rarick, John Gilmore, the Paris-Turf journalists, André in the press box, Anne, at the Ligue Pour la Protection du Cheval, the journalists at Vichy, Martha and Joan, and wish there was space to mention so many other names), to all those who have donated, and a special thanks to Sue Finley, of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, for her legendary enthusiasm.
PS. Monday morning, I tried to ride the bike and it was no longer possible. Yes, flat. The slowness of the leak had allowed for my last whirl at the Arc de Triomphe.
WHAT WE PROVED
(1) It's possible to have a carbon-free, low-consuming vacation without making a sacrifice. "Joie de vivre" and consuming less can go hand in hand.
(2) The bicycle is valid transportation (purposeful exercise) and not just for sports. Vibrant communities offer choice: space shared for pedestrians, bicyclers, public transportation and the car.
(3) We're never too old to find some new and exciting challenge. Tomorrow there's another horse race.
If anyone would like to visit Paris and see the classiest horse race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, first Sunday in October, contact Alan and me at cramerjazz@gmail.com

Saturday, July 24, 2010

STAGE 19: ON LUCK AND STATS

STAGE 19
The luck factor II. Today, several things happened which might reinforce the view that luck runs in cycles. The track was Enghien, for a second visit. On the way there was a magnificent "trompe l'oeil" (fool the eye) mural. This was the third time I'd passed the corner at Route D911, but the first time I realized that two of the four apartment façades were not really windows with people in them but painted windows with painted people in them.
Bad luck 1: the camera screen flashed "warning, battery exhausted" so there's no picture.
Bad luck 2: my belt broke, and walking with loose pants, I realized that I have lost a few pounds on this trip.
Bad luck 3: they gave out "Wheel of Fortune" tickets for people entering Enghien. With two tickets there was a 50% chance of winning a prize, but the guy just before in the line won a leather bag, and our two tickets both struck out.
Bad luck 4? Well, maybe, but I believe it's just a question of probabilities. In the first simulcast race at Vichy, for 2-year-olds, I saw a wonderful opportunity for a MULTI score, since I felt that Gina Rarick's second-time starter had an excellent chance to finish in the top four of the 14-horse field, at 48-1! And Rose of Egypte did make it to fourth.
(In the MULTI, a 48-1 in fourth is of equal value to a 48-1 in first, since it's a 4-horse quinella and not a superfecta.)
I played with a 5-horse box, and I ended up with four of the first five finishers (but not the third place finisher), so I missed out on a big score.
No, this is not bad luck. In the long run, if I can sustain this level of handicapping, then the MULTI will continue to be a profitable bet.
The handicapping lesson of the day: Classical handicapping and statistical handicapping are equally valid for picking winners. However, the betting public practices classical analysis much more than statistical handicapping, so the average odds for classical choices are much lower than for statistical choices. Two of my three right choices were longshots based purely on statistics (and unlikely picks with normal handicapping), including Gina's horse. My third successful choice was a lower-odds horse that was partly statistical and partly based on classical handicapping. The horse that I did not include was marginal for both statistics and handicapping. The payoff for a 5-horse box was 491 Euros, and for a cold 4-horse box, was 2,457.
Rather than lamenting "bad luck", I felt good that my own brand of handicapping had come so close. And once again, Gina proved to be an overperforming trainer. If I ever own a horse, she'll be the trainer.
For my improved awareness of statistical handicapping, my thanks go out to Ed Bain and his wife Susan Sweeney, who are also a supporters of Thoroughbred retirement. Ed, with the indomitable support of Susan, has developed a new brand of past performances which largely contain meaningful statistics. Ed Bain is the only professional player I know whose approach is based almost entirely on stats.
I managed to make up for the "bad luck" with a win in the fourth race MULTI at Enghien, in a trot race.
The kilometers for this stage included a round-about return trip through the island city of Ile-Saint-Denis, which from a helicopter would look like a giant split-personality eel in the Seine River, with the first half all green (parkland) and the second half composed of industries and public housing. One of the bizarre cities in France.
Today's 28 kilometers brings the total to 936, or 585 miles. We will definitely go over the 600-mile mark for the last stage tomorrow: a re-visit to Maisons-Laffitte.
We may fall a little short of the thousand kilometers, primarily because of so much time spent at the races, but we have largely fulfilled our pledge to visit 13 different race tracks by bicycle in the exact same period as the Tour de France, and our km total respects the "spirit of the commitment".
We are thrilled about the generosity and commitment of so many who have supported the cause that our odyssey represents. Lots of good people who love horses and racing simply do not know about this project, so please spread the word.mc

Friday, July 23, 2010

The charming Art Deco-style entrance to the Vichy race track

Saumur and its fortified chateau seen from a distance

Fields of sunflowers - part of the agricultural riches of France

Cars-share the road with bicycles

STAGE 18 VICHY RACING

LOST OPPORTUNITIES AND GAINED CONFIDENCE
1. Summary of miles (with ps from the Loire)
2. Handicapping blindfolded
3. Thoroughbred retirement gets a boost
Summary of Miles
We entered July 22nd with 884 kilometers. We trained from Nevers to Vichy, this time in a section of the train with special bicycle facilities, but with a surcharge of 10Euros. On the basic but extremely comfortable "TER" trains, like the one we took from Tours to Nevers, there's no charge. I figure they should pay us to take our bikes on the train because we're helping the environment.
Today's total kms was 24, including cycling the longer scenic way from the Vichy station to the track outside of town, taking a mini-excursion along the Allier River and connected parks, and then, after the 8pm train to Paris, cycling in the festive throngs of the Parisian night, back home. That brings us to 908 km (567.5 miles).
PS. last glimpse of the Loire: I forgot to mention where we had to cycle around an massive nuclear power station (there are several of these "modern" castles along the Loire). The old castles were from the traditional aristocracy and the nuclear ones belong to the contemporary aristocracy. I must not lose sight of the fact that when we travel on a clean French train, it is powered by the turbine-produced energy that comes essentially from fiercely boiling water (that's the product of nuclear power).
I have no opinion on this subject because it is too complex for me. But from a purely artistic point of view, I like HORSE POWER more than nuclear power. The gallop or trot of a horse is so much prettier than boiling water.
Handicapping Blindfolded
Vichy races, both the setting and the track itself, are invigorating. You have Del Mar, Monmouth and Deauville on the sea but you have Vichy on the flowing Allier River. As with the Compiegne races, the Vichy oval merges with the green setting.
You have the tall shade trees, you have the grassy apron up to the rail, you have picnic tables around the paddock, you have ivy buildings where only the window shutters show through the ivy, and you have friendly hosts.
On a race day following angry rains, the track was labeled extremely heavy. For such a situation, I depend on my "Geny Courses" data base to go through entire horse careers to see which ones really handle the unforgiving surface. Most Paris-Turf pps give you only 3 races. But we cannot travel with our computers, so we have to wing it.
In the opening "Quinté" race, the one that functions like a national lottery, they actually give you full pps plus unexpectedly frank trainer comments. By reading those trainer opinions, I was able to pick out 7 of the 17 horses in the field that would move up in the going with the other 10 either hating the heavy ground or with trainer comments that said they were not "ready".
Seeing that the top three favorites were in my 7, I decided to not box the 7 in the MULTI (where you pick the top four finishers). Alan and I had collected on a similar type of MULTI at Chateaubriant, with a disappointing payoff, so I decided not to play, given the low odds of most of my horses.
My combination came in, including the first, third and fourth favorites, and yet paid a generous 14.40 for the minimum 3-Euro 7-horse box (504-1 if you'd have played it cold using only 4 horses).
Later on the card, using the "thin slicing" method where surface became the primary factor, combined with trainer stats, I had a second-place finisher at 8-1 and a third in an 18-horse field at 12-1.
Good handicapping, precious little in return, but for a back-up "placé" bet on one of the longshots.
Given that my early "tour" winning binge virtualy assured that I would pay all "tour de France" expenses (hotels, trains, restaurants) from betting profits, and since we've had incomplete info at the recent small tracks, I've been playing defensively, not wanting to stupidly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Red-blooded horseplayers might find this a wimpy approach, but it has served me well. My philosophy is "to wait", as Bukowski says, for the opportunity to come and not to force it. Besides, I love the spectacle, so passing a race does not deprive me of enjoyment.
We have two more remaining betting-stage days, Saturday and Sunday. My plan is to try to make a lot with a little, rather than trying to make a little with a lot. After Vichy, my handicapping confidence is fortified.
Thoroughbred Retirement Gets a Boost!
Vichy gave us our best shot at photo ops and publicity for the cause of Thoroughbred retirement. The track announcer invited Alan and me to enter the winners' circle with our bicycles and had us pose for all the local and national photographers with the winning jockey and owner of the third race. Over the PA system, he lauded the cause of finding a worthy retirement for race horses, and he repeated the message in different ways four times during the on-site broadcast.
He also had the official track photographer do a separate shot of us in front of a barn, with our bicycles, and with a beautiful horse in between.
Our thanks to the good folks at Vichy. Alan and I were thrilled that all those kilometers on the road had led us to this inspiring moment on the podium of the winners circle.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Loire Valley vineyard with caves tunneled into the limestone cliff

Harvest time - some hay for the horses

Mark on the stones steps of the gîte

ROAD STAGES 16 and 17

Stages 16 and 17
From internet café, and have to catch train. Please excuse typos.
Stage 16: 20 km from Saint-Clement-de-la-Place to the medieval city of Angers, huge stony fortress castle next to medieval village with cobblestone streets; and then 50 km, much of it along the Loire (very hot but manageable thanks to the beautiful farm roads), and then the magical river, the ONLY RIVER IN EUROPE THAT DOES NOT ALLOW COMMERCIAL TRAFFIC; so its clean but unmanicured, thousands of islands, most of them untouched by humans, sand bars, exceptional marshland, here and there a beach, and often thick woods along the banks. I am in love with this river, almost as much as with my wife. We reached the castle town of Saumur: huge castle on a limestone hill, viewed magnificently from an ancient stone bridge over the Loire. It was 50 more km from Angers to Saumur, which brought us from 728 to 798 km. We wanted to get up to 800, so we dumped our backpacks at a hotel and went for a spin around town. There are two bridges to cross to cover the town bacause there's a wild island in the middle of town.
Alan got a Paris-Turf to keep us up to date, in preparation for our upcoming afternoon at the Vichy races.
So now we are up to 800 kilometers, or 500 miles.
Stage 17: we need to get to the train station in Tours, 84 kilometers up the river, where we can catch a train to Vichy.
Dear friends, the Loire will make you strong. This was my best day, both in terms of cycling and aesthetics. Alan now looked more like Alan than like Lance Armstrong, as I was able to keep up with him.
The whole Loire territory is bicycle country. Hotels call themselves "vélohotel" (bicycle hotel) and aside from the vast network of Loire bicycle paths, nearly every road and street in the region has a bicycle path.
Saumur is literally embedded in high limestone cliff, and there are dwellings dug into the cliff, wine cellars carved into the cliff (with wine tasting) and of course the castles and old stony villages with roofs bending and sinking. Then, along the bike path to Tours, there are fields of shiny yellow sunflowers with grey stone farmhouses in the background, and the yellow is magnified by the grey behind it. There are vineyards in front of the cliff, and up above, caves and dwellings carved into the cliff.
And of course, there is the river, the great river, an understatement, not raging but slowly carving out its unique identity.
Martha, my wife, plays hard to get, but I will try to convince her to come here with me in late August. Maybe we'll do only 10 km per day, so we can stay at the beautiful Bed & Breakfasts along the way. This is a place were for the slow bicycle movement.
Bicycling here is certainly better than seeing things from car, but Alan and I have gone through this great country too quickly, even if we did stop to admire the castle town of Villandry (renaissance castle on a hill, brilliantly complex gardens).
It was 80 km from Saumur to Tours by the winding bicycle path, and before that, 4 km from our hotel to where the path began. Total km for the day: 84 (helped by the cool, overcast weather and occasional little showers with the feel of riding through a garden sprinkler).
That brings us to 884 kilometers: 552.5 miles.
If you are considering a vacation of either cycling or walking, tasting wines, maybe wading in a truly wild river and watching the herons on the islands within the river, and experiencing ancient villages, then I recommend this spot.
Stay tuned for tomorrow's racing at Vichy.mc

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A chateau owned by a couple from New Jersey, on the way from Chateaubriant

The tree-lined entrance to Chateaubriant race track

STAGE 15: 3-ACT DRAMA

Stage 15: 19 July
We had a long day ahead, and I got up at the Gite, doubting. Doubting my capability of carrying on with the cycling, and doubting how to confront a new race course, Chateaubriant, and doubting if we would find a place to stay at night on the rural roads from Chateaubriant to the medieval town of Angers on the Loire.
The rural Gite was invigorating. How many of you have experienced TOTAL SILENCE. It was so very silent that you could hear a man's fart in the next village 5 miles away.
The winding farm roads from the Gite to Chateaubriant reinvigorated me. Twenty-two km later, we came to the stately entrance to this rural track, lined with tall shade trees, as if we were entering a castle.
The track itself is simple, American style, mile turf oval with an inner dirt course. The past performances were also simple: no Paris-Turf for sale, so I was without my statistical advantage. There were past performances but no trainer stats.
The meeting included 4 flat races and then 3 jumping events. Alan and I zoomed in on the fourth race MULTI, where you have to pick the top four finishers in any order, and with a good back-and-fourth discussion, we came up with 7 possible horses. We would have liked more time, and more info in order to stagger multiple tickets, but we ran out of time (there were no forms available the night before in Senonnes).
So we simply boxed the four, reducing our potential payoff because of so many combinations.
But our horses came in: three medium longshots and a favorite, and we got back 9-2.
(In the previous race, Alan had picked a 15-1 winner, but the doubts surrounding our very primitive information led him to pass the race. Alan is not a "woulda-shoulda-coulda" kind of guy. He recognized his legitimate doubts and there were no regrets. That's the sign of a professional horseplayer.)
We were against the clock to make it to Angers, leaving the track in the afternoon and having to cover 80 km. On his own, Alan would have made it, but it's hilly country and I was cycling through a cramp. By lying down and using my backpack as a pillow, while looking up and a 19th century fantasy castle that could have been designed by Walt Disney himself, I got a second wind, and we made it to La Poueze, a half hour before sunset, only 23 km from Angers: only to discover that there were no hotels, not Gites, and no "chambre d'hotes" (B&B).
My tires had all the air I needed but my ego was deflated, having had to trail Alan all the way, and in effect, we were stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The only strategy was to barrel forward for another 6km to the next town, St. Clément-de-la-Place, and for this trip my adrenalin kicked in and I was able to keep up with Alan and even head him from time to time.
I was prepared to ask the local priest to put us up in the Church, but those guys are hard to find at 9:30 pm. We considered sleeping outdoors, but the mosquitos were especially thick in the air; in spite of swarms of their predator, the bad, whirling around.
We asked a lady on the outskirts of town, and she said, "Yes, you'll find a Gite in the center of town."
We found it, but still, it was likely to have no vacancy at the late hour. It was an old farm-building with a crooked outside staircase that had no railing. I knocked on the door. No one answered.
I checked three doors down where lights were on: and to make a long story short, it was the owner, and yes they had a double room. He even through in what he termed a hasty dinner, which tasted like "haute cuisine". Throw in the local Anjou red wine, and this was a true victory.
At the table, with the other guests and the owners (the wife runs a little restaurant theatre across the street), we heard the owner complain the plight of the local family farmers as a result of soil-depleting agribusiness. It was his only diatribe. Otherwise, he charmed everyone with his sense of humor.
After dinner, a walk through the town itself. Noteworthy is that they use no electric lighting in the streets. Reminds me of some places in Central America in the early 1970s. Dark, silent, and only the bats moving around. It was a stony silence as most of the dormered row houses came from centuries ago.
Total kilometers:
88 for the day, including the morning trip ro Chateaubriant and the long and hilly afternoon voyage to within 17 km if Angers. We entered the day with 640 km and ended with 728 (455 miles).
A scorcher is predicted for tomorrow and we must navigate through the complex city of Angers, in order to get to the Loire River. Lots of cycling but no race course. The eventual goal is Vichy.
Please excuse any typos. I'm in an internet café and we're losing time on the road.
PS. Alan and I send our thanks to Laurent, of the Paris-Turf, for adding a clip about our trip in his zapping column.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The finish line at Senonnes-Pouancé racetrack

Mark in front of the Craon racetrack

The amazing museum and home created by Robert Tatin

Stages 12, 13 and 14

This is Martha, Mark's wife, with an abreviated report. Mark will fill in later when they find a computer. Mark and Alan are in the middle of nowhere.
Friday, stage 12, the bicycle as useful transportation, 10 Kms in errands per trip, especially a visit to the Institut Géographique National for advice on maps and routes.
Stage 13, 76 Kms, no tracks today especially noteworthy, another voie verte (green way), 46.5 Kms from Laval to Renazé, packed dirt path, sometimes a little loose requiring more energy but beautifully covered with tall shade trees on each side. The voie verte all over France are converted from old railroad tracks, with original station houses along the way. Great stop off at a one of a kind museum, the work of Robert Tatin, a type of French Gaudi.
The goal was to get to Pouancé with it's medieval castle, in stricking distance of the country track Senonnes-Pouancé. We made it! At this point up to 596 Kms.
Stage 14, Sunday 18th July, Senonnes-Pouancé, a real rural track, with corn fields behind the last turn and a long downhill stretch drive offering a striking view of the race.
After the races, all stores were closed and from our gite (rural hostel) we had to make another round trip back to Pouancé to get food and to make it more complicated through high hills along the way. And to make it even more complicated, we lost track of each other and did extra cycling looking for each other. Alan thought I was in trouble. I thought he was in trouble, neo-Buster Keaton adventure.Topping it off, we had the Monet experience of passing the Sennone Pouancé race track a second time at sunset.
And finally, the Sennone Pouancé experience: picture a packed track, as many women as men, as many young people as oldtimers, and seemingly everyone from the region present. It could have been Indiana or West Virginia.
Total kilometers for the day, 44: total 640 Kms which makes 400 miles. The kilometers are geting tougher and tougher for Mark but for Alan it seems like the first day.Stay tuned for Chateaubriant, a great country track.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The paddock at Longchamp before the Grand Prix de Paris

Mark at Longchamp after receiving permission to bring his bike next to the racing surface

The column in the center of the Place de la Bastille

STAGE 11: HALFTIME REFLECTIONS

STAGE 11: REFLECTIONS AT HALF-TIME
We went into the day with 468 kilometers (292.5 miles) and added 42 kilometers with two separate but related round trips: west to Longchamp race course for the celebration of Bastille Day (the French just say "the 14th of July”) and east to the Bastille plaza, where the prison was stormed and the monarchy defeated by the French Republic. Americans like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson supported the French Revolution and Frenchmen like Lafayette, supported ours.
“As United States minister to France when revolutionary fervor was rising toward the storming of the Bastille in 1789, Jefferson became an ardent supporter of the French Revolution, even allowing his residence to be used as a meeting place for the rebels led by Lafayette.” (from Library of Congress)
Vestiges of the original Bastille are absent from the scene, which is now occupied by a lively outdoor café scene, a modern opera house and a yacht harbor where an underground part of the Canal Saint-Martin surfaces to join with the Seine.
At the other end of Paris, the Grand-Prix de Paris was the biggest race of the summer. The race was won by Behkabad, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, a bicycle enthusiast. (I passed the race after having found arguments in favor of most of the horses in the field.)
The sun came out after thunderstorms and the fresh luminosity, a rarity in Paris, allowed for every imaginable shade of green to dazzle, on the track, around the emblematic windmill, in the surrounding forest, and at the edge of the nearby mellow ponds.
The day ended with 510 km, or 318.75 miles.
Yes, we've visited 10 of the 13 tracks on our agenda, but that's because the tracks were nearer each other. Now we face a lot more cycling on the road, for longer distances, through three different regions of France, including the Loire castle region, where I intend to partake of performance dis-enhancing substances of red liquid poured from attractive dark bottles.
But don't be fooled. At the age of 65, reaching our 1,000 kilometer goal will not be easy for me. Alan looks like he could go 2,000 km.
Two people have already asked me, "How can you go to such an extreme just for horses?"
At the track after the first race, we watched a team of uniformed workers repairing the turf surface. It was a primitive form of labor, as is grooming a horse and even training one. This is one of the last remaining labor-intensive, job-providing industries in the developed world. And this entire industry depends on one living being: the horse. I doubt if most of you would feel the same aesthetic pleasure watching ostriches or automobiles going round a track. Whether standing or galloping, the race horse is a work of art, as in the paintings of Degas, Manet and Dufy, and this art transmits itself to human beings.
The wife of the great jockey Olivier Peslier, works with handicapped children, and in her work, horses play a therapeutic role.
Today we react against the throw-away society, recycling computer screens, paper, and so much more, and yet when race horses finish their careers, they are allowed to be thrown away, when in fact they can be redirected into other meaningful roles. Yes, this IS about horses, but it is also about our own humanity, not using a living being for our pleasure and then killing it.
The skeptics respond, "But there are so many other worthy causes!"
This is true. And who is to say which causes are more worthy than others? In my immediate family, people very dear to me have been stricken with devastating medical handicaps. They are battling back and I am contributing to the research that might eventually come up with a solution to their conditions.
But that does not mean I can forget the horses, because they are responsible for keeping me sane, hopeful, and helpful to the ones I love. The horses help me because their spectacle provides a refuge from a hostile world.
Today at beautiful Longchamp, I lost a few dollars, but it was a fair game with everyone in the stands was getting exactly the same odds. Compared to most other industries or governments, racing is remarkably clean.
There was moving poetry flying down the stretch. There were owners and trainers willing to live a very precarious existence because they have a passion for this great spectacle. There were courageous riders who form an amazing partnership with the horse and trust their partner at 40 miles an hour in "traffic".
For me this is a passion. I feel sorry for people who do not have a pasion, any one, whether it be chess, or bridge, or travel, or collecting, or cooking, or even sitting on a mountain and contemplating the surroundings.
I don't want my passion to be based on a throw-away economy. The horse gives me this aesthetic pleasure, and in return, I owe something to the horse. Yes, I've worked on other causes, often lost causes, but this cause happens to provide a positive outcome. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has developed a winning exacta, by saving unwanted horses and also providing vocational training in the form of horse care and stable management for inmates: saving unwanted human beings.
This is about horses and it’s about people, in so many ways.
Postscript:
On July 14 I wore the tee-shirt of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. I lived in LA for 10 years. I loved the city but when I was there, it offered no transportation alternatives. Pavement covered more than 70% of the surface, in the form of freeways, parking lots and streets. Not pretty.
Now, with the help of the LACBC and other non-partisan civic groups, residents can begin to reclaim a landscape that has been almost entirely usurped by the car, and the bicycle can be seen as a worthy form of transportation.
The Tour de France admirably presents bicycling as a great sport in a stunningly beautiful geographic context, but year after year TV commentators fail to mention what the LACBC shows: that the bicycle is a useful form of transportation, one providing purposeful exercise and contributing to a clean environment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

PMU center near Centre Pompidou, free entrance, photo taken while standing next to the bicycle/bus/taxi lane on rue Beaubourg

PMU club, Blvd. Montparnasse, 14th arrondisement, entrance fee (drink included)

Blvd. Port Royal, 5th arrondisement, typical bar with PMU betting

STAGE 10: LE TOUR DE PMU

LE TOUR DE PMU

Alan covered the Left Bank and I took the Right Bank of the Seine, also going into the ring of inner suburbs. My route took me 40 kilometers, including a round trip to Champs-Elysées and then another trip to the western edge of the city, crossing four inner suburban cities. Before today we were at 428 km. Now we've reached 468 km: 292.5 miles.
The PMU (Pari-Mutuelle-Urbain) was a French tote invention, now adopted throughout the horse racing world. Today, the PMU is also a café-bar where we can play the horses: an OTB.

On Sunday mornings, I usually meet with a horseplayer friend, Jean, to go over the race cards.

We should be meeting at a PMU, but Jean says the PMUs are too noisy and uncomfortable. So we meet at a café, where as regulars, we get certain perks. In a country where living quarters are small, the café becomes a living room. And if you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar, you pay a little extra because in essence, you are renting the space.

In most other ways, Jean, 76, is a typical PMU player. He’s a former worker at a Citroen automobile factory and lives in public housing. PMU clientele are primarily either working class or immigrant. Like many PMU players, Jean prefers playing the trotters because they race more fréquently and you can follow their careers. It's the familiarity principle.

Jean concentrates on the Quinté races, which also function as a type of national lottery where you need to pick the first five finishers in order, for a huge payoff. The Quinté could be any of the three genres. That means Jean will play the Tbreds, the jumpers and the trotters. The popularité of the Quinté, broadcast live every day on a major TV station, assures that the Paris-Turf past performances are at virtually every news stand in the country … not like the DRF, where you have to drive for miles to find an outlet.

Jean differs from other PMUers in that he is a self-taught intellectual and prudent player who only invests when he feels he has an advantage, and prefers to look elsewhere on the day’s cards, if nothing is clear to him in the Quinté.

French PMUs are throbbing with players looking for a big score.

LE TOUR DE PMU

When you cross Paris and take notes of the PMUs along the way, one thing becomes clear: in the more elegant "arrondissements", such as the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh (all left bank, south of the Seine) and Sixteenth (west), it’s hard to find a PMU. On the other hand, in the funkier working class and immigrant neighborhoods, there are PMUs every two blocks: such as the Eighteenth (north), Nineteenth (northeast) and Twentieth (east). Rent the Philippe Noiret film "My New Partner", about a corrupt horseplayer cop, and you'll see a true view of the 18th District and its PMU players.

I live in Clichy, two furlongs north of Paris. There are four PMUs within walking distance. Just across the ring road in Paris is the Seventeenth Arrondissement, divided in two, with the Gare Saint-Lazare train tracks separating the east working class side from the wealthy west side: on the east side, PMUs everywhere; on the west side, it’s hard to find a place to get a bet in.

There are five types of PMUs. The generic one, with monitors for live racing in a café-bar, looking like vintage NY OTB, not a great place to spend an afternoon. No admission. Just consume anything, coffee, beer, etc. Then there are the Club Courses (race clubs), which charge admission, are cleaner and have more space. But don’t be fooled. I parked my bike and went into the Artois Club Courses, $8 admission, not far from Champs-Elysées, and asked the owner if the clientele get any extra in the way of racing information.

« Just what you see on the monitors, » she said.

A player at the bar who overheard us, said, « Yeah, they don’t give us any information ».

Essentially, they charge admission to keep out the riffraff.

Around the corner from that « Club » is a third type of PMU, 110 Rue La Boetie, where there’s nothing to drink and no seats, and all you get is a crowded floor surrounded by monitors, and you play on your feet, amidst a tangle of elbows.

Just across Champs-Elysées, on 11 Rue Marbeuf, in a haute couture neighborhood is the fourth type of PMU, the original, from the time before they broadcast live racing. It’s called Bar O Sancerre Brasserie, and it’s a hangout for the people who work in the neighborhood. It’s clean and you can hear the plates and glasses clinking and clacking. You can put in a bet at the bar but you can't watch the races.

Finally, there is the simplest of PMU, like the one I can see from my livingroom window. It’s a Presse (news and stationery store), with a little handicapping corner including a counter to lean on, with the Quinté past performances posted on the wall and a pen and bet cards.

I was searching for the most comfortable PMU and had not found it downtown. (There's one right across Place Chatelet which nearly qualified.) So I wheeled through the suburban cities skirt the edge of the city.

BICYCLE SOCIOLOGY
In affluent neighborhoods the folks don't hang out at PMU bars and in low-end "quartiers", most PMUs are too cramped and uncomfortable. But I discovered today that in transitional cities, neither upscale nor down-and-out, you can find some relatively attractive PMUs. Such was the case in Levallois, where I came upon LE CAVE, corner of Rue Baudin and Rue Rivay. The betting area is not large and there's only one monitor but it's not crowded. Le Cave is a restaurant with a full course lunch of basic French bistrot food for only 14 Euros (entrée, plat, dessert), and attractive sidewalk seating, including chess tables. An added touch: flowers on the railings that separate the sidewalk from the street.
The next town to cross was Neuilly-sur-Seine, probably the wealthiest city in France. President Sarkozy is the former mayor of Neuilly. I came across lots of good bars, but none of them with the friendly green PMU label.
Following Neuilly, I crossed the Boulogne forest, arriving at the edge of the affluent 16th district, Porte de Saint-Cloud. Much of the 16th has the reputation of being elegant but boring. However, here was a lively quartier, with a spirited outdoor street market and colorful collages of fresh fruit and vegetables. There were two PMUs. One was LE PAD'OCK, a club, and the other was Tabac Bar PMU LE HAVANE.
I went in to make a win bet on the horse for course in the first race at Les Sables-d'Olonne. The place was clean and relatively comfortable but was no match for LE CAVE. In the dining room there was a wall size picture of Che Guevara smoking a cigar. My consumer instincts kicked in and I decided to buy a cigar, only to discover that they only sold cigarettes. You'd think that with name like Havane, they'd have sold cigars.
I made my win bet on the trotter Rancho Gédé, the only horse for course, at 7-2. (Eventually I learned that he finished third when blocked throughout the final turn and the stretch.)
I went on into yet another suburban city, Boulogne, and visited the Jockey Club, France-Galop, to spread the word about our effort to raise funds for retired Thoroughbreds. I dropped off some articles on our project with some people I know and then got back on the bike and rode through the forest, back through Neuilly, back through Levallois, and got home. This was one of the easiest rides I've had, since the weather was cool and the sky overcast. I could have gone all day if there had only been a race track anywhere near. Tomorrow is Longchamp, the biggest race of the summer. Please stay tuned.mc

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Coming down the stretch at Maisons Laffitte

Approaching the town of Maisons Laffitte and its chateau

STAGE 9: LOST AND FOUND, MAISONS-LAFFITTE

STAGE 9:
This was our toughest stage so far, even if it was only 48 km (30 miles). Yesterday we reached 380 km, and with today, it's up to 428 kms (267.5 miles). If anyone is donating to the TRF according to miles, we should get double today.
It was in the low 90s with the midday sun beating down and we still decided to go out of our way to take a few pictures that we had missed yesterday. Then, I made a mistake with the Bizantine map and we ended up going in the wrong through congested suburbs: in fact, in the opposite direction.
We found a perfect bicycle path through an industrial zone, and in fact the bike lane was not needed, redundant, because there wasn't a car in sight. We're talking about the near and mid-northern suburbs of Paris, which for Parisians is no-mans' land.
I get ornery when I make dumb mistakes and the comfort index is over 100 degrees. Alan, on the other hand, could have been the author of "Don't Worry, Be Happy", and he got me through a bad moment.
It was all worth it when we got to the bridge over the Seine leading to Maisons-Laffitte, with the ML castle directly in front of us, and the green race course to the right beyond and beneath the railing of the bridge.
Maisons-Laffitte was one more example of a child-friendly track. I recall years ago proposing to the Laurel management that they should have childrens' facilities, and they responded that there was an insurance problem. Here we saw all kinds of great childrens activities, with game booths, country-fair style, clowns on stilts, and what they call "ambiance". Throw in free admission, a winning marketing strategy of France-Galop. A France-Galop insider once told me that these special treats rarely translate into higher handle because most of the newcomers only bet 2 Euros here and there. However, there is the idea of trying to restore racing as an integral part of the culture, the way it is in the Saratoga region.
Last point: Maisons-Laffitte is a woodsy horse city, and on the streets there are signs saying that horses have the right of way.
As for the betting, once again I scraped out a small profit, thanks to playing Valasyra, yet again, a horse trained by Royer-Dupré that fit the conditions perfectly. I suspect that Mr. Royer-Dupré reads the conditions books many months in advance and plans for his horses to "fit" more than any others, as if he wrote the condition book himself.
In fact, I suspect that the profits are also coming from playing only when I have discovered something, which means passing most races. I enjoy hanging out at race tracks with racing people and I don't crave to bet.
Alan also cashed in on a separate Royer-Dupré horse: R-D had three straight winners. Catch-em while they're hot.
Tomorrow is our first day off. Tuesday we'll do the "Tour de PMU" (PMU means OTB), trying to place a bet in as many PMU café-bars as possible while crossing the city. Many of these PMU bars look like vintage NY OTB. You'll get a surprising description. It won't be elegant.
Wednesday is the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchampp, Group I at a mile and a half, with probably Breeders' Cup horses vying for the big prize. We'll be there.
mc

Former classic train station in industrial zone on the way to Enghien. No comment

local bar outside of Paris

Saturday, July 10, 2010

STAGE 8: Does luck exist?

STAGE 8 (10 July) took us to cozy, woodsy Enghien (north of Paris), for 32 kilometers round trip (20 miles). Total: 8 stages and two prologue stages, 380 kilometers (237.5 miles), and this was our 9th track of 13 planned. ("Petit" travelogue to follow of this very different route.)
DOES LUCK EXIST?
Enghien has an outer grass course for jumpers and an inner harness track, today's card, and is surrounded by tall oak trees. It's set up for children, with a park and pony rides. It has an old-fashioned cafeteria and many players arrive early for a hearty traditional lunch at a bargain price.
I managed to scratch out a profit when a 24-1 horse got the photo for fourth in a MULTI race (need to pick top for finishers in any order). I am now seriously reconsidering my position that there is no such thing as luck in horse betting. Too many things have gone my way lately to call it "skill".
Example: I made three World Cup soccer bets, but the law changed in France and the British on-line bookie was obligated to return my wagers. All three teams lost. To replace those bets, I made two invidual game bets with a French service and both teams (Paraguay and the USA) won their games.
Does luck exist? Gina Rarick's Rapsodie du Désert went off at 14-1 at Deauville, and finished a close third, losing the win in the last breath. Gina's is in a losing streak and yet, when I do statistics on the average odds of her horses, she is overachieving compared to most other trainers, with so many seconds and thirds with huge-odds horses that no one picks.
I think that luck has something to do with my winning streak and Gina's losing streak.
A MOST UNUSUAL TRIP
When bicycling from Paris to the Enghien race course, you cross two meanders of the snaking Seine River, rolling through old industrial neighborhoods, partly devastated by outsourcing, but still with funky old working class bistrots and bars at the edge of each industrial area. You pass ugly 1970s public housing highrises, and a few village-like "quartiers".
It looks like a wasteland but two great things are happening. Humanity is holding forth with public gathering places (read Ray Oldenburg's The Great Good Place)and nature is fighting back, the way it has successfully at Love Canal near Buffalo. Public policy gives a lift to nature by maintaining but not manicuring a number of splendid public parks, which we zigzagged through.
One of them occupies half of an island in the Seine, part of a little known industrial island city called Ile-Saint-Denis. You won't find tourists in these parts. I think they're missing something. I once wrote a book called FunkyTowns USA (not a plug since the book's out of print), and I'd say that this area on the way to Enghien is funky France.
But then you cross the Seine once again and you enter old-fashioned wealthy neighborhoods with stony old homes and a friendly lake.
This was our first trip to Enghien by bicycle and I was surprised to see number of bright green bicycle lanes.
The bicycle racks at the track were too far from the entrance and too close to a street that would be easy pickings for a bicycle thief. The track management was kind enough to let me lock my bike inside the confines of the track.
I went back to the barns and said hello to trainer-driver Bruno Marie, who is a bicycle enthusiast. He was thrilled to hear about our project and said he'd ride with us for a few laps if he's in Vichy when we're there.
It got up to 90 degrees today, and tomorrow it figures to be higher for our next stage: the Maisons-Laffitte. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Finish line at Deauville

Entrance to Deauville race track

A typical Normandy church

STAGES 6 and 7: GOOD NEWS

First, a correction on the kilometers / miles, which I figured too hastily when typing against the clock on a borrowed computer.
Entering Stage 4 on Tuesday 6 July, we had 204 kilometers. We added 92 (Evreux to Lisieux, the long and scenic way) on that non-racing day: total 296 km = 185 miles.
On Stage 5, (7 July) we stayed in Lisieux for the races and did not count the kilometers, even though we cycled around the town and to the track from our hotel.
On Stage 6, (8 July) we went 44 km, from Lisieux to the "Del Mar" of France, Deauville. The mileage also includes round trip from hotel to the Clairefontaine races. (See photos in previous posting.) That took us to 340 km = 212.5 miles.
On Stage 7 (9 July) we went to the other Deauville track, popularly called Deauville, and our few kms show how useful the bicycle is as a form of transportation: round trip to track from hotel, briefly touring the town, from hotel to train station, and after arriving in Paris, from Gare Saint-Lazare to our homes.
Total for day: 8 km, reaching 348 KILOMETERS = 217.5 MILES.
SOME GOOD NEWS
Longshots have been coming in and I've been making enough at the windows to pay for all hotels, train tickets, restaurants and with enough remaining for a comfortable cushion, this by betting sparingly and passing most races. The idea is to let the good angles come to you and don't go fishing for them. Like Bukowski said, "don't try".
I will summarize the details of all this betting in a later publication for hard-core handicappers, but in essence, I am proving that many American handicapping angles and methods work just fine in the most foreign of racing settings.
At Lisieux (small track trotters) it was a 21-1 winner plus quinella with the only two HORSES-FOR-COURSE in the race (I only played the Q).
At Clairefontaine, it was not a longshot but a favorite (coincidentally named Americain), who had won a graded stakes race in May of 2009 and the conditions of the race said, "horses must not have won a graded stakes since July of 2009". The conditions fit perfectly for this horse, and no other in the field, so I made an exception and played him at 3/2. I stayed out of the other races. Alan interviewed the owner, who bought the horse in the USA and plans to enter him in the Melbourne Cup.
At Deauville on Sunday, there was a quinella with the horses-for-course (Deauville fiber-sand specialist) winning at 16-1 (coming from bad turf form) and another dirt specialist that was entering a claiming race for the first time. I had both the win and the Q.
As you can see, none of these angles are foreign.
And finally, on the fiber-sand, one of only two USA breds in a baby race, a long sprint. The horse was sired by Vindication, switching from turf to dirt for his second try. There were some negatives on the horse, but when I saw the bet-down from 29-1 to 13-1, I decided that the American-dirt-speed breeding looked good and played the horse.
Horse-for-course, pedigree, conditions, all factors that are valid in the USA and abroad. Current form takes a back seat when powerful change angles, backed by statistics, emerge.
MORE GOOD NEWS
One of the all-time great international jockeys, Olivier Peslier, took time out of a busy day to talk with us. We learned that in France, a rider can volunteer a percentage of his earnings from purses to support Thoroughbred retirement. Mr. Peslier is an avid supporter of the rights of race horses to a worthy retirement. Mrs. Peslier is also involved in significant charity activities. Alan and I were honored that Peslier posed with us for a photo (see previous post).
We've also gotten great response from race track managers and personnel. The man at the entrance at Lisieux saw us ride up on bikes with our Tbred retirement tee-shirts and caps and waved us through, courtesy of the house (we had press passes but he didn't know it).
Thanks to the Paris-Turf article, people on the street salute Alan, whose picture was in the article. Our tee-shirts and caps are now generally recognized for the cause they support. Management at Clairefontaine lent us a computer and gave us a desk. We were greeted by the Deauville race course president.
STILL MORE GOOD NEWS
We're in good shape. Especially Alan, who's hard to keep up with on the road; he could easily double the kilometers if the race tracks were only farther apart. Alan is an inspiration because I tend to be a naysayer and he always has a philosophical phrase that translates in more eloquent words to "don't worry". Perhaps his professional background in Asian art has something to do with this.
Of course, the French countryside along with the well-preserved half-timber architecture is a most natural stimulation to roll on.
Look, so far, with good weather on our side, we've been able to have lots of fun and use no energy except that which comes from our own bodies. I respect the work of environmentalists but I think they have it wrong when they talk about making sacrifices. I would argue that it's possible to have more fun by consuming less.
Finally, a note of thanks to Jennifer at the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, who sent us a tee-shirt to encourage us on the road. Jen bicycle commutes in LA, which is tougher than Normandie! How about bicycling between Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. That would be a challenge!
Racing has moved to the Paris region, where temperatures will be well over 90.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

at the finish line at beautiful Clairefontaine race track

champion jockey Olivier Peslier with Mark & Alan at Clairefontaine race track

close up Abbaye de Bec Hellouin

Abbaye de Bec Hellouin

STAGES 4, 5 and 6: LISIEUX and CLAIREFONTAINE

STAGES 4-5-6
quick summary because we're at clairefontaine and management was kind enough to lend us this computer ... Stage 3: Evreux to Lisieu 68 km, current total 308. That's 130 miles. First half "voie verte" the Green Way, and also the long way to avoid traffic, built over an old railroad track and passing by the old stationhouses, some of them left as monuments and others converted to homes, mainly through woods, gloriously easy and after 46 km, 40 of which were voie verte, we arrived at one of the "most beautiful villages" of FRance: Le Bec Hellouin, with 11th century abbey, time of William the Conqueror.
In the second 46 km we paid the consequences of the easy half, with a trip through the magnificent but hilly Normandie, with three Long climbs. Normandy is like this because rivers have cut deep gorges.
Stage 5 next day, no appreciable kilometers as we only bicycled around town and to the track. Also got interviewed for the local newspaper.
At night, Lisieux, small country track, sometimes with Tbreds but this night with trot races. No problem: play the horse for course. I know you find it hard to believe that handicapping everywhere in the world is universal, but it is. I got 27-1by combining the only two horses for in the third race. I played the "place quinella" because I didn't have my computer stats to look back at all the horses' histories, but my combo finished first-second and the win quinella paid off at 100-1.
Stage 6 Lisieux to Deauville for attending the races at Clairefontaine, an exceptionally beautiful track.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The finish line at charming Compiègne race track

Chateua d'Aramont in Verberie on the way to Compiègne

STAGE 3: COMPIEGNE

COMPIEGNE, where you can't tell where the forest ends and the race track begins, an idyllic setting for racing, small homespun grandstand, classic wood and stone architecture, a festive small town atmosphere, and a feast of racing, even though a notch in class below the Parisian tracks. The World War I armistice was signed in the Compiegne forest, and when France fell to the Nazis, Hitler had the armistice revoked in the same forest. Compiegne is an elegant city with vintage styles of architecture, a living testimony of France's sense of historic preservation.
We entered this stage with 140 km (87.5 miles) and added 68 km (42.5 miles) for an accumulated total of 208 km (130 miles). But more than the miles today, it was "contre la montre" (against the clock, as they say in the Tour de France). We had to bike at sustained speed to make it from the train station at Pont-Sainte-Maxence on the Oise River to get to the first race and featured race on time, and then we had to reverse the process to catch the train to Paris from Pont-Sainte-Maxence.
The whole route was along the Oise River, and half of it was bike path, so it was a case of "scenic doping". If any doping happens on our alternative Tour de France, it will be performance dis-enhancing substances, such as red wine.
A typical scene in France is poppy flowers growing wild in wheat fields, and here, the poppy has romantic symbolism rather than its reputation for a source of dope. Only obstacle besides the clock: we took a wrong path in the woods and to get out, had to walk our bikes on a hopelessly narrow path along an electrified fence that protected a corn field from scavengers. At one treacherous point, Alan got a shock.
Handicapping Lesson
As I've been writing, American handicapping methods can be applied across the globe. Today I hit a MULTI (you have to pick the top 4 horses in any order, better than a superfecta because a longshot in fourth place has the same value as if it were to finish first). This bet is only for fields of 14 or more.
The method, which I call "the Short Form", in honor of the IRS, truly simplifies the selection and elimination process, and it works well for Tbreds, jumpers and trotters.
In this case, I got a 25-1 payoff in a simulcast trot race from Vichy. All I did the night before was find a race where most of the trainers had less than a 5% win rate, and eliminated them all, with one exception. An eliminated horse is restored as a contender if it has overachieved at today's race track.
The method works great in the USA as well, and in fact, that's where I derived it (I'll explain in detail in a longer report). But with smaller fields in the USA, I can eliminate trainers with less than a 12% hit rate. There is also a class filter, and horses that are proven losers at today's class level are eliminated.
I also collected on the quinella, where I used the two horses-for-course. I got shut out when trying to play the only American bred (in honor of July 4th weekend) in a 2-year-old field when I saw the late betting action. He won.
The body is not just a physical specimen, like, say a poppy flower. The mind has its say. After collecting on this bet, I found it much easier to cycle full speed ahead from the race track to train station two hours away.
Alan and I are doing this trip at our own expense. So far we've been able to pay for some of our expenses thanks to the horses, and if these horses work so hard to give us thrills, including the ones that lose, then when they must retire, they deserve to be spared from the slaughterhouse. It's so simple. We don't kill off any living being just because it can't work for us anymore. That's about our own humanity.
mc
PS. Tomorrow is a longer stage and we may collapse before being able to file a report. Please stay tuned for the next report, and support the cause.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

STAGE 2: CHANTILLY

STAGE 2: CHANTILLY
We entered Stage two with 104 km or 65 miles. Cycle to the Gare du Nord train station (4km), bikes on a train to beyond the congested suburbs, get off at the village, Orry-la-Ville, cycle through two fresh forests, Coye and Chantilly, descend to a pond with a castle, and climb back up to eventually cross magnificent dirt horse-training “avenues”, just before arriving at the race course (14 km). Reverse the process for the return and it ends up as 36 km (22.5 miles). New total: 140 km (87.5 miles).
Chantilly is not just a race track. It is pure history. Chantilly’s first race card dates back to
1834. On the “backstretch” the horses gallop by “the Great Stables” (1719-1740), perhaps the most beautiful horse stable in the world, certainly better than the housing we humans have in Paris. Today this castle-like structure with its Versailles-style gardens, serves as The Living Museum of the Horse.
Once the horses pass this furlong-length masterpiece (a rainbow of silks flowing by cream-colored grainy stone), they round the turn in front of the elegant Chantilly Chateau (begun in the 16th century but mostly rebuilt in the 19th century). The horses enter the long stretch, and the head-on shows the castle in the background.
The spectacle itself is well worth it, but you can also play the horses at Chantilly. Alan played the horses on July 4 and won four of five. He was on fire. We had to leave early so he didn’t play the sixth, and his horse lost. Anything he did or did not do came out right. (I was able to hit two of three, as well.)
Alan had started out the day with positive energy, having seen a great article in that morning’s Paris-Turf portraying our cycling project, which eloquently raised the issue of Thoroughbred retirement. This was already a big victory for us because every trainer and owner reads the Paris-Turf and we had successfully presented the issue (our thanks to Alain Stromboni, the young journalist who so aptly synthesized our ideas). As a result of the article, we were interviewed by the French racing network, Equidia.
But you may ask: how can an American player step in and handicap French races. This trip serves as a test for my hypothesis: that good handicapping is universal and transferable from one racing culture to another.
One example is Alan’s 9.80 winner in the second race, for three-year olds. NAABEGHA, trained by Freddy Head, had shown early speed in his only two-year-old race, quitting in the stretch of that mile event. Strangely, for his 3-year-old comeback race, Head stretched the horse out to a mile and 3/8 and he failed to make a move in the stretch.
NAABEGHA then shortened up to 7 furlongs and finished second at 40-1. No matter where in the world you play the horses, overachievers often come back to do well in their next race. The colt had overachieved when shortening up in distance, so the stable had him race at yet a shorter distance, 6 furlongs, and that’s why Alan played the horse.
It was what we call a pattern match. Identifying objective patterns is an artistic talent, and I make a connection between Alan’s work in the world of art and his success in the art of handicapping.
Unfortunately for me, when Alan made this discovery, I had been involved in press box public relations, so the horses were already in the gate when Alan explained the pattern match.
My two winning plays were both horses whose off-track odds had plunged to half (still good odds) when averaged with the late on-track wagering. Both had handicapping angles in their favor, but you can always play the game of finding a positive angle for nearly every horse in a field, so for me it was the toteboard corroboration that pushed me to the betting window.
In conclusion, the pattern match discovered by Alan, would make sense in Hong Kong, Australia, the USA, Chile, and anywhere else that Thoroughbreds line up for their magnificent spectacle.
And this was Chantilly, which can stand proudly with the Pyramids or the Great Wall of China as one of the seven wonders of the world.

Mark at Chantilly race track with the Chateau de Chantilly and the Grands Ecuries in the background

Mark & our bikes on the way to Chantilly

A feature article on our fund raising bike ride in "Paris Turf" the Daily Racing Form of France

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Mark & Alan at Longchamp - trainer Gina Rarick, Thierry and Turfani - Day 1


Stage 1: LONGCHAMP

STAGE 1: LONGCHAMP
We entered into Stage 1 with 76 kilometers accumulated from our two prologue stages to Saint-Cloud and Auteuil.
The main course of Stage 1 involved a round trip to Longchamp plus an appetizer to the Arc de Triomphe for a “photo opportunity” for Thoroughbred Times. The two short trips add up to 28 km. New total: 104 km, or 65 miles.
The photo op may be the most dangerous moment in our whole tour, as the photographer insisted that we pose with our bikes in the middle of the Champs-Elysées Boulevard (inches away from insane traffic whizzing by on both sides). We risked our lives in order for him to have the full Arc de Triomphe.
The Arc de Triomphe is the finish line for the real Tour de France, so chalk up a victory for Alan and Mark, since we got there 25 days before Lance Armstrong.

“There’s less stress in betting ‘em than owning ‘em.” Alan Kennedy

Alan should know. He was about to place a bet on the filly Turfani, racing in a 17 horse field of mostly boys. Alan once owned Turfani. Turfani has heart and loves to run but keeping her healthy is a most complex art, mastered by her trainer Gina Rarick.
Gina had Turfani ready to go the mile and a quarter on a fresh grey day that accentuated every imaginable shade of green, from the surrounding Boulogne forest, the track surface itself, softened from a morning shower, and the shimmering reflections in nearby lakes. Add to this the pastels of the jockey’s silks and the rows of flowers lining the grandstand railings and you have a sensorial feast.
Turfani got off a tad slow and rider Mathias Sautjeau urged her to hustle.
It’s the slow-start/rush-up phenomenon. Turfani, used to pressing the pace, suddenly felt it was time to make the move, and became the pace setter: too late to tell her to hold off for awhile. The lead is not the place to be on a soft surface at Longchamp.
She led well into the long stretch but finally the tsunami came at her from behind. The rider later told Gina, with remarkable frankness, that it was his fault for moving prematurely.
Months of Ghandian patience, health care worthy of a congressman, and even in Buckingham Palace they don’t nurse the sore legs into shape as well as they do in Turfani’s stable in Maisons-Laffitte … and then, poof, one split second mistake and you have to start the whole waiting process again.
So I lost my bet on Turfani at about 20-1 (the average odds of Gina’s horses) but her 46-1 winner in the Spring meant that I can absorb 45 straight losses and still be on top. I can wait without fretting. But for both owner and trainer, the tank of optimism needs to be refilled on a regular basis from a mysterious and resilient inner source that few human beings possess.
Fashion Statement:
Alan and I are unknown at the Parisian fashion shows and we would be scorned if we showed up, but today was our big chance to make a once-in-a-lifetime fashion statement. During the afternoon, we alternated between the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation collection, tee-shirts from the French League for the Protection of Horses, and the Gallop France polo shirts from the Gina Rarick stable. It took me 65 years to finally wear something with pride.
Next stage: Chantilly, possibly the most beautiful race course in the world. We’ll show you why tomorrow. Our plan is to take our bikes on the train to get out of the congested and polluted suburbs and cycle the rest through open country and forest.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

LOGISTICS FOR A FOUND CAUSE

LOGISTICS FOR A FOUND CAUSE
We have gone above 10% of the $50,000 fundraising goal for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The counterpart of the TRF in France is the Ligue pour la Protection du Cheval. They seem perfectly happy with our giving them publicity by wearing their tee-shirts, hoping we will find a few homes along the way for unwanted race horses.
So, for the first stage of our Tour de France (following the two preliminary handicap stages already completed) we’ll wear the Ligue tee-shirt and the TRF caps, which, thanks to an unlikely coincidence, perfectly match in both color and design.
As we expected, we’ll need to roll up as many miles as possible in order to reach the fundraising goal. The primary obstacle at this moment seems to be the weather. The normal high temperature for this time of year in northern-central France is 75 degrees. For the last four days it’s been 15 degrees higher than that.
Water is the number one defense against such heat but if we carry gallons of water, the dead weight will beat us down. So we’ve got to tote a moderate amount, drink frequently, douse ourselves every so often, and stop here and there to fill up.
We’ve met some interesting people in the past when knocking on doors to ask for water. On two occasions asking for a fill-up led to fascinating house tours, slowing us down but spicing up the trip.
The next dangerous enemy is the sun. We use lots of sun block. If any of you readers work for a sun block company or know of managers of such companies, help us get a sponsor. We are loyal customers. My dermatologist will testify to the success of the sun block.
Protection against Skin cancer comes from both the sun block and a brand new discipline in geography (our invention), which involves calculating bicycle routes that avoid facing the sun, routes that either coincide with shady forests or have the sun at one’s back. This type of travel requires complex permutations. For example, on our upcoming trip from Chantilly to Compiègne (July 4), we will have the sun at our backs.
When the world finally realizes that the bicycle can be a worthy form of transportation and not only a vehicle of recreation, we will have established this new discipline for geography departments at universities.
Alas, when we leave Compiègne the following afternoon, we will have the sun in our faces, except that we have found a shady bicycle route along the Oise River for part of the way.
Another major logistics problem is how to get through this trip without losing the rent money. Time for handicapping will be at a premium. We have not yet developed a method for reading the past performance from the bicycle saddle.
The answer for the time being is to only play specialty methods. On the first stage at Longchamp, July 3, we’ll be betting on Gina Rarick’s horse, Turfani. (Gina’s the only American trainer in France.) Thus far we’ve made a profit by betting equally on all her horses. So please root for Turfani and root for the temperature to get back near normal.
And please spread the word about this worthy cause. In an ESPN interview, Bill Finley asked me why I had chosen this cause. In fact, for much of my life, I have been involved in fighting for lost causes. I consider the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation a “found cause”, because I see lots of victories in the TRF past performances. Not only do they save unwanted horses from the trucks of death but they save unwanted human beings, through reaffirmative vocational training for inmates in managing horse stables.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

ON GETTING DOORED

ON GETTING DOORED

During my past six years of daily bicycle commuting, I have gone down six times, once per year. This has now become a statistic. I now can expect to go down once a year, no matter what precautions I take.

Horse race jockeys can also expect to take falls, when moving three times faster than I do on a bike, and from a higher position.

Two months back, I made a wager at the Aintree English jump meet on a horse ridden by a leading jockey, Ruby Walsh. My horse was alternating on the lead most of the way and looked strong, until Ruby Walsh went down, barely avoiding the hooves of the horses that came from behind.

Even the best of horse race jockeys know that they will take falls. A Guardian article from 2008 tabulated the fall rate of the top twenty jump riders. I hadn’t seen this article at the time of my bet, but Ruby Walsh was the leader in falls, spilling to the turf in an incredible 7.4 percent of his rides. At the bottom of the standings, Mike Fitzgerald, took a tumble in 2.9% of his rides, and that’s alarming enough.

The Medical Journal of Australia did a study that found that being a jockey was more dangerous than being a boxer, with only the job of off-shore fisherman having more risk to lives.

So when I ride my bike through Paris traffic, I identify with race riders and I try my best to be alert. Four of my spills have come from getting “doored”. Cyclers in the city flow through space like water, so we have no choice but to go between cars. (My route seems to elude the network of bicycle lanes in Paris.)

I watch on my right for an opening door, but I wasn’t watching carefully when a woman opened her back door on the traffic side of the car in a theatre district on Rue de Clichy, just as I was passing.

Thump. The pavement was unforgiving.

I had been overconfident because it was a taxi, and it is illegal for a taxi rider to get out on the street side.

So much for the law!

Another time when I let my guard down was on crowded Avenue de Clichy, not to be confused with Rue de Clichy, a street that reminds me of Flushing, Queens. I was following two policemen on bicycles, who were advancing single file. Somehow I felt protected. The two policemen passed a parked postal truck with no problem and then the door of the truck opened just as I got there.

Bam, thump, #//??##.

I was able to get up with only a couple of bruises. My admiration for jockeys increased. What really makes it more dangerous for a rider of race horses is that they want to win and I just want to arrive.

You might think that, well, a rider becomes a millionaire so he can afford to take the risk. But when I lived on the backside at Canterbury Park, most of the riders I got to know were just subsisting. I remember when one of them, a guy named Roger, refused to ride following a downpour when he felt the track was too dangerous, risking the wrath of his agent and track management. Gary Stevens once took heat for refusing to ride a dangerous horse in Italy.

Each time I go down, I get up with increased admiration for the jockeys who, as partners with the horse, make horse racing the great spectacle.

PS. Someone please answer this question. When Alan and I are on the road this summer raising money for Thoroughbred retirement, we, like horses, will carry weight. Part of the weight we carry is in our lunch packages, usually a sandwich, fruit and a bottle of water.

After we’ve stopped in a shady place for lunch and we’re back in the saddle, suddenly our load seems lighter. Less water, no apple, no sandwich.

But it should not feel lighter, should it, because all we’ve done is transfer the weight from outside our bodies to inside.

So why does the load feel lighter? Could this be the argument that dead weight is more of a burden than live weight? If you have the answer, let me know.