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.

Monday, May 31, 2010


STAGE 2: AUTEUIL: riding for race horse retirement

The goal was 40 kilometers (25 miles). It should have been longer, since I’d be crossing the city twice at its widest part and also doing extra north-south loops along the way. But Paris is not Los Angeles.

The theme is monuments and landmarks. The goal is reaching Auteuil race course, which houses a protected monument, the old grandstand where horseplayer Ernest Hemingway used to sit in the 1920s. (While I looped the right bank, Alan would loop the left, we’d would converge at Notre-Dame cathedral, and cycle on to Auteuil for the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris (French Gold Cup). (To see a photo album of our journey, click on http://picasaweb.google.com/108694285236596100288/Prologue2AuteuilRacecourse?feat=directlink)

The favorite would be odds-on, and favorites had won 50% in the last 20 editions, so it was not a bettable race. The theme of race horse retirement emerged because two 11-year-old horses had come out of retirement, winning comeback races after a year and a half away, and were competing in this pugilistic race, covering three miles and 5/8 and 23 hurdles, including the feared rail ditch, 1.6 meters high and 4.1 meters long. Also the Grandstand River jump, where you can stand within a few feet and watch 14 horses fly over it. Pugilistic because horses don’t only lose this race: they get knocked out.

Only one 10-year old had won the race since 1963; never an 11-year old. I’d root for these two George Foremans of racing but not bet on them.

I planned for 23 obstacles in my bicycle ride (hills, broken glass from Saturday-night partying, crossing the unforgiving Bastille traffic circle, etc.).

Paris Réalité

Those not interested in the Paris travelogue, please skip this part and go directly to Auteuil grandstand and the big race.

I begin at Clichy, 8:30am, 4 furlongs outside the belt road, the only freeway in Paris. It’s a no-mans’ land around the belt road. During work days, you see fully-equipped vans occupied by prostitutes plying their trade beyond retirement age. The sex workers’ labor union in France has failed to successfully advocate for these women.

Up the long hill of Avenue de Clichy and in and around the bourgeois bohemian Les Batignolles village-neighborhood. I passed a former residence of Emile Zola, as well as 15 Rue Nollet, the apartment building where the great American poet Langston Hughes lived in 1924, while working as a bouncer in a nearby nightclub.

This is also the quartier where the impressionist painters got together at the Café Guerbois, now an unattractive shoe store.

From here, Place de Clichy, another dangerous traffic circle, I turn east, onto a glorious bicycle path within a boulevard promenade. The outer street is lined with XXX shops and the Moulin Rouge, even seedier than the old Times Square. It’s only 8:45am, a true Sunday morning sidewalk, occupied by down-and-outers.

The scam here later in the afternoon: they sell the unwitting passerby a Chanel but they switch bottles when wrapping, she opens it up later and finds cheap cologne instead.

The bicycle path continues past the hill of Montmartre, where you can see the puffy white Sacre Coeur cupola looming above, between trinket-store-infested side streets.

The boulevard promenade ends at Barbés, where the underground Metro emerges to become an el. This neighborhood is featured in a friend’s novel called African Aliens. This is also the setting for the horse racing-police-corruption movie, My New Partner, starring Philippe Noiret.

Just across the street from the el station, you can buy contraband cigarettes from corner venders. Under the el, 3-card monte tricksters. Squad cars roll by but the underground economy thrives.

To the right, it’s Sri Lankan Paris, great places to eat, but the food is too hot, even for Mexicans.

I pass a bridge over Gare du Nord (TGV and Eurostar trains below, in neat rows), and then comes the complexly dangerous intersection between Canal de l’Ourq and Canal Saint Martin. Canal de l’Ourq, where an occasional murderer dumps a dead body. The Canal de l’Ourq path will take the cycler all the way out to the country.

But I go right, Canal Saint-Martin, great ambiance on summer eves, some parts of the bending canal rising above the road: a wonder of engineering! Pass the bar Chez Prune (prune colored façade), where a few years ago, cold winter night, a drunk guy was insulting the beautiful young people who hang out there, and the man asked for another drink, and Cristophe, the bartender said he couldn’t serve him, and the man said, “If you don’t serve me I’ll jump into the canal.” Cristophe said: “Go ahead and do it!” What else could a French bartender say?

The guy jumped in and the beautiful young people helped pull him out. He was trembling. They gave him a hot wine, so he got served after all. Chez Prune, great landmark.

You can cross over the Venetian bridge and visit the Versailles-style Hôpital Saint-Louis, first hospital of Paris, 1604, built by Henry IV, France’s first great urban planner, and you can still have an operation in this building, which looks like a great chateau.

The Saint-Martin Canal has several locks, where you can watch boats rising or lowering to the proper level to continue their voyage.

The canal goes underground, on its way to the Seine, and I go left, up to the Pere-Lachaise cemetery, where the dead people of history come alive in remarkable art: Balzac, Daumier, Edith Piaf, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, the slain of the Paris Commune. I pay honor to the grave of Abelard and Heloise (no time for Jim Morrison’s grave this time).

Middle Age romance, Abelard, promising seminary scholar at Notre-Dame, invited to be tutor of Heloise, by her uncle. When the uncle was away, a love affair developed. The uncle found out and had Abelard castrated. Heloise became a nun. They wrote impassioned letters to each other for the rest of their lives. No soap opera can outdo the story of Abelard and Heloise!

Inspiration to cycle on! I buy a leather belt at an outdoor street sale, an annual brocante, just beyond the stone wall of Pere-Lachaise. I wheel on to the La Réunion neighborhood in the outer 20th district. Place La Réunion, arguably the best street market of Paris. Unkown to tourists. I buy fresh cherries, in season.

Down Avenue des Pyrénées, to the Coulée Verte (the Green Way), submerged in an urban gully, where all is vegetation and suddenly I breathe oxygen and I wonder what I’ve been breathing before I got here. The Green Way emerges to become the promenade plantée, rising onto a restored brick aqueduct, but now only a pedestrian way. A parallel bicycle path goes on to Bastille, but before I get there, I stop to admire the restored Gare de Lyon clock tower).

I dodge around the expansive Bastille traffic circle, and then on to the Seine, where the canal reemerges and yachts are docked. Go right along the Seine and cross a stone bridge to Ile de la Cité and Notre-Dame. I have a few minutes before Alan’s 11am arrival, so I visit the old carved stone house where Abelard and Heloise made love.

Alan and I take a few pictures at Notre-Dame, and we move farther along the river, take pictures of the Louvre, with a typical sculpted stone bridge in the foreground, and then my favorite art museum, Orsay. Orsay was a former railroad station, with ornate carved stone and huge clocks framed by the stonework.

Then along a riverside road, closed to vehicles on weekends. We go through a 5-minute caressing rain, to the new Musée Branly and its offices, whose façade is a colorful vertical garden. Purple and bright greens predominate.

In front of the garden wall, a scamster, maybe in his 40s, round face, missing finger, is doing the gold ring trick, trying to give a lesson in human nature to a naïve tourist. He furtively drops the ring, then tells a tourist, “Oh that must be your ring,” and when the tourist says no, the scamster says, well then we both found it so we can share the ring. If you want, pay me half the value and you keep the ring. He tries with several museum goers, and fails to convince.

He sees that Alan and I are watching him, deduces we are not police, comes over, shakes hands with us, and laments, “Business is bad today.”

We tell him to not lose hope.

On to the Eiffel Tower, where we take a few pictures.


West side of Paris, less than 100 meters from Roland Garros, edge of the expansive Boulogne forest.

We take pictures of the empty old stone Auteuil grandstand. Nature is taking over in the upper deck, with a rim of vegetation, a wild French garden. Next to the old grandstand, a newer one that was built with profound respect for the style and design of its predecessor.

I make the minimum bet in the first race and my horse leads all the way (best running style for Auteuil) and gets caught at the wire. Alan plays the second race, saying his system for the jumpers is to play the entry. The entry, 5.7-1, finishes first-second.

We’re now in the Press Box and my buddy André, who covers the races for the Martinique and Guadalupe OTB, hears about our Racetrack Tour de France, thinks it’s a grand idea. With verve, he introduces us the woman who covers animal subjects for Agence France Presse. She loves the cause: saving former race horses from slaughter and giving them a decent retirement. She’ll do a story, but says we need team tee-shirts with the colors of our mission. As soon as we have the tee-shirts, she’ll write an article.

I talk to the Paris-Turf publisher and he plans to follow us through the stages. Several other journalists hang around us and ask for more information. It’s a subject that has needed coverage and now they have a hook.

Alan and I go out to watch the big race, right in front of the grandstand river jump. The two senior horses are the grey, Looping d’Ainay, once second in this race and DQed, and Lord Carmont, also previously in the money.

This race will last almost as long as it took you to read this article, over seven minutes. But in the first 3 seconds, something goes wrong.

Sensing he’s outclassed, the 78-1 Mayef teaches his trainer a lesson, by making an intelligently strategic decision in refusing to start.

More surprising, the steady Christophe Pieux, all-time leading jump rider, with a cumulative 100-kilometer experience in his 17 previous Gold Cups, is thrown from his mount, Remember Rose, who happens to be the 7/10 favorite in the 14-horse field. Pieux catches some hoof and gets up slowly.

The two old-timers are running forwardly and looking good, but Alan and I are lamenting the fate of Christophe Pieux and that of his trainer and owners. All 24 public handicappers had picked Remember Rose to win.

Remember Rose is trying hard to please them, racing in first place without Chistophe Pieux for a whole lap around the track, doing each jump in rhythm, but finally taking a wrong path (which would have been the right path if this had been his previous race).

I wanted to have a happy ending for this article, but no ending can be happy after such a fall.

I still root for the oldtimers. Some two miles along the way, Lord Carmont begins to run out of gas and stops and Looping d’Ainay is sudden stopped, right in front of us, after a jump. He looks lame, favoring one side. Turns out to be a broken bone, not life threatening but career ending.

I very much wanted a storybook finish. But racing is a tough game. Owners, trainers, jockeys and players are all taking great risks, all knowing in advance that we lose more often than we win, and that months of painstaking preparation can suddenly be wrecked in an instant, and then we come back for more.

To continue with what we love, we depend on the horse. When we’re finished with the horse, he has the right to depend on us.

The winner is Polar Rochelais, by 20 lengths. The boxing analogy fits. Six of the 14 starters do not finish: TKO. The others barely make it to the finish line.

Racing continues and so do we. Our ridingfortheirlives mileage so far is 47.5 or 76 kilometers. We’re now 76 kilometers ahead of Lance Armstrong. We’ve visited two race tracks. Our ultimate goal is 13.

Sorry for being so wordy. Today it was Paris, a very compact place with a story at every corner. Soon it will be the open road, more miles and less verbiage. Hope our increasing mileage will encourage contributions to a great cause.

Monument-landmark rankings


Auteuil grandstand

Coulée Verte (The Green Way)

Gare de Lyon clock tower

Canal Saint-Martin with Venetian bridges, locks and Chez Prune

Saint-Louis Hospital

Carved stone bridges over the Seine

Pere-Lachaise Cemetery


Langston Hughes’ apartment

Eiffel Tower

The Louvre

The Moulin Rouge

I’m sure Alan, a savvy art connoisseur, will not call it the same way. Please note that we were forced to pass by or bypass many other magnificent monuments and landmarks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


We all know an answer for the preventing the slaughter of gallant thoroughbreds once their career is over. A microscopic percentage of the handle and purse money, an amount no one would notice, could be redirected to receiving retired thoroughbreds on farms and then looking for their new homes.

When our computers or batteries wear out, we’re not allowed to trash them. When our thoroughbreds are still able to get around, we shouldn’t be allowed to slaughter them. I’m 65. When I’m out there bicycling a thousand kilometers to raise funds, I carry within me the soul of a retired thoroughbred who still loves to gallop in a pasture.

The racing industry is aware that the slaughter of thoroughbreds is wrong. All they have to do is get together and come up with a simple formula that even a software novice can set up.

I can’t explain the mysterious paralysis that prevents racing industry leaders from e-mailing each other, having a conference call, and establishing a procedure. What they would lose in revenue would pale in comparison with what they would gain in public relations.

In the meantime, we horseplayers cannot sit by when many of the horses that entertain us will eventually meet a fate that none of us would accept if we were present to watch it happen.

So let’s prove that we players, rugged individualists who are essentially betting against each other, can get together and act in unison on this one issue. Please consider my modest proposal. The logic is impeccable.

When we collect on a big score, most of us give a tip to the pari-mutuel clerk. It stands to reason that we could also give a tip to the horse, in the form of a donation to thoroughbred retirement.

Even in these days of hard times, we players remain thrilled with a game that depends on the interaction of horse and human. Jockeys take risks in slipping through traffic on the rail at 40 miles per hour. Trainers take financial risks in having chosen a profession whose downs are inevitably more than the ups. Owners take risks for the thrill of the sport. And of course, bettors take risks and push money into the handle.

All of us, jockeys, trainers, owners and bettors depend on the horse. So many humans whose meaning of life depends on a horse!

None of us has found any pleasure in virtual horse racing video games. We need the living horse.

It’s not a mere game. It’s bigger than that. That’s why we say, “I’m ALIVE in the pick three.”

Well, if the pick three comes in and the payoff is substantial, let’s all give a tip to the horse that made it possible, in the form of a donation to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

Let’s prove to the leaders of the racing industry that rivals can come together on a common issue, that we players, who bet against each other every day, can get it together and save the horses.

STAGE 2. Sunday, May 30. Our next preliminary stage leading into the July 3 “tour de racetrack France” is to Auteuil, where Ernest Hemingway played the horses in the early 1920s. The old and wounded grandstand at Auteuil will stand until the sun dies out because it has been declared an official heritage monument, in a country where preservation is almost as sacred as red wine.

On our roundabout path to Auteuil, Alan and I will cycle by dozens of Paris monuments, across the whole city (picking up some frequent cycler miles), and then rank them in order of our own taste. You’ll find out where the Auteuil grandstand ranks in comparison to the Moulin Rouge, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Canal Saint-Martin, and so many others, including the Bar Les Vendages, where I do my handicapping.

And you’ll get a glimpse of the Sunday morning sidewalks of Paris, as we swerve around to avoid the broken bottles in the street, left over from Saturday night’s partying.

Alan will loop around the left bank, I’ll do the grand loop of the right bank, and then we’ll meet in front of Notre-Dame, at the core of the city, continuing on to the races at Auteuil at the west end of Paris.

Monday, May 24, 2010


The Saint-Cloud race course is on a green suburban plateau overlooking Paris from the west side. The triangular track of about a mile and a half circumference is considered flat by French standards, but you can observe the undulations when you cycle by the backstretch.

There's a 9-hole golf course in the infield. Railbirds will enjoy a grassy apron, and when the horses leave the walking ring, they gallop on a dirt corredor right in front of the rail, which leads them to a chute on the track with large shade trees. You can hear them panting and the one or two who gallop silently might be the winning quinella.
Each race finishes off under these magnificent trees.
So Saint-Cloud is a green experience, with a view of the Eiffel Tower from higher parts of the modest grandstand, and another view of Mt. Valerien, a foresty hill where French resistence fighters found a safe haven during the occupation.
Mt. Valerien is also home to the American Military Cemetery, land granted by France to the US Embassy. From a park across the road from the cemetery you have a magnificent view of much of the city of Paris, including Montmartre.
The American Cemetery and then Saint-Cloud race course were our targets for the day. If we were to make it to the races, we planned to do at least one mini-interview on race horse retirement.
We faced only two obstacles. First the weather, whose high temperature would top 85 degrees F, 15 degrees above normal for the season. (It's only a two day heat spell, timed ominously to make our cycling more challenging. If your region is suffering from a cool spell, send for Alan and me to bicysle and the hot weather will follow us.)
The second challenge was the hill of death, from river town of Suresnes to Mont Valerien.
We left early enough to beat the worst of the heat and had the sun mainly at our backs. The daunting hill turned out to be off limits, because Rue Cluseret was a one-way in the wrong direction. In fact, this was good news because we rode up a boulevard that reduced the incline by rising lateral to the hill, and the climb lasted about seven furlongs.
This took us to the track, but we doubled back, now on the plateau, reaching the American Military Cemetery: impeccable white crosses in neat v-shaped rows, including stars of David here and there. The white crosses lead up a hill to a memorial monument. Originally for World War I soldiers who died in or near Paris, it also has a section for unknown soldiers from World War II. (We'll dedicate today's article to Ella Dalton, Florence Beatrice Graham and Alice Hagadorn, three American nurses who died within days of each other in 1919.)
After paying our tributes, we cycled back to Saint-Cloud, where we met up with a visiting American, Jerry Patch, formerly artistic director of the Old Globe in San Diego and now director of artistic development at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York.
Jerry was on a race-track visiting binge, and Saint-Cloud was his fourth track on consecutive days. A former tournament tennis player, Jerry also planned to attend the French Open for an afternoon.
We asked Jerry what he envisioned as a solution that would allow former race horses to have the retirement they deserve.
"It's like your parents. You gotta take care of them," he said.
He suggested that portions of admissions, purses or the handle could solve the problem. But until this happens industry-wide, thoroughbred retirement will continue to depend on our generosity as individual lovers of racing.
The MULTI is like a superfecta box or a 4-horse quinella. In large fields of between 14 and 20 horses, you have to pick the top four, in any order. I concentrate on the Multi and rarely play other races unless I am sure that I've made a great handicapping discovery. I only need to win one of every ten to make a profit. So my afternoon would rest on the eighth-race Multi.
The public was pretty smart this afternoon, and Alan was not able to bet on two horses he liked because the odds were so low. In the long run, it is a good to pass races where there is no measurable edge, but today, both of Alan's horses actually won.
The Multi costs 3 Euros and you can buy fractions of a combination by getting 5-, 6-, or 7-horse tickets instead of playing it straight with only 4 horses.
The race covered a mile and 9/16. Several of my horses were racing forwardly on a day that favored early pace. Eventually I saw four of my horses cross the finish line among the five or six top finishers. When the photo was deciphered, I had the winner, number 3, at 9.4-1, the second horse, number 7, at 8.5-1, the third horse, number 5 at 17-1. Fourth place was close, between my number 6 at 16-1 and the 15-horse at 20-1.
The 15-horse flashed in fourth and my combination had finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th among 17 horses. (No "woulda-coulda-shoulda" here; the 15-horse had an 0-for-68 trainer and I never would have used that one in my combination.) The elusive Multi that was so near and yet so far, paid off at 892-1. Alan and I will be trying to hit some of these Multis on our trip so that we can give a portion to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.
Between cycling up long hills in the sun and winning a Multi, we have our work cut out for us.
The ride home was mainly downhill or flat. The total kilometers for the day, including some laps around the track and the visit to the cemetery was 36, equal to 22 1/2 miles. That's not a lot of miles but please don't blame us for living so close to Saint-Cloud. Those of you who are donating according to the number of miles should give us an extra point or two for the 7-furling uphill climb under the midday sun.
Please remember that we are doing shorter preliminary stages to get a head start on Lance Armstrong, and introduce you to other race courses that are closed during our long-hard trip, which coincides with the Tour de France, beginning on July 3 and ending on July 25th.
Next stage, date to be announced: Auteuil, former hangout of horseplayer Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


This is our first chance to ride for their lives, to raise funds for thoroughbred retirement: Paris to Saint-Cloud race course, Monday May 24.
As noted before, we're getting in two or three pre-Tour de France stages for a well-deserved head start on Lance Armstrong, since we're decades older than he is.
Saint-Cloud is a fashionable suburb on a plateau to the west of Paris. To get there, we'll have to climb a long hill. Included in the trip will be several two-mile-and-a-sixteenth laps around the track and a side trip to pay tribute to the American Military Cemetery.
During each race track visit, we'll interview racing personalities, raising the issue of race horse retirement.
The long hill to get there may be less of a challenge than trying to get back home, that is if we end up taking performance dis-enhancing substances at the Saint-Cloud bar.
If the heat is too much and we arrive frayed and sweaty, we'll just ask a groom to hose us down.
We'll file a full report Monday night.

Monday, May 17, 2010



It's the age-old question of which came first ...

Let’s not get sentimental about saving thoroughbreds. Let’s be realistic. Which came first? Did we humans save horses or did horses save us?

Please follow my argument. Let’s stipulate that one of the greatest problems in the USA today is the lack of jobs. Maybe we can also agree that one of the various causes of unemployment is outsourcing.

The horse industries, including racing, are among the last survivors to have not been outsourced. This is the premise of my novel, Tropical Downs, where two shady characters, one from California and one from Bolivia, are conspiring to outsource American racing to South America. It may sound preposterous, but how many other industries have already disappeared from the 50 states?

Now consider another cause of unemployment: high technology converting jobs from being labor intensive to capital intensive. It looks awkward when this conversion is attempted in racing, as exemplified by the walking machine. Without having ever talked to a horse, I can bet confidently that horses enjoy a stroll in the woods much more than walking around in circles.

In fact, the racing industry is not likely to be outsourced, and much of it, by its intrinsic nature must remain labor intensive. According to the Michigan State University extension, horse racing is the most labor intensive activity found in the state of Michigan.

When combined into one statistic, the four segments of the horse industry, recreation, shows, racing and “other” put approximately 1.5 million full-time equivalent jobs into the economy.

Horse activities also put more than $40 billion into the gross domestic product: GDP. But it’s much better than that. The GDP is a flawed number, as economists Herman Daly and Joseph Stiglitz have explained, because it gives equal value to economic activity created by oil slicks or land mines compared with activities created from baseball or furniture manufacturing. Thus, the GDP is composed of both negative and positive impacts.

Horse industries are among those economic activities that represent a positive contribution to the GDP (though if you’ve owned a race horse and lost money in the process, you might not see it that way).

Every thoroughbred that we can save from slaughter creates jobs: many of the labor-intensive variety, but also a host of collateral economic activity, and the best news is that none of this can be outsourced.

No matter how dominating high-tech life becomes, the winning exacta between humans and animals will remain a fundamental part of the economy. For example, the exacta we're bicycling for: the discarded horses that the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation rescues turn around and rescue the country’s discarded human beings. At TRF farms, located at correctional facilities, horses help inmates by teaching vocational and life-affirming skills through innovative programs in horse care and stable management.

This is why our riding a “tour de France” to save horses is not based on sentimentality. It’s the age-old question about which came first, the chicken or the egg. For me, the answer is simple. Horses saved me long before I set out to save a horse.

P.S. Our first preliminary trip is planned for Monday, May 24, to the beautiful Saint-Cloud race course, just west of Paris. To get there we'll have to climb the "hill of death". Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010



The ornate stone carved-stone grandstand where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out when he played the horses in the early 1920s in Paris, today sits empty in decaying splendor.
“We can’t tear it down,” said one racing administrator, “ because it’s registered as a heritage site.”

We’re talking about Auteuil race course, at the west end of Paris in the Boulogne forest. Auteuil is France’s premier jump-racing track. In France, racing newspapers, players and fans follow three genres: both flat and jump racing, as well as trotting. Occasionally a horse will do both flat and jump racing.

The newer grandstand of Auteuil was constructed in architectural harmony with Hemingway’s hangout. Before our tour de France officially begins, we will add a trip to Auteuil as well as one to Saint-Cloud, another splendid track not open during the Tour. We have added two more tracks, bringing us to a projected 13, since:

(1) we two veteran claimers need workouts before the race
(2) we deserve a "handicap" to begin accumulating miles, since we're much older than the Tour cyclers
(3) the readers of this blog deserve an introduction to these two historic tracks, which would not have been possible between July 3rd and July 25th.

In summary, we want to pedal as long and as hard as possible because it means raising more retirement funds for those magnificent Thoroughbreds who battle courageously, sometimes winning money for us.

In the 1920s, as explained in the autobiographical slice of his life, A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway gave up racing, calling it a “demanding friend”. He was telling us horseplayers to respect the game. Either do all your homework or don’t play.

Hemingway had a similar respect for bicycling: “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”

It would have been “pretty” to end on this note, but as can be expected of a member of the human species, Ernest Hemingway was riddled with contradictions. Anyone who intends to defend horses cannot ignore Hemingway’s admiration for bull fighting, a spectacle where horses are subjected to horrific and useless gore.

Hemingway, in many ways a humane individual, turned the other way rather than confront the cruelty of man taunting and slaughtering animals in bull fighting. In an uncomfortable way, I identify with Ernest Hemingway. For years I too enjoyed my treasured spectacle, horse racing, while preferring to ignore the terrible but needless fate of the gallant horses I bet on.

No more. I’ll be pedaling hard, to play a small role in saving magnificent Thoroughbreds while maybe rescuing some of my own humanity along the way.

PS. The previous post on French racing was written by my partner Alan, who has played a role in raising my consciousness about race horse retirement.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Horse Racing in France

In advance of our fund raising bike tour of French race tracks, we would like to share some of our views on French horse racing.   Why would we be doing this, apart from serving a great cause?  What fascinates us about French racing?  Is the handicapping and betting different than in the US?

In future posts we hope to answer these and other questions, and invite questions from readers of this blog.

One keys word for me in thinking about French racing is variety.  There is variety in "pistes", or racing surfaces, from track to track.  At some "hippodromes" the running is in a clockwise direction, at others they race counter clockwise.  Most pistes have uphill and downhill sections, and eccentric shapes, rather than a standard oval.  Some tracks have races run on a straight course up to a mile or longer in distance, and also include dips and rises along the way.
Most surfaces are grass, and races are never taken off the 'turf.'  If there has been lots of rain, which is not uncommon in France, horses do get bogged down in the going.  During dry periods, the racing surface can be overly firm, although at the bigger tracks the pistes do get watered to protect horses from too hard a surface.  Handicappers may be wondering how to compare a horse's races and running times from track to track given all of this variety.  Such variety can lead to confusion, and also inspire creativity.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Here in France there is only one American trainer. Her name is Gina Rarick. She and her husband live in the beautiful town of Maisons-Laffitte, northwest of Paris, where horses have the right of way on a grid of streets which is criss-crossed by cushiony dirt riding paths, and protected by a majestic forest.
This small city is also known as a training center. The other major Parisian-region trainer center is the city and forest of Chantilly, home town of Julien Leparoux. Horses in France are not stabled at race tracks, and if I were a horse, I would prefer living in Gina’s stables, with immediate access to walking and galloping paths, and more roomy. (Many Parisians living in cramped quarters, might also prefer living in Gina’s bright and clean stables.) When you enter your horse in a race, you call France-Galop, the administrator of the Parisian race courses, and they send a van with driver to take your horse to the race, at no charge. Or, when Gina enters at horse at Maisons-Laffitte, she simply walks the horse to the track, accompanied by her trusty assistant, the eternally optimistic Valérie.
Currently, Gina has won 8% of her races, over a period of 365 days. Considering that her horses race in fields of as many as 20 horses, that is actually above average. But for a bettor, the important statistic is return on investment. In 68 races during the past 365 days, the average mutuel of Gina’s winners is 27.65 for one Euro. Translated into our American betting consciousness, where we think in $2, it’s $55.30.
Continuing in the American frame of mind, if we bet an equal amount of $2 on all of Gina’s horses, our investment for the past year would have been $136. Our return would be $331.80. That’s about a 170% return on investment. Don’t tell Goldman Sachs or they might lower our odds.
Leading up to the 6th race at Saint-Cloud (a beautiful Parisian-suburb “green cathedral”), Gina was in a 24-race losing streak (not including a victory at Guernsey, which is not a French track). The bettor who stayed with her for that period was still making about an 80 percent roi, but even the most steely-willed players can feel fragile after 24 straight losses.
Statistically, an 8% method is vulnerable to even longer negative streaks than 24. So it would be natural for most players to have bailed out before the Saint-Cloud race, where Gina had entered a 4-year-old filly named Blessing Belle.
If you were not discouraged by the losing streak, a look at Blessing Belle’s past performances might have nailed the coffin. In her previous race, Blessing Belle had been off the board in a 20-horse field. The past performance comment was: “Racing in the back of the field and rank, she was not able to advance effectively.”
However, that race, at Longchamp, went around a clover-leaf turn and Blessing Belle had departed from stall 19 in the gate. Though her previous two races did not look a whole lot better, the 19-post seemed to be typical of the hard luck that Gina had been experiencing with her other horses in the recent past.
I must confess that I had been lowering my bets on Gina’s horses during the streak, if only because I had sensed a period of bad Karma. But I did stand by her and played Blessing Belle win and then “placé” (which is equivalent to our show betting, since France has no place wagering).
Blessing Belle advanced five wide on the first of two sweeping turns over the mile-and-a-half trip, and then glided into the lead, guided calmly by Thierry Thulliez, a longshot rider who had once won the Breeders’ Cup mile on Domedriver. Going into the long and slightly uphill stretch, Blessing Belle actually found a second acceleration. She won rather easily, at odds of 48-1.
Often, trainers with a relatively low win percentage are no less capable than the ones who are regular visitors to the winners’ circle. (Trainers whose horses have high average odds cannot be expected to have as high a win percentage as those with low average odds. A low percentage trainer may nevertheless be an overachiever.)
I had visited Gina’s stables and observed the love, care and technical know-how that she puts into this job that she loves with true passion. Her level of commitment can be measured by the fact that she gave up an easier and less risky job as racing journalist for the International Herald Tribune in order to train horses full-time.
Horseplayers who can identify dependable trainers, those who remain under the radar of public attention, can make a profit by automatically playing a profitable trainer, but holding firm through the bad times. In Gina’s case, I had determined that her skills went beyond the occasional tote-blasting mutuel payoffs because her average “placé” or show mutuel is also extremely high, at $14.76 in American terms.
During her 24-race “losing streak”, she was still overperforming for the player. If you had invested $48 on show bets in those 24 losing races, you would have gotten back $61.80. And that was a losing streak!
Beyond the betting aspect, Gina Rarick is one of the two or three people who has most encouraged Alan and me to embark on our racetrack tour de France to raise funds for thoroughbred retirement. Gina has been a strong advocate for the horse and not just for racing. You can find her blog at Gallop France.
PS. Alan and I will be putting together a visit, for American race lovers, to the great classic race, the Arc de Triomphe. The visit will include attending the races at Longchamp on Arc weekend (October 2-3) and a guided visit to Gina Rarick’s stables in Maisons-Laffitte on Monday morning October 4, with an afternoon at the races at Maisons-Laffitte. If people are interested, we will also visit the Saint-Cloud races on Friday October 1. A Paris walking tour is also part of the package. You can contact us at cramerjazz@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010



The idea for race track bicycle journeys was born about four years ago as I was writing my racing-crime novel, Tropical Downs. My main character bicycles to tracks like Saratoga and Laurel. I thought: If HE can do it, then why can’t I?
Fiction often imitates the reality of an writer’s life. In this case, the author’s life began to imitate his fiction. (Though I have not dared to reproduce, in real life, the scene where my character was trying to escape by bicycle from a big bad man in a bigger badder car on the streets of L.A.)
Stimulated by my character, I began to bicycle to the tracks outside the city of Paris. (I had been doing most of my inner-city Paris commuting by bike for years.) My personal opening day for outer-city race-track commutes was a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Arc day was the right time to start. When the sun ducks behind the Eiffel Tower and it’s time to go home, traffic is backed up in hopeless gridlock, so special racetrack shuttles end up like immovable sculptures. It’s a “bordel” if you pardon the harsh French slang. But on a bike, you can glide pass the havoc over a dependable cycling path through a glorious forest.
The circumference of Longchamp, sprawling within a clearing of the Boulogne Forest, is about a mile and three quarters. And yet, viewed from above, it’s only an inner track! Outside and around the race course, you see a bicycle circuit, with serious bicyclers flowing by like a tropical river of multi-colored rapids.
Once I had experienced the inner and “outer” Longchamp, I began questioning the race caller metaphor about a horse “motoring” by his rivals in the stretch. “Pedaling” seemed more appropriate.
During summers, my Tour partner Alan Kennedy and I began taking time to pedal to tracks far beyond the Paris region. This past summer, we “stretched out” to our longest “Tour de Race-Course France”, covering five different tracks in five days over a distance of 300 kilometers.
Not bad, I thought, for a guy who was 64 at the time. That’s when Alan, who also qualifies for AARP membership, suggested we cycle for a good cause: Thoroughbred retirement. I’m not usually quick-witted at connecting the dots, but in this case, it came naturally. I’ve often felt as if I were going through life with a claiming price on my head.
I’d like to think I’ve worked about as much into the GDP as the equine claimers I’ve bet on. For better or for worse, my fate has often been linked to theirs.
Race fans feel rightful outrage or profound sadness when an equine athlete breaks down on the track. That’s because we see when it happens. But no one sees what happens to hard-knocking Thoroughbreds when they can no longer do six furlongs in 1:14.
We lament the passing of Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup champions, but take no notice when the horse that won us a glorious trifecta a few years ago mysteriously disappears from the face of the earth.
This July 3 when the real Tour de France begins, we will be embarking on our own 21-day alternative tour de France, covering 11 race courses and approximately 1,000 kilometers. We will be riding to raise money for the senior citizens of the thoroughbred universe, while maybe scoring a few points in defense of quality of life for human seniors as well.
If the industry could get it’s act together and make a tiny deduction from all handle, maybe one tenth of one percent, dedicated to retiring Tbreds gracefully, then our on-the-road fundraising would not be necessary.
Our tour de France falls between the end of the Triple Crown season and the beginning of the big summer meets at Saratoga and Del Mar. I hope it will be a refreshing period for you to enjoy our racetrack Tour de France “trip notes” on this blog, with a few choice jockey and trainer comments, and including our tribulations at the pari-mutuel windows of some stunningly beautiful race courses.
Yeah, I know it's presumptuous for us to compete against the real Tour de France, but those guys never whirr past a race track, and even if they did, they wouldn't stop to make a bet.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


21 stages / 11 different race tracks (some visited more than once)
Estimated kilometers: between 900 and 1,000.

This itinerary may be altered, especially depending on the weather. A heat wave calls for bicycling in the early morning, taking a midday train on non-race days, and bicycling again in the evening to compete connections. We’ve been battered by heat waves the past two summers, which were unusually hot, precisely on the days we chose to ride, so we are due for more normal weather.

21 stages / 11 different race tracks (some visited more than once)
Estimated kilometers: between 900 and 1,000.

This itinerary may be altered, especially depending on the weather. A heat wave calls for bicycling in the early morning, taking a midday train on non-race days, and bicycling again in the evening to compete connections. We’ve been battered by heat waves the past two summers, which were unusually hot, precisely on the days we chose to ride, so we are due for more normal weather.

Date Track Bicycle Route
3rd Longchamp (Paris).
Stage 1: round-trip by bicycle 20km 4th Chantilly. (North of Paris) by train.
Stage 2: After races, cycle to Compiègne. 50km 5th Compiègne.
Stage 3. After races, cycle to Creil: 50km. Then take train back to Paris. 6th Train to west Paris suburb.
Stage 4. Cycle west direction of Deauville. To Evreux. 80km
7th Lisieux. Late-afternoon-evening, after Stage 5 Evreux-Bernay-Lisieux. 70km
8th Clairefontaine. Stage 6 Lisieux to Deauville 35km
9th Deauville. Stage 7: bicycle along boardwalk and then to races 10km. Train back to Paris.
Or option to remain in Deauville for another day’s racing.
10th Enghien. Stage 8: Commute from Paris. 35 km. Or we stay in Deauville and bicycle around coast of Normandy.
11th Maisons-Laffitte. Stage 9: Commute between Paris and Maisons-Laffitte, 45 km rd trip.
12th Chantilly. Stage 10: commute one way (return), 40 km 13th rest
14th Longchamp. (Grand-Prix de Paris: Groupe 1 Classic) Stage 11: Commute to Longchamp 20km
15th Maisons-Laffitte or Enghien Stage 12: commute from Paris, 45km
16th Chantilly or rest 17th Train to Laval (west). Stage 13: packed dirt bicycle-path over old railway route, slow going, Laval to Renazé (50km) search for housing.
18th Senonnes-Pouancé (this is a real bush track, with only on-track wagering and no simulcasting) Stage 14: before races, Renazé to Senonnes 20km, and then after races, Senonnes to Chateaubriant 35km
19th Chateaubriant Stage 15: begin long journey, direction Vichy. 75km Chateaubriant-Angers. We’ll be cycling with the sun at our back.
20th No racing: Stage 16: along Loire, try Angers to Tours. 100km or stop at beautiful castles along the way, filling up with classic Saumur and Chinon wines.
21st No racing: Stage 17: Keep going towards Vichy. Number of kilometers depend on weather.
22nd Vichy Stage 18: explore region around Vichy. Kilometers to be determined.
23rd Vichy Stage 19: Morning, explore region around Vichy. Kilometers to be determined. Evening train back to Paris. (With option to remain one more day
in Vichy)
24th Enghien. Stage 20, commute from Paris. 35km
25th Maisons-Laffitte. Stage 21, commute between Paris and Maisons-Laffitte

Our Story

I have been a member of the claiming ranks of society, with a fluctuating price on my head, for 65 years, and would like to continue a meaningful life. The way I 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.

In this age where speed is king, going slowly is looked down upon. Multi-tasking has replaced doing things with pleasure. I would like to prove that a slow Tour de France can be victorious, in its own way, against the fast one. So our race-track tour de France is taking place during the exact 21 days as the one that everyone knows.

Tour de France riders, great athletes, pass by magnificent castles without taking a look. By wheeling by so fast, the Lance Armstrongs and Greg Lemonds never have the time to stop off … at a glorious French race track, for example. Contrary to the big Tour, our two-man senior tour de France will have to weave through traffic, brake at red lights, and stop to consult maps when we get lost. We are two formerly fast cyclers who will be raising money for the retirement of formerly fast Thoroughbreds, attempting to pay for some of our trip at the pari-mutuel windows along the way.

While we are at it, we will try to outdo the Tour de France in quality, by stopping off to appreciate beautiful things (my art-specialist partner Alan can eye an old fortress and tell you that it comes from 1480 or 1690), by consuming good wine and cheese along the way, and by taking it slowly, in the spirit of the Slow Bicycle Movement. Yes, taking it slowly, but getting there! In this case: mainly getting to magnificent French Thoroughbred race courses, none of them alike, all of them colorful works of art so appreciated by painters like Degas, Manet and Dufy.

We will not outdistance the Tour bicyclers, but we have a chance to defeat them in another category: hours on the road.

The more kilometers we travel, the more hours we ride, or the more racetracks we reach (you choose), the more money will be donated to race horse retirement, so we will pedal with the endurance that comes when a good cause is at stake.

We will at least defeat the Tour riders in another category: fewer carbon emissions, for we will not have all those cars following us around, and we will use clean trains to get from one stage to another. We hope our fuel-free vacation will prove that being ecological is joie de vivre rather than sacrifice. (Some critics may argue, however, that when we huff and puff on the uphill, we will be producing a serious amount of carbon dioxide emissions.)

Alan and I both do all our Parisian commuting by bicycle. When the Tour de France is finished, we’ll challenge the winner to a race across Paris in rush hour.

Finally, a brief bio:

Born in the Saratoga region, learned about racing from a grandfather and an uncle. As a child we had bicycle races on the streets of Queens, posting “guards” on the corners to stop the cars from interfering. I began going to Belmont and Aqueduct before I was old enough to bet.

Prior to coming to France 10 years ago, I lived in Bolivia for five years, working as an investigative reporter and hiking in the Andes Mountains at 17,000 feet above sea level. I have also lived in a backstretch dorm at Canterbury Park, where I taught English to the grooms. I currently reside in France, with my wife and a son, where I teach university classes and play the horses.

My classic books, out of print, such as Thoroughbred Cycles and Kinky Handicapping, sometimes are sold at auction for over 100 dollars, but you can get my recent books for considerably less:

Tropical Downs, the only work of fiction ever that incorporates real horse race handicapping within the plot, the only crime story ever that equates a pick 6 score with the “perfect crime” and perhaps containing the only chase scene where the car is chasing a bicycle. http://store.drf.com/acb/stores/1/TROPICAL_DOWNS_P20132C1026.cfm?UserID=39536710&ACBSessionID=0170508857883EE8CCC7

Insiders’ Paris (www.amazon.com), the real Paris that tourists do not see, in the form of amazingly true stories, along with walking tours where the stories took place.

Readers interested in visiting Paris on the first Sunday in October to attend the magnificant race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe with high-class undercard races, visit the stables of the only American trainer in France, with option to visit another track or have an insider-Paris walking tour, may contact Mark and Alan at Cramerjazz@gmail.com