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, 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

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