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.
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.