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.

1 comment:

  1. Always a pleasure to read your stuff, even the travelogue bit! I was standing with Remember Rose's entourage at the start of the race, and we were all too stunned to speak. I later drove the horse and a stablemate, Mandali, back to Maisons-Laffitte. Rose seemed tired and slightly confused about the day's events, but otherwise unscathed. Disappointing, but he will fight another day.