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.



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 Compi├Ęgne (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 Compi├Ęgne 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.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

EXIMIR

EXIMIR:

Don Altemose, a former trainer, has sent us this true story about the amazing restorative partnership between horse and human, which in some ways parallels the winning longshot exacta of the TRF program: save unwanted horses while saving unwanted human beings.
With his article on Eximir, Don included the following note:
I’m not usually at a total loss for words. My hope is that this article helps you to accomplish your goal of saving horses. It’s a wonderful thing what the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is doing for the horse population. I get very warm feelings when someone can accomplish such positive goals by doing things they enjoy. I’m overwhelmed by all the positive Karma generated.
Sincerely,
Don Altemose

EXIMIR
The story behind the horse and my wife is this: She was diagnosed with cancer and the diagnosis was that it was the kind that spread fast and didn’t respond to treatment very well.
After a summer of daily radiation and two hospital stays with radium implants and an operation that followed, she made it through. However, she became very depressed and felt guilty that she couldn’t contribute monetarily to the household, not being able to hold a job. Too weak.
The horse enters the picture because we bought a mare. Her daddy, an Arkansas bred, had run 4th in the Kentucky Derby. We bred the mare to a stallion that was never proven because that was the extent of what we could afford, having to keep up with medical treatments, tests, etc. (my girl has marfan’s syndrome).
To get to the point, we got a foal that was, to put it mildly, very straggly. If a horse would have litters, this foal would have been the runt. I, as well as others who saw the horse, were of the opinion that the best thing to do was to give the foal away after weaning.
My wife wouldn’t hear of it. She said, this is my horse and I’m keeping it. So, she became her groom. Every day she brushed the horse, fed the mare and the foal the best of oats (steam crimped), etc. She treated it like only a mother could.
The important thing is that it (the horse) gave her reason to get up in the morning. Eventually the horse began to grow and actually got to about 16.1 hands, but not very heavy. A perfect profile for a router, so into training she went.
I was the trainer and I will never be confused with an Allen Jerkens, so it took me 7 races or so to figure out that she was a one-run horse. Anyway, I think she wound up winning 10 races and with the bunches of 2nds and 3rds (mainly because of her late running style, which we know requires lots of breaks).
And all but one of those wins were for C3500 in conditions. The other win was a C5000 open for fillies and mares.
My wife’s health and outlook improved tremendously and taking her horse to the races was what she looked forward to. We always shipped to race so we would go together and then at the track she would sit with the horse while we waited until race time. That had a calming effect on both her and the horse.
This went on for several seasons and I had never thought of it before but I think when the horses started to lose a step or two, which we couldn’t afford, so did the health of my wife. The cancer returned and the doctors said it was because of the massive of radiation and radium used in her treatment. Eventually, the horse was given to friends who raced, and in the mid-90s, my wife passed.
I am certain the horse helped her to live a happier life and the other thing is that without my wife’s care, I am sure the horse would have never raced. The name of the horse was Eximir---thus my screen name.
That’s the story. Those two were meant to be together. I’m not looking for any sympathy or anything like that. I am thankful that the horse and my wife found each other, and because of that, we had lots more time together than what we otherwise would have had.