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.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010



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.

1 comment:

  1. Live weight is easier to carry and manipulate than dead weight. I prefer a heavier jockey that has to ride with the lightest saddle possible than one that has to put five kilos of lead in the pad to make the weight requirement. Dead weight lays immobile on the horse's back, but live weight can move with the horse rather than against it.