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, July 13, 2010



Alan covered the Left Bank and I took the Right Bank of the Seine, also going into the ring of inner suburbs. My route took me 40 kilometers, including a round trip to Champs-Elysées and then another trip to the western edge of the city, crossing four inner suburban cities. Before today we were at 428 km. Now we've reached 468 km: 292.5 miles.
The PMU (Pari-Mutuelle-Urbain) was a French tote invention, now adopted throughout the horse racing world. Today, the PMU is also a café-bar where we can play the horses: an OTB.

On Sunday mornings, I usually meet with a horseplayer friend, Jean, to go over the race cards.

We should be meeting at a PMU, but Jean says the PMUs are too noisy and uncomfortable. So we meet at a café, where as regulars, we get certain perks. In a country where living quarters are small, the café becomes a living room. And if you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar, you pay a little extra because in essence, you are renting the space.

In most other ways, Jean, 76, is a typical PMU player. He’s a former worker at a Citroen automobile factory and lives in public housing. PMU clientele are primarily either working class or immigrant. Like many PMU players, Jean prefers playing the trotters because they race more fréquently and you can follow their careers. It's the familiarity principle.

Jean concentrates on the Quinté races, which also function as a type of national lottery where you need to pick the first five finishers in order, for a huge payoff. The Quinté could be any of the three genres. That means Jean will play the Tbreds, the jumpers and the trotters. The popularité of the Quinté, broadcast live every day on a major TV station, assures that the Paris-Turf past performances are at virtually every news stand in the country … not like the DRF, where you have to drive for miles to find an outlet.

Jean differs from other PMUers in that he is a self-taught intellectual and prudent player who only invests when he feels he has an advantage, and prefers to look elsewhere on the day’s cards, if nothing is clear to him in the Quinté.

French PMUs are throbbing with players looking for a big score.


When you cross Paris and take notes of the PMUs along the way, one thing becomes clear: in the more elegant "arrondissements", such as the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh (all left bank, south of the Seine) and Sixteenth (west), it’s hard to find a PMU. On the other hand, in the funkier working class and immigrant neighborhoods, there are PMUs every two blocks: such as the Eighteenth (north), Nineteenth (northeast) and Twentieth (east). Rent the Philippe Noiret film "My New Partner", about a corrupt horseplayer cop, and you'll see a true view of the 18th District and its PMU players.

I live in Clichy, two furlongs north of Paris. There are four PMUs within walking distance. Just across the ring road in Paris is the Seventeenth Arrondissement, divided in two, with the Gare Saint-Lazare train tracks separating the east working class side from the wealthy west side: on the east side, PMUs everywhere; on the west side, it’s hard to find a place to get a bet in.

There are five types of PMUs. The generic one, with monitors for live racing in a café-bar, looking like vintage NY OTB, not a great place to spend an afternoon. No admission. Just consume anything, coffee, beer, etc. Then there are the Club Courses (race clubs), which charge admission, are cleaner and have more space. But don’t be fooled. I parked my bike and went into the Artois Club Courses, $8 admission, not far from Champs-Elysées, and asked the owner if the clientele get any extra in the way of racing information.

« Just what you see on the monitors, » she said.

A player at the bar who overheard us, said, « Yeah, they don’t give us any information ».

Essentially, they charge admission to keep out the riffraff.

Around the corner from that « Club » is a third type of PMU, 110 Rue La Boetie, where there’s nothing to drink and no seats, and all you get is a crowded floor surrounded by monitors, and you play on your feet, amidst a tangle of elbows.

Just across Champs-Elysées, on 11 Rue Marbeuf, in a haute couture neighborhood is the fourth type of PMU, the original, from the time before they broadcast live racing. It’s called Bar O Sancerre Brasserie, and it’s a hangout for the people who work in the neighborhood. It’s clean and you can hear the plates and glasses clinking and clacking. You can put in a bet at the bar but you can't watch the races.

Finally, there is the simplest of PMU, like the one I can see from my livingroom window. It’s a Presse (news and stationery store), with a little handicapping corner including a counter to lean on, with the Quinté past performances posted on the wall and a pen and bet cards.

I was searching for the most comfortable PMU and had not found it downtown. (There's one right across Place Chatelet which nearly qualified.) So I wheeled through the suburban cities skirt the edge of the city.

In affluent neighborhoods the folks don't hang out at PMU bars and in low-end "quartiers", most PMUs are too cramped and uncomfortable. But I discovered today that in transitional cities, neither upscale nor down-and-out, you can find some relatively attractive PMUs. Such was the case in Levallois, where I came upon LE CAVE, corner of Rue Baudin and Rue Rivay. The betting area is not large and there's only one monitor but it's not crowded. Le Cave is a restaurant with a full course lunch of basic French bistrot food for only 14 Euros (entrée, plat, dessert), and attractive sidewalk seating, including chess tables. An added touch: flowers on the railings that separate the sidewalk from the street.
The next town to cross was Neuilly-sur-Seine, probably the wealthiest city in France. President Sarkozy is the former mayor of Neuilly. I came across lots of good bars, but none of them with the friendly green PMU label.
Following Neuilly, I crossed the Boulogne forest, arriving at the edge of the affluent 16th district, Porte de Saint-Cloud. Much of the 16th has the reputation of being elegant but boring. However, here was a lively quartier, with a spirited outdoor street market and colorful collages of fresh fruit and vegetables. There were two PMUs. One was LE PAD'OCK, a club, and the other was Tabac Bar PMU LE HAVANE.
I went in to make a win bet on the horse for course in the first race at Les Sables-d'Olonne. The place was clean and relatively comfortable but was no match for LE CAVE. In the dining room there was a wall size picture of Che Guevara smoking a cigar. My consumer instincts kicked in and I decided to buy a cigar, only to discover that they only sold cigarettes. You'd think that with name like Havane, they'd have sold cigars.
I made my win bet on the trotter Rancho Gédé, the only horse for course, at 7-2. (Eventually I learned that he finished third when blocked throughout the final turn and the stretch.)
I went on into yet another suburban city, Boulogne, and visited the Jockey Club, France-Galop, to spread the word about our effort to raise funds for retired Thoroughbreds. I dropped off some articles on our project with some people I know and then got back on the bike and rode through the forest, back through Neuilly, back through Levallois, and got home. This was one of the easiest rides I've had, since the weather was cool and the sky overcast. I could have gone all day if there had only been a race track anywhere near. Tomorrow is Longchamp, the biggest race of the summer. Please stay tuned.mc

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