Just a little over four years ago, Paulick Report co-founder Brad Cummings and I met in our Lexington, Ky., “office” – a neighborhood Panera Bread (with WiFi!) – to go over a number of details related to our fledgling business.
We discussed an upcoming fundraiser in the Chicago area for jockey Michael Straight, who'd suffered a life-changing injury in a racing accident at Arlington Park that summer, wondering if we could charter a bus and fill it with people willing to travel with us to the event.
In the same conversation, Brad asked about going to that year's Breeders' Cup, just a few weeks away at Santa Anita Park in California. I'd missed the 2008 event, the first Breeders' Cup since 1986 I hadn't attended. I have to admit I rather enjoyed sitting on the couch and watching it on television for the first time, but Brad had never been to the greatest day of American racing and it was easy to see he was itching to go.
A light bulb went off in my head (well, it was only a 40-watt bulb and one of those environmentally friendly bulbs that take awhile to shed any light). It was a light bulb nonetheless.
“Look, we're going to have a hard time filling a Mini Cooper with people who want to go anywhere with us,” I said. “Why don't you and I drive out to the Breeders' Cup together and see if we can set up some fund-raisers for injured jockeys along the way?”
Brad is a builder (in another life he might have been a community organizer) and he loved the idea. We brought our half-baked proposal to the marketing team at Keeneland, where we wanted to kick off the “drive,” knowing they had a full plate of activities already under way at the fall meeting. A simple “no” would have put an end to the idea.
“We're in,” they told us. “What can we do?”
We were off and running (well, driving). Nancy LaSala at the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund lent a hand, and Breeders' Cup officials welcomed us with open arms, asking what they could do to help.
From a jockeys autograph session at Keeneland we went to Hawthorne in Chicago, spending an afternoon at the races with Dennis Keehan, who'd been put in a wheelchair 45 years earlier, the result of a racing accident. I learned a lot about the challenges of being disabled from Dennis, whose fire for the sport that disabled him still burned brightly all those years later. Sadly, Dennis died in 2011.
Before leaving Chicago, we visited briefly with Michael Straight and his family at the rehabilitation hospital where Michael was just starting his program to adjust to a new life. To say it was heartbreaking, seeing what he and his family were going through, would be a massive understatement. But it also reinforced for Brad and I that what we were doing was well worthwhile – not only raising money for the PDJF but also raising awareness for the absolutely vital work that organization is doing to support fallen riders, and letting them know they are not forgotten.
From there it was on to Remington Park, whose management team's generosity and fund-raising creativity overwhelmed us. Zia Park in New Mexico and Turf Paradise in Arizona were our next stops, and it was at the latter track where we met a most amazing woman, former jockey Stacy Burton, who nine years earlier was nearly killed in a freak racing accident at Prescott Downs in Arizona.
Stacy, who was in a coma for three weeks after the accident, struggled to walk, yet she walked. She struggled to talk, yet she talked. She made us laugh with her humor and made us cry with her determination and courage.
Our hope when we created Breeders' Cup or Bust in 2009 was to give something back to an industry that had been good to us. We didn't know we would be getting so much in return.
The fifth annual Breeders' Cup or Bust fundraising drive is raising money for Breeders' Cup Charities, a 501(c)3 organization. This year's recipients are the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and CARMA Thoroughbred aftercare in California.
Please consider making a donation to: Breeders' Cup Charities. Donations may be at a secured online site here, or checks may be mailed to Breeders' Cup Charities, c/o Controller, 2525 Harrodsburg Road, Lexington, KY 40504.
For more information Breeders' Cup or Bust and how you can help, click here.
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