While flying at 30,000 feet above the Rocky Mountains it occurred to me that taking a jet from Kentucky to California for the Breeders' Cup is a lot faster than driving to the Golden State. But for the Paulick Report's fifth annual Breeders' Cup or Bust fundraiser on behalf of Breeders' Cup Charities, we couldn't just fly into LAX and head straight to Santa Anita Park for the two-day championships. That would be a little too conventional. Too easy.
So Paulick Report editor-in-chief Scott Jagow and I flew to San Francisco, rented a car, and hit the road for a week to learn about some of the people and places that will benefit from the organizations Breeders' Cup Charities is supporting this year: California Retirement Management Account (CARMA), Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF).
We visited Glen Ellen Vocational Academy in Sonoma County's wine country north of San Francisco, meeting Pam Berg, who's dedicated her life to caring for retired racehorses. The four-legged star of that visit was The Barking Shark, a 20-year-old stakes-winning gelding who won nine of 56 starts and $572,366 racing over nine seasons.
We took a short drive from there to Davis (near the state capital of Sacramento), where we met Dr. Sue Stover and several associates at the veterinary school at the University of California. They are dedicated through scientific research to make racing a safer sport. I was impressed not just by their brilliance and analytical skills, but by what drove them: a passion for the horses. Without funding from Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, much of that research would not be done.
Then it was on to Golden Gate Fields, my first visit to the track that is just steps away from the San Francisco Bay and with an incredible view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We learned that the Stronach Group-owned track is a gem, its employees friendly and helpful and its jockey colony talented and upbeat – especially since Hall of Famer Russell Baze was sitting out several days due to a suspension, opening up opportunities for others.
On this day, the biggest beneficiary of Baze's absence was Dennis Carr, who Scott and I filmed all afternoon while he scored a riding triple. Carr was a class act, allowing us to spend time with him throughout a day that including him getting thrown to the ground after a horse spooked past the finish line, ever reminding us of the dangers of the profession and the importance of the PDJF.
From there we went to Menlo Park in Silicon Valley, and a visit with Ali Dacher and Rena Rosskopf of CANTER California. Those two women have a tireless spirit, a positive attitude and a love of racing in their mission to find happy homes for as many retired racehorses as they possibly can.
We got to see one of their current off-track Thoroughbreds, Green Cat, a winning son of Stormin' Fever who is best known for being the morning workmate of the popular champion mare Zenyatta. Green Cat is being trained for a second career, as Scott Jagow's video shows.
We left Menlo Park and headed straight west to Half Moon Bay, a small town that draws huge crowds to its annual October Pumpkin Festival. But Scott and I will remember Half Moon Bay because of Square Peg Ranch, where we met some very special people and were introduced to several former racehorses whose second careers have powerful meaning.
Davis Finch is an exceptional young man with autism who magically comes to life when his father, San Francisco radio legend Peter Finch, brings him to Square Peg. Davis works with horses like Irresponsible King, an 11-year-old Kingmambo gelding who was winless in five starts. We saw some of that magic as Davis introduced us to Irresponsible King and others in the Square Peg barn.
We also saw the relief in the eyes of the mother of Axel Schultz, an autistic boy whose most joyful moments happen astride a retired racehorse at Square Peg. There truly is something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man, and even more so for the inside of a little boy who has trouble communicating and participating in normal societal behavior.
From there we headed down the indescribably beautiful California coast, through Monterey and Big Sur – then across the state to Tehachapi, best known for its windmill farms and its place in the Lowell George/Little Feat song “Willin'” (“I've been from Tuscon to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonapah…”)
But California racehorse owners know that Tehachapi also has Thoroughbred retirement operations, including Tranquility Farm, where Priscilla Clark has been taking care of ex-racehorses since 1998. She's another woman who loves the sport, and loves the horses even more.
We'll have more video coverage of the 2013 Breeders' Cup or Bust in the coming days, focusing on our visits to Glen Ellen, Davis, and Tehachapi.
None of this would be possible without the support of so many people in the Thoroughbred community. Our drive has two purposes: raise money and awareness for people and organizations doing great things. CARMA, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and PDJF are vital in protecting the equine and human athletes that put their lives on the line every day for our pleasure.
If you haven't had a chance to make a donation, please consider making one here.
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