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Monday, October 26, 2009
Breeders' Cup or bust

By Ray Paulick
Special to ESPN.com

There are a lot of things we can debate as the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup World Championships approach: the wisdom of having racing's big event run in back-to-back years at the same track, Santa Anita Park in Southern California; the merits of synthetic surfaces vs. conventional dirt tracks; whether champion Zenyatta should stay in her division or take on the boys in the Classic; and if Jess Jackson did the right thing by putting star filly Rachel Alexandra on the shelf, skipping the Breeders' Cup, and waiting till next year.

It's been a difficult year on all fronts, in our little world of horse racing and well beyond. In racing, Magna Entertainment, which owns several of the sport's biggest tracks, including Santa Anita, went into bankruptcy, leaving the sport in an uncertain state in several regions. Bloodstock prices plummeted, putting many breeders on the brink of financial disaster. Trends are down everywhere you look in the American racing and breeding industry.

With the U.S. economy still in the tank, charitable organizations are really feeling the pinch. And that's too bad, because there is nothing that lifts the spirits more than lending a helping hand to those in need or putting support behind a truly worthwhile cause.

It's that spirit of giving that led me and Brad Cummings, my partner in the Paulick Report website, to devote the better part of the next two weeks to raising money and awareness for two organizations that are vital to both the racing community and that bigger world we live in: the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Starting on Wednesday, Oct. 28, in partnership with Breeders' Cup Charities, we'll be taking part in what we are calling BREEDERS' CUP OR BUST: A FUNDRAISING 'DRIVE,' that starts in our home state of Kentucky and winds up in Arcadia, Calif., on the eve of the Breeders' Cup.

The fundraising 'drive' begins at Keeneland, then moves on to Hawthorne race course near Chicago (Oct. 29), Remington Park in Oklahoma City (Nov. 1), Zia Park in Hobbs N.M. (Nov. 2), Turf Paradise in Phoenix (Nov. 3), Las Vegas (Nov. 4) and Santa Anita Park for the Breeders' Cup (Nov. 6-7). Participating tracks are incorporating different promotions to help us in our quest to raise significant funds for the two charities.

We'll be keeping a running diary of this adventure, wagering at each stop while hoping to increase a bankroll -- provided by the Breeders' Cup -- by the time we reach Santa Anita. We're also seeking pledges from racing fans and industry participants for each mile of the 2,835-mile trip. You can go to www.paulickreport.com and follow along with us on our journey. We hope you'll click on the donate button that takes you directly to a Breeders' Cup Charities web page where you can make a secured online donation. The tax-deductible donations will be divided equally between the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Most sports fans know the story of the V Foundation, started by ESPN and North Caroline State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who fought a courageous battle against bone cancer, a disease that claimed his life April 28, 1993. Valvano, while accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage & Humanitarian Award at the inaugural ESPY Awards just eight weeks before his death, announced the creation of the V Foundation and said its motto would be "Don't give up. Don't ever give up." Valvano's speech that night, in which he reminded us that each of our days should include some laughter, thought and tears, remains a great inspiration to millions.

Since its creation, the V Foundation has funded more than 300 research projects to some of the brightest minds in the medical and scientific world in an attempt to forge breakthroughs in cancer research. Nearly everyone has lost a loved one to this disease.

The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund is an example of the racing community taking care of its own. The possibility of disabling injury comes with the job of being a professional jockey, and there are at least 63 permanently disabled riders in North America today. This has been a particularly trying year for the riding community, which saw veteran jockey Rene Douglas and apprentice Michael Straight suffer serious injuries in separate incidents at Arlington Park in Chicago this summer. Most recently, journeyman rider Mark Pace died in a racing accident at Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma.

The Fund, started in 2006, has disbursed more than $2 million to permanently disabled jockeys in the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse communities whose medical needs are significant due to paralysis or head trauma. With support of people like Lane's End Farm owner William S. Farish, who pledged $1 million to help the permanently disabled jockeys earlier this year, the PDJF hopes to become self-sustaining through the creation of an endowment. Until then, it's incumbent on the racing industry to lend a helping hand.

Please join us and Breeders' Cup Charities in doing so.

Ray Paulick is a Lexington, Ky.-based journalist who publishes the Paulick Report. (www.PaulickReport.com). Paulick served as editor-in-chief of The Blood-Horse magazine from 1992 to 2007, and in the past 25 years has covered Thoroughbred racing, breeding and sales on six continents and in more than a dozen countries. He has appeared on numerous television and radio news programs offering his expertise on the industry. Contact Ray at ray@paulickreport.com.