Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Brian DiDonato and Steve Sherack were able to achieve a wagering profit at Saratoga because, as seen in their blogs, they managing complex and contradictory information, applying unconventional thought processes.

A friend of mine who is both a handicapper and a medical researcher confirms my suspicion that there is much in common with deciphering a horse race and searching for the cure for a disease.

We desperately need more unconventional thinking, along with the funding to support it, in order to decipher an extremely complex medical puzzle; in autoimmune diseases our own defense system turns against a part of our body, like that uniformed Afghan soldier who turned around and shot the people he was supposed to defend.

In the case of Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, the two major inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), the defense system attacks the intestines. Until now, these remain incurable diseases. In the worst cases, the patient will lose a part or all of their intestines.

But for medical researchers, it is easier to discover a defense against a foreign invader than against negative forces from within.

Most of those who suffer from Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis don’t like to talk about their plight. It’s not trendy to chat about long and painful hours on the toilet seat, bleeding and resulting anemia, Draconian diets, medication side effects, or the extreme difficulty of holding a job or sustaining social relationships.

My son is among those who suffer from ulcerative colitis.

The poet-horseplayer Charles Bukowski also warns to not overdo it, in his poem called “Don’t Try”. For years I have tried to promote horse racing in the mainstream culture with little success. But with this campaign against IBDs, without even trying, I have made inroads in gaining respect for horse race handicapping. On one website, for example, they wrote:

Mark's two-day ride ends on both days at horse-racing tracks – appropriate for a racing journalist, but also appropriate because he has linked his theme to his chosen charity.”

In not trying, I have gotten a good response about horse racing. But in trying, I have thus far not been able to generate many donations for medical research to fight IBDs.

My biking partner Alan Kennedy and I are not Lance Armstrong, whose foundation continues to receive donations in spite of the serious questions being raised, by his former teammates and anti-doping authorities about the legitimacy of his Tour de France victories. Since we are not celebrities like Armstrong, our challenge is greater. Few people have heard about the gravity of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, as if it were taboo.

That’s only one obstacle. At age 67 (Mark) and 61 (Alan), it is more of a challenge to cycle 200 kilometers in two days than it is for Armstrong to cycle 200 kilometers in five hours.

But we now have support from a younger cycler. Michael Ahrens, fresh from a Pick 4 score at Saratoga, is now embarking on a 300 mile ride in Upstate New York to help gain donations for IBD medical research.

Yes, Bukowski says “Don’t try”, but I can’t help it. Knowing that you have hundreds of worthy charities around you, I am still trying to convince you to make a donation to this one, because IBDs are not “popular” diseases and don’t attract donations on their own.

The association we are supporting, called AFA (Association François Aupetit), is a non-profit that finances research. Though this is a French association, research is worldwide, and AFA is associated with the international community of medical researchers. Our son, for example, is a research subject for a product being developed by an American pharmaceutical company. There are no borders when it comes to medical knowledge.

 We hope you will support our race against IBD diseases by making a donation. Here’s the link:

Click on the upper right, where it says DONATE or FAIRE UN DON in French. If the next page comes up in "français" (upper right hand corner), just click on the down arrow next to "français" and you will have the English version. The instructions are really simple. (At this writing, 10 Euros is 12.55 US$ and that exchange rate has not been fluctuating too much.)

At both the Tours track and Longchamp for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Alan and I will make a designated wager with our own money, whose winnings (if we win) will be added to the overall pool of donations.

These wagers make a symbolic connection between the uncertainty of a horse race bet and the uncertainty of the current crop of IBD medications, where the patient and his doctor must handicap the benefits and side effects of a “field” of medications and then choose the one most likely to succeed, with uncertain results.

(For a longer discussion on the subject, see my previous blog.)

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