After six years – 64 races – of gross exploitation and abuse, 9-year-old Coaltown Legend (original post here) has finally been retired, owing in large part to exposure from advocate Deborah Jones. On July 28th, Susan Salk, she with the permanently affixed rose-tinted glasses, wrote a reprehensible piece on Coaltown’s “salvation.” In it, she recounts his return “home” – the place where he was bred to be used – and the contributions of former connections Kate Feron and Angelo DeFilippis toward that end.

Feron (who “cried when he arrived”): “To see him again, I can’t express what it was like. He always had a special place in my heart. This was my special horse.” ♥ (heart courtesy of Salk) Of DeFilippis, Salk writes, “De Fillipis [sic], who owned the horse at one point, but was forced to sell him during hard financial times, says he kept tabs on Coaltown Legend, and spent a few sleepless nights worrying.”

Here are some conveniently omitted facts: Kate Feron is a hugely successful trainer with over $2.5 million in earnings. She bred Coaltown and raced him 19 times before selling him in February 2010 (“claimed away from her,” as Salk asserts, is a euphemism). Her “special horse” would race for over four more years – almost all at the claiming level – without her intervention. Angelo DeFilippis is (was) a racehorse owner. He either owned or co-owned Coaltown for 2 1/2 years and 16 starts, including a July 2011 claiming race at Saratoga. In all, Coaltown Legend earned over $150,000 for Mr. DeFilippis.

Coaltown Legend and Kate Feron
Coaltown Legend and Kate Feron

Now to be fair, Angelo DeFilippis was the primary impetus behind Coaltown’s retirement. But while good for Coaltown Legend – assuming, that is, he survives; DeFilippis says he’s not doing very well – I will not commend anyone, even a rescuer, who refuses to categorically renounce horseracing: Though Mr. DeFilippis is currently inactive, it’s a matter of finances, not because he now sees racing as wrong.

So it appears, Mr. DeFilippis, we are at an impasse. Yes, you helped this horse, but your desire to climb back into an industry that chews them up and spits them out by the thousands tells me all I need to know. Mr. DeFilippis, Ms. Salk, and most especially Ms. Feron, exploitation and friendship are incompatible states. The line is clearly drawn – true equine advocates want no part of this sordid business. And that is what makes Salk’s writing – “there were many relieved past connections, and tears of joy when tired and weary Coaltown rolled into Akindale on Thursday” – so very shameful.

After six years – 64 races – of gross exploitation and abuse, 9-year-old Coaltown Legend (original post here) has finally been retired, owing in large part to exposure from advocate Deborah Jones. On July 28th, Susan Salk, she with the permanently affixed rose-tinted glasses, wrote a reprehensible piece on Coaltown’s “salvation.” In it, she recounts his return “home” – the place where he was bred to be used – and the contributions of former connections Kate Feron and Angelo DeFilippis toward that end.

Feron (who “cried when he arrived”): “To see him again, I can’t express what it was like. He always had a special place in my heart. This was my special horse.” ♥ (heart courtesy of Salk) Of DeFilippis, Salk writes, “De Fillipis [sic], who owned the horse at one point, but was forced to sell him during hard financial times, says he kept tabs on Coaltown Legend, and spent a few sleepless nights worrying.”

Here are some conveniently omitted facts: Kate Feron is a hugely successful trainer with over $2.5 million in earnings. She bred Coaltown and raced him 19 times before selling him in February 2010 (“claimed away from her,” as Salk asserts, is a euphemism). Her “special horse” would race for over four more years – almost all at the claiming level – without her intervention. Angelo DeFilippis is (was) a racehorse owner. He either owned or co-owned Coaltown for 2 1/2 years and 16 starts, including a July 2011 claiming race at Saratoga. In all, Coaltown Legend earned over $150,000 for Mr. DeFilippis.

Coaltown Legend and Kate Feron
Coaltown Legend and Kate Feron

Now to be fair, Angelo DeFilippis was the primary impetus behind Coaltown’s retirement. But while good for Coaltown Legend – assuming, that is, he survives; DeFilippis says he’s not doing very well – I will not commend anyone, even a rescuer, who refuses to categorically renounce horseracing: Though Mr. DeFilippis is currently inactive, it’s a matter of finances, not because he now sees racing as wrong.

So it appears, Mr. DeFilippis, we are at an impasse. Yes, you helped this horse, but your desire to climb back into an industry that chews them up and spits them out by the thousands tells me all I need to know. Mr. DeFilippis, Ms. Salk, and most especially Ms. Feron, exploitation and friendship are incompatible states. The line is clearly drawn – true equine advocates want no part of this sordid business. And that is what makes Salk’s writing – “there were many relieved past connections, and tears of joy when tired and weary Coaltown rolled into Akindale on Thursday” – so very shameful.

In advance of last weekend’s Preakness, the HSUS’ Keith Dane penned an opinion piece for The Baltimore Sun. In it, he joins a choir of thousands in decrying racing’s drug culture, calling, yawn, for a national governing body akin to what every other major sport has.

He opens thus:

“With the Preakness coming up here in Maryland, it’s time things changed for the better in America’s horse racing industry, which long ago drifted far from the values of sport.”

And closes with this:

“With Triple Crown season upon us, we are calling on Congress to pass the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act to protect the sport’s athletes — both equine and human — and begin to restore integrity and confidence in an industry whose reputation has been badly sullied.”

In effect, the self-described “largest and most effective animal protection organization” in the nation is making a philosophical case for horseracing: We’re not here to take racing away; we simply want to help make it better, both for the “athletes” and the “players.” On the latter, “honest bettors” deserve a “fair shake.” Shameful. And disgusting.

Mr. Dane, no matter what supposed improvements come down the pike, racehorses will still be enslaved – bought, sold, traded, and dumped purely on an owner’s whim. And with or without drugs, they will continue to snap sesamoids, and die. And it is highly probable that there will never be enough good homes for the expended, meaning that the shackle and slash will, at least for the foreseeable future, remain the retirement program of choice.

In short, suffering of some kind is an inherent part of exploitation; thus, it is an inherent part of horseracing. And this, no matter what airy rhetoric is bandied about, for lousy $2 bets. HSUS, enough with the half measures. Take a stand, an unequivocal stand, against horseracing and use your not inconsiderable resources to help end it, once and for all.

Facts, as the great John Adams once said, are stubborn things; J.R. Anderson’s new book, The Fancy Hat Veneer, is teeming with stubborn things, none of which are good for the industry at the heart of her probe – horseracing. Using expert testimony, hard numbers, and cold logic, Anderson, a first-time author but long-time advocate, presents yet another indictment of the Thoroughbred game – from the unrestrained breeding to the callous, often violent endgame, and everything in between. It is, as the author notes, the dark underbelly that the industry wants desperately to keep hush.

The Fancy Hat Veneer would make a fine addition for the well-versed and uninitiated alike. For the former, the 200-odd pages offer a sweeping overview, a handy reference book of sorts; for the latter, a horseracing primer. Ordering information can be found here.

fancy hat

This comment from Joy Aten, one of our “Shedrow Secrets” contributors, was so poignant that I felt it needed to stand as a post.

“Believe it or not, I am by nature not someone who likes to argue…in fact, I don’t even like confrontation. Unfortunately in my position at the hospital, confronting and working out differences between two or three different parties is something I must do. This applies to choosing to involve myself with animal welfare issues, as well. Arguing is ridiculous, yet I find myself doing it. Are there times I could choose to say things differently?..without a doubt and it is no one’s fault but my own.

That being said, I have no motives – none – to choose to align myself with those who are anti-racing. I’m not certain if I’ve ever said this here on HW, but I used to love horseracing. I could elaborate, but I won’t for the sake of time. Then I saw what really is involved. I realized the majority of horses do not go back to their own farms and loving families after ‘the race’ (I knew nothing about claiming races). I came to see the drugs and joint injections…the injured horses continuing to train and race…the unnatural living conditions…the attitudes that horses were simply money-making or money-draining machines…and much more.

You say we choose to believe what we want to believe, with hands over eyes, and there is no reason for truth to get in the way. AC [a pro-racing reader], my eyes are wide open. If I could go back to ignorance, some days I truly think I would. And what I believe and what I choose to do with that goes back to what I said one paragraph back…I have no motives to believe what I do, to speak what I do, to advocate what I do. WHY would I choose to spend time and money speaking out against the racing industry? It’s simply this…I love the animal; I have seen what so many of them suffer and endure, and I feel a responsibility to them NOW THAT I KNOW. And what I share isn’t for those who are employed or involved in the industry…not at all…because I feel there is nothing I could say or do that is going to change their thinking.

I believe we have different value systems…right or wrong, it is what it is. I value the horse for simply who he is; the trainers/owners/breeders value him for what he can do for them. I see this value system with my own neighbors. Their dogs live in dirty outdoor kennels. Their horses live in a paddock the size of my living room, with one strand of barbed-wire at the level of their knees. They are thin to emaciated, with feet over-grown and coats dull and dirty. For them, this is ‘normal,’ and their children are raised to believe the same.

I’ve seen this value system at the Shipsy auction, where horses are whipped into the loose-horse pens, left to fight for space, some with broken legs trying desperately to stay upright. The little kids who tag along with Dad to drop off their spent work-horses see nothing but normalcy amid the abuse and horror. Once, we witnessed a tragic, skinny horse standing the entire day (we were there at least 12 hours) tied to an outside hitching post, shivering from head to tail in the freshly fallen snow. Normal for that place and those people. Different value system. I’m not saying that you, AC, condone that type of treatment. I’m just saying there is no amount of talking that is going to change those folks’ minds…they simply don’t value the horse for who he is. For if they believed that those horses were suffering and did nothing to stop it, it makes them monsters.

So what I say here on HW is not for those immersed in the industry. Nothing I report from my experiences will change a person’s value system. Rather, I hope to share with those who are where I once was…totally ignorant. You think we want to ‘one-up’…it has nothing to do with that. But when a racing supporter claims that a horse cannot live a week with colic, it needs to be challenged; otherwise, a non-horse person might accept it as true. Lastly, no one lives a perfect life. Yet I’m grateful to those imperfect humans who speak when they see a wrong. This world is already so cruel to animals and humans alike…I cannot imagine the cruelty if we chose to remain silent simply because we are not ‘good enough.’ The abused and oppressed need all the voices they can get.”