The coal-dark Thoroughbred who had run so many miles and whose body had shrunk around protruding ribs, did not “die in the dirt” as some had feared.
Hope and change prevailed last week instead.
Instead of breaking down in his last race, as was predicted in conversations on social media, 9-year-old Coaltown Legend, an animal whose beauty still shone after years of dogfights and 64 starts, made it home to retire on the New York farm of his birth.
The turning point was a spontaneous appeal by Thoroughbred lover Deb Jones, urging people to pay attention and keep tabs on the horse, schedule soon to run at Penn National. Jones’ plea was first met with a murmur that led to a rumble and eventually grew into a movement to bring the horse off the track and back home to NY.
“(News of Coaltown) was posted on Facebook and Akindale reached out. By Wednesday it was settled and Thursday he was home,” says Akindale Rescue Manager Erin Chase Pfister, who credits the yeoman efforts of the gelding’s past owner Angelo DeFillipis, who worked in tandem with Brooklyn Backstretch writer Teresa Genero to negotiate for the horse’s retirement to Akindale, and to Pennsylvania shipper Althea Roy, who volunteered her time and costs to transport the horse, and to the animal’s original breeder, Akindale trainer Kate Feron.
Sire: Jump Start
Dam: Avril a Portugal
Foal date: May 11, 2005
Earnings: $328, 084, 64 starts“There were a lot of people involved in this,” adds Pfister, who acknowledged the good that Deb Jones’ Facebook post did to illuminate a situation in which many had privately tried to help, but that only changed when horse lovers on social media began to rally round the striking, dark horse. Coaltown Legend finished fifth at Penn National July 19 after a slow start, and retirement was soon his.
There were many relieved past connections, and tears of joy when tired and weary Coaltown rolled into Akindale on Thursday.
Feron bred Coaltown Legend and named him in honor of her father, a non-horsey accountant who had a funny kind of fixation on the great Hall of Fame horse, Coaltown. She raced Coaltown Legend successfully until he was claimed away from her in 2010. After that, she frequently put out the word that that she would take the horse back to Akindale, no questions asked.
But Coaltown Legend passed from owner to owner, racing his heart out until last week, when he put in a poor run at Penn National. Though the horse was destined to be given to someone else, Coaltown Legend was turned over to representatives after past owner DeFillipis and writer Genero prevailed upon those involved with the horse to allow him to come home.
DeFillipis explains: “I told everyone involved that this is a pretty well-known NY bred, that people loved him, and that he needs to be retired. I was pretty thrilled to get the horse released to me.”
And he was also relieved. DeFillipis, 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.
When the underweight racehorse arrived Thursday, Pfister says Coaltown was on edge. “It was as if he was thinking, ‘Now where am I?” she says. But overnight, his attitude changed.
“I think he remembers his home. By morning he was a different horse. It’s like he’s figured out that there’s cookies and hay and he’s going to be fed—he’s in really good spirits.”
As he reached his regal, dark head over the door of his new stall, playing with admirers, he accepted a knowing hug from Feron, who cried when he arrived. “To see him again, I can’t express what it was like,” Feron says. “He always had a special place in my heart. This was my special horse.” ♥