Here is the PENNY ANTE PRODUCTIONS website, a new adventure. It exists as a vehicle for three bodies of relatively work.
ONE, called Interviews, concerns those who work on or are directly concerned with the backside of the local racetrack, a fascinating place that I've been privy to for the last nine or ten years. The video interviews are presented with little editing. Just solid story. Sometimes activities of the speaker are laid over the interview. My aim is to allow the speaker to express complicated thoughts and feelings about years of work with equine athletes.
This project started in 2006, when racetrack workers were hoping for slot machines at Suffolk Downs, which would have increased the purses and made their existence viable. That didn't happen. And it continues into 2014 when, in late September, the Gaming Commission decided against giving a casino license to Mohegan Sun, which will, almost inevitably, lead to the closing of Suffolk Downs, the last Thoroughbred racing track in Massachusetts. This means the loss of hundreds of jobs on the backside as well as the displacement off many families. It also effectively ends the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeding Program, thus to the demise of many breeding farms, the loss of those jobs and open land.
I first went to the racetrack in 1974, soon after I moved from New York City to teach at MIT, my first full-time job teaching photography. The grandstands duplicated, in some way that's probably incomprehensible to others, something of the life I'd led in what is now called Alphabet City, but was then home to a wide mix of people, working class, immigrants, artists with a toss in of junkies. Years later I learned about conditions of many marginalized folks working with Thoroughbreds on the backside. That was during 1984, the year I was a coordinator in the Women's Clinic at Pine Street Inn. Since I'm not a nurse and had no relevant skills to offer, I knew I'd never see this gated community. However, years later, in 2005, after Jenifer Vickery, owner of Pawsitive Dog, claimed a Thoroughbred and asked me to photograph her horse, Beautiful Lassie, I actually got there and began listening, watching, photographing and, a year later, started interviewing trainers, hot walkers, grooms, farriers, anyone I got to know who was willing to be part of this on-going project.
Some folks on the backside have money and resources, others don't. But since I first heard about the health problems marginalized workers had, the 8th Pole Medical Clinic was founded by Jim Greene and Shirley Edwards and is now supported by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Healthcare for the Homeless. It offers on-site medical care, counseling for substance abuse and social services, as well as off-site dental care, an exponential improvement.
Sometimes trainers own the Thoroughbreds they train, usually not. Exercise riders take the horses out to the track for training in the mornings, the hot walker cools the horse down after training or racing, the groom cleans the stalls, takes care of the horses. And there are many others who work on the backside -- horse shoers, equine dentists, vets as well as those who deliver grain and feed and other specialized equipment.
TWO follows the path of some Thoroughbreds which, for one reason or another, no longer race. These off-track Thoroughbreds are placed with new qualified owners through different means, including Canter New England, a organization devoted to the placement of racetrack horses.
Occasionally, someone like Linda Hart-Buuck connects directly with an owner/breeder as she did when she bought Layla from Lee Loebelenz, who bred her at Lion Spring farm in Dover. In this case, Linda got the added perspective of M.C. Reardon, a trainer at the racetrack, who knew the horse and has had considerable experience placing Thoroughbreds. Following Layla's transition gives some idea of problems a new owner, even one who had owned another Thoroughbred, might have.
Kermit was retired to Fairview Farms, owned by Krys O'Connor, and is now a lesson horse. Previously she was trained by Shirley Edwards and always brought back a paycheck from every race. .
THREE takes place at Lion Spring farm in Dover as Lee Loebelenz helps Goose, an Irish Wolf Hound, whelp her first puppies. The videos chronicle the pups as they quickly develop from what appear, to me, to be little rats or small pit bulls, toward the huge dogs they will become.
Many thanks to Tommy Atencio, an excellent Final Cut Pro trainer, who made possible my transition to a new video editing system, FCPX, and to Leo Souza, a web site expert, who gave invaluable assistance in setting up an elegant site that I will be able to manage..
My 'real' work has it's own website, www.melissashook.com