Marion Altieri FP’88 Aims for Oprah-Sphere

Friday, December 6, 2013 - 17:45
Marion Altieri FP ’88 snuggles with an equine friend.

It’s been ten years since Marion Altieri FP’88 told Helen “Penny” Chenery, the famed owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, that she wants to become “the Oprah of horse racing.” She’s not there yet, but with a blog, a series of children’s books, a radio show, a screenplay, a new online magazine, and a few other projects—all devoted to horses and horse racing—she’s well on her way to building her equine multimedia empire.

Altieri was just six months old when she was first “plopped on the back of a pony,” as she puts it. At age four, she started riding quarter horses at a cousin’s dairy farm in Rensselaer County, New York; that same year, her mother and grandmother took her to two racetracks—the now defunct Green Mountain Race Track, in Pownal, Vermont, and the legendary Saratoga Race Course, in Saratoga Springs, New York—for the first time.

“Of course, I didn’t know the difference between the thoroughbreds who were racing and the quarter horses that I rode up on my cousin’s farm, but that’s how I got hooked on horses,” Altieri says.

Her fascination with horses never waned, but the animals were a passion rather than a profession. That changed in 2003, when she happened to see a PBS special with “goal achievement” expert Barbara Sher.

“She said that the way to find your vocation—the reason you’re put on the planet—was to think of your gifts and talents, and then think of your obsessive passion, and put those two things together,” says Altieri, who was 47 at the time. “I had been a freelance writer and (was) working at secretary’s jobs. When I heard that, I said out loud, ‘I’m supposed to write about horse racing.’”

Altieri went to Secretariat.com and sent an email to Chenery, a 1943 Smith alumna and a barrier breaker for women in the sport of horse racing. The following evening, Altieri’s phone rang. It was Chenery, calling from Lexington, Kentucky—horse country.

“She said to me, ‘What’s your dream, dear?’” Altieri recalls.

“I said, ‘I need to become an influential woman in horse racing.’ And she sounded skeptical. She asked why. I said, ‘Because I need to be someone who helps make the sport more egalitarian for women and more nurturing for horses. I want to be like you. If I’m at a track and I see a horse being abused, I want to be able to pick up the phone and call the president of the track and have him go, 'Oh s***, it’s her.’ And she laughed and said, ‘That’s what I do, and that’s what they say about me! We’re on the same page.’ She said, ‘Meet me at my box at Saratoga on opening day in three weeks, and we’ll see what we can do to get your career started.’”

Altieri did just that, and Chenery made good on her promise, giving her protégé an assignment to edit and rewrite all of the content on Secretariat.com.

“I was able to put it on my résumé,” Altieri says. “And, as they say, the rest is history.”

Highlights of Altieri’s ensuing career as an equine media maven include a horse-racing blog, Mairzy Doats, on Saratoga.com that attracts 80,000 readers a month during racing season; a children’s book, Claude, the Clumsy Clydesdale, the first of 12 volumes in Altieri’s “Alpha Mare” series; and a horse-racing radio show on WJKE, the only show of its kind to be hosted by a woman, Altieri says. She’s also writing a screenplay about a horse-racing murder mystery and teaching classes on equine journalism and horse racing at Schenectady County (New York) Community College, where she’s an adjunct.

But her pièce de résistance is an online magazine, Filly (styled as f!lly, after the singer P!nk), which is set to go live this month. Altieri describes Filly, whose tagline is “Women + Horses = Power,” as the definitive magazine by, for, and about women in thoroughbred and Arabian horse racing. The debut issue will feature interviews with Denise “Dennie” Gault, a bloodstock agent who advises clients, including the deputy ruler of Dubai, on buying Arabian racehorses; Kathryn Smoke, a key figure in the Arabian Jockey Club; and Lisa Fortier, of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

As publisher and editor and chief, Altieri hopes to reach 600,000 readers a month and to inspire a movement that helps horse-loving women around the world find careers in the sport of horse racing as jockeys, trainers, presidents of racetracks—you name it.

Filly is a feminist magazine, and the Filly movement is a feminist movement,” Altieri says. “I’m working to kick down the barn door for many other women and girls. As our gender gets more play in the sport, horses will benefit. Horse slaughter will end. Abuse and neglect will be legally punished. Wherever women are defending the weak—including horses—the weak gain strength, and renewed life.”

Move over, Oprah.

Christina Barber-Just