Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: Beren Brings Adults With Autism Into The Winner's Circle - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: Beren Brings Adults With Autism Into The Winner’s Circle

The Feifarek family in the winner’s circle after Beren’s triumph in the De Francis. From left to right: father Chris (navy shirt), mom Ellen, and son Scott.

The winner's circle was filled with family and friends after Beren's triumph in the $150,000 Frank De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park, but the day's biggest winner was not a person or a horse. 

Co-owner and breeder Chris Feifarek donates 10 percent of Beren's earnings to Itineris, a Baltimore-based non-profit dedicated to empowering adults on the autism spectrum to live meaningful lives throughout their lifespan.

Feifarek's 37-year-old son, Scott, is autistic. When Scott aged out of the state's educational program at 21, Feifarek and his wife struggled to figure out what Scott might want to do next.

“Scott is non-verbal,” Feifarek explained, his voice tinged with emotion. “If he could only give you three-word sentences, we'd be at a whole different level of understanding. You don't even know what kind of food he prefers. We do something for him because we think he likes it, but we really don't know. You're left doing the best you can with the information you have.”

The lack of autism-specific adult programs in Baltimore led Feifarek's wife, Ellen, and several other local families to band together to form Itineris. It took several years to get the program off the ground, but today Itineris serves 100 autistic adults via life-building and goal-reaching services.

“We've been closely involved with Itineris for a long time,” Feifarek said. “It wasn't just for [Scott] that we went into this; all the people with autism are going to need this. Currently they have over 100 clients in the program, and there's a waiting list too. 

“Itineris proves the services and they get so much government funding, but because of the high staff-to-client ratio, more funding is needed. Especially after COVID, now that the program is resurfacing again as things move back toward normal, funding is still a challenge. 

“I knew [Beren] was looking like he was potentially gonna do well, and then when he started to do well, I said, 'Why don't we take 10 percent of our share of the winnings and pay them to the Itineris organization.' So I hope we do really well!”

With career earnings now over $600,000, the Pennsylvania-bred Beren has continually delivered for the Feifarek family. The 4-year-old son of Weigelia has already won six stakes races under the care of trainer Robert “Butch” Reid, Jr., and Feifarek hopes to keep Beren in training for as long as the horse wants to run.

Feifarek's love of horse racing was nurtured by his father, an avid racing fan who took him along to the track every Saturday throughout his childhood. After graduating from college and beginning his career as a radiologist, Feifarek felt the time was right to try his luck in the ownership game.

A chance connection wound up sending Feifarek's first yearling purchase to the St. Omer's Farm of Susan and Steve Quick, and the two couples have been partners ever since. Shortly after their initial meeting, the Quick-bred and -owned Kattegat's Pride began to have success on the racetrack.

“She was the first horse they ever bred that was at the races,” Feifarek said. “I'd never known somebody who had a horse, so it was a whole new level of excitement. Within a few months I was at the races when the horse won her first stakes race, and then she won four or five in a row. In total she won 10 stakes and over a half-million on the track, and this was in the '80s when a stakes race might be worth $50,000. It was intoxicating seeing how well they were doing, and I was her biggest fan.”

Feifarek's first racehorse, the aforementioned yearling, did wind up winning 19 races over his career, mostly for a $2,000 tag at Charles Town. It didn't matter; Feifarek was hooked.

When Kattegat's Pride retired to the breeding shed, Feifarek decided to partner with the Quicks on a foal. Though the first generation wasn't able to reproduce their dam's talent, a daughter from the second generation went on to earn over $1 million on the track.

Silmaril, named as a nod to an item of lore from The Lord of the Rings, won 16 of 36 starts including the Maryland Million Distaff, the Grade 3 Endine, and the Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap (G3). 

Also named after a character in The Lord of the Rings, Silmaril's son Beren has continued to build on the family name. The colt's latest success was made all the more special since Scott was able to enter the winner's circle with his parents.

“It was definitely an exciting win, one of the more exciting ones,” Feifarek said. “Now that we're focused on breeding one or two mares each year, and racing the foals, it's even more exciting to get a few good ones in there that can more than pay their way. We go through slack periods and good periods; in racing you get plenty of both.”

Of course, the best part of this recent upswing is that Beren's success will support the continued growth of the Itineris program. That means continued support and opportunities for an aging population which continues to expand as more knowledge about autism becomes readily available. 

The Itineris vision is thus: “A world where adults on the autism spectrum can fully share in the life of their communities, with the dignity to choose their own path as they strive to achieve their dreams and goals.”

Every step on the road to that vision is important, from Beren's stakes victory to Scott's everyday triumphs. Last fall, for example, Itineris was able to match Scott up with a local company for his first paying job.

“It's a supported employment program, so his Itineris staff member goes with him to the restaurant,” Feifarek said. “He'll work for three hours one day, two hours another; he's wrapped up 555 silverware packets in a three-hour shift. He does a really good job there, and he really seems to enjoy it.”

Learn more about the Itineris program at their website (click here).

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