On Nov. 17, Anthony Coletta, 31, of Jersey City, was driving a horse named Straight Up Tequila in a harness race at Harrah’s race track in Philadelphia, when the horse in front of his, Rocknmy Jeans, took a misstep and fell.
“When the horse in front of him went lame or broke its leg, Anthony pulled to the side to avoid hitting him or the other jockey,” a family friend, Mimi Balesterri Fano, said.
Coletta was vaulted from his sulky, then trampled by an oncoming horse, the start of a four-horse pileup.
He was rushed to a local medical facility, then airlifted by helicopter to the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.
There he underwent surgery for brain trauma and multiple fractures. But he remains in a coma.
“He wasn’t even supposed to race that day,” Fano said. “But when another jockey couldn’t do it, he filled in.”
He had just gotten engaged to be married prior to the accident, she said.
Colleagues and neighbors rally to help
“He was a wonderful boy, and everybody is distraught over this,” Fano said. “Jockeys at the Meadowlands Race Track and other places where he raced gave up their purses to help him.”
A Jersey City native, Coletta’s family owned a local business, so everybody knows him.
“They owned a tavern/restaurant in our tight-knit neighborhood downtown that we all hung out at, and all have fond memories of,” Fano said. “The family was a big part of our childhood. So when Anthony had the accident our hearts all went out to him and felt helpless.”
Anthony had been a teammate on the Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow and Pershing Field Baseball with one local family’s kid. He had also attended Hudson Catholic High School with neighbors.
“Anthony’s father, Freddie Coletta , is a downtown friend from our neighborhood (Downtown Jersey City, Brunswick Street) and also an alumni of Holy Rosary School,” Fano said.
“He was a wonderful boy, and everybody is distraught over this.” – Mimi Balesterri Fano
“Nicholas (Balesterri) wanted to have a benefit to raise money for Freddie’s family and was asking a few people to get it started. When Frank Marto heard about it, he called me and the planning began,” Fano said.
So on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m., they will hold a fundraiser called “Strength and Hope for Anthony Coletta” at Holy Rosary School (Msgr. Santora Hall) 189 Brunswick St., in Jersey City. “Our pastor Rev. Jerzy Zastona graciously offered the use of the auditorium for the benefit,” Fano said. “Downtown always pulls together in hard times and this is one of them. Nicholas and Anthony’s father Freddie were very close, growing up. We came up with the idea of 100 percent profit by asking everyone to donate $25 a person. To keep the cost of the gathering down, we also asked them to bring their own spirits and snacks. The music is also being donated.”
Fano said the response has been heartwarming, and she is optimistic. She printed 375 tickets and hopes it won’t be enough.
“Anthony has a long recovery road ahead of him and his family does also,” Fano said.
They hope the money can help defray some of the medical costs the family faces as a result of the accident.
“We just want to have one huge downtown get together and show our support and love to a fellow Holy Rosary Alumni and friend who has had his life changed by this horrible accident,” Fano said.
Donation checks should be made out to “Stay Strong Anthony Coletta.” The address for mailing is Frank Marto, 37 College Drive, Apt. 2C, Jersey City, NJ 07305.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.