Horsemen at Suffolk Downs feared they would have nowhere to go if the Boston track's management chose to move the winter meet starting date from January to May. Those fears intensified when on Tuesday the track officials applied for 150-day meet that would open May 1.
"They said they were going to apply for a license without dates," said Manny Roos, president of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association at Suffolk Downs. "That gave us hope for a January meeting. They lied to us."
Robert O'Malley, the track's chief operating officer, said Roos misunderstood his intentions.
"The idea of filing without the specific dates, which the horse racing commission wasn't crazy about, was just a procedural thing on our part," said O'Malley. "It wasn't a promise to Mr. Roos that we were still clarifying dates. What I told Mr. Roos sometime in August was under certain conditions, I would look at a January opening. One of those conditions was that horsemen would support the track in reducing its dates. I never got that condition from the HBPA. It became academic as we looked at this thing from our financial situation and from the number of horses on the grounds, we could not run in January."
"We're trying to have a meeting with the board of directors," said Roos on Sept. 30. "Now they're pre-empting us at every move that we're making in order to save racing. "If they don't open in January, I have grave doubts they'll be able to open in May with the proper horse colony."
Unlike many racetracks, which operate as part of a circuit, Suffolk has become almost an island unto itself with the decision last year by Rockingham Park officials to terminate Thoroughbred racing to focus instead on Standardbred racing.
"We used to have a year-round circuit," said trainer Sherryl Meade. "It wasn't the greatest, but we had it. We've lost Scarborough, Lincoln, Rockingham. We used to have so many tracks and now we're down to one."
Meade is organizing a rally Thursday around noon at the Massachusetts Statehouse in downtown Boston to build support for the racetrack and for expanded gaming, a proposition that could be in front of the Massachusetts Senate this week.
"We need to get the message out if we're going to save racing in New England," said Meade. "It's very depressing here."
O'Malley seemed to blame Roos and his fellow board members for the situation they're in now.
"Since we reopened the track (in 1992) we have consistently run a September to June meet in conjunction with Rockingham," said O'Malley. "Now Rockingham isn't here anymore thanks to this HBPA board, and we filled in the summer because I thought it was far more difficult for our people to find a place in the summer than in the winter. It's my opinion that two-thirds of the professional horsemen have made arrangements to be someplace else in the next six weeks."
Elizabeth Barry, executive secretary of the Massachusetts State Racing Commission, said although the dates request has been submitted, it is still subject to two public hearings. Barry said racetracks often change their requested dates at some point in the approval process.