By Lynne Snierson
On the eve of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission hearing to approve or deny the application of Suffolk Downs to hold three days of live racing this fall, track management shot down the persistent rumor that The Stronach Group is poised to step in and run a longer meet.
"I can say definitively that we will not have an arrangement whereby The Stronach Group will lease or operate racing here," Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Chip Tuttle told the Blood-Horse Aug. 5.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group and a Boston native who began his career as a jockey at the once-thriving New England tracks, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Tuttle said he and Ritvo had a short conversation July 29 and have not spoken since. That one conversation was held at the behest of the MGC as a way of gauging the company's interest in leasing Suffolk Downs or operating a meet at the track, and Tuttle said Ritvo told him directly that he did not consider either option a possibility.
The issue of The Stronach Group's potential involvement was raised by trainer Billy Lagorio, who testified at length about it at the MGC's July 23 hearing. After listening to the testimony, commissioners delayed taking a vote on Suffolk Downs' application for a few live racing dates.
Lagorio subsequently was elected president of the newly formed Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which splintered from the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.
The New England HBPA, along with the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association, entered into an agreement with Suffolk Downs and is supportive of a three-day meet in 2015. The rival horsemen's group strongly objects to the plan, maintaining that three days of live racing with a purse distribution in excess of $500,000 per day benefits out-of-state outfits at their peril.
Under federal and state law, the New England HBPA and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association are the only organizations authorized to enter into an agreement with Suffolk Downs management. It is the contention of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association that Suffolk Downs is profiting greatly by maintain the simulcast rights while only proposing to run three days per year.
But Tuttle dismissed that as well. He said the 2015 operating budget of Suffolk Downs projects a $1.2 million loss before taxes and interest.
Moreover, Tuttle pointed out that The Stronach Group has a financial incentive to prevent live racing at Suffolk Downs rather than promote it because the track must pay Monarch Content Management, which is owned by The Stronach Group, more for imported signals if it is a simulcast-only facility.
The MGC pledged to vote on Suffolk Downs' application for live racing on Sept. 5, Oct. 3, and Oct. 31 at the Aug. 6 hearing.