By Lynne Snierson
The management of Suffolk Downs, which announced last September that live racing had come to an end at the historic East Boston, Mass., facility and the 2014 meet would be its last, intends to bring back the Thoroughbreds for three days this year and operate the meet.
The track submitted an application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission requesting one day of racing on three Saturdays: July 11, Aug. 8, and Sept. 5. The New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which in February executed a two-year agreement with Suffolk Downs to lease the track, has instead withdrawn the "placeholder" application it filed with the MGC in October.
"Our 2014 racing license has been extended (by the state legislature) until the end of July 2016, and as part of that extension we were invited to apply for dates so we filed a supplemental application to run three days per our agreement with the horsemen," said Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer of the track. "We project purse levels at $500,000 per day and we also look forward to accommodating the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders' Association to run some of their races on those days."
Elaine Driscoll, spokesperson for the MGC, said Suffolk Downs' application is currently under review by its legal department. Upon completion of the attorneys' findings, the application will be released and then a public hearing will be scheduled, as required by the MGC.
A hearing date is expected to be confirmed later the week of May 17.
"We're hopeful that the commission will look favorably on our application as it provides an opportunity for the horsemen and the breeders to have at least a minimal amount of racing as they work on their long-term plans for their future and for developing their own venue," Tuttle said.
At the same time, the abbreviated meet allows the ownership of the 80-year-old track an extended period to work on development plans for the property, which is one of the most valuable in New England and perhaps the Eastern seaboard.
"We are extremely positive that we are heading in the right direction," said New England HBPA president Anthony Spadea said. "We are confident now that Suffolk has applied for these dates that we can make them very successful days of racing."
In order for the three-day meet, if green-lighted by the MGC, to be successful, purses will have to be funded by some of the Thoroughbred industry's share of the state's new Race Horse Development Fund. The RHDF is being supplied by a percentage of the license fees and revenue from future casinos and a slot-machine parlor.
Success will also be contingent upon the New England horsemen, who dispersed some of their stock and scattered to other tracks along the East Coast after Suffolk Downs closed last year, coming home to race for those three dates.
Tuttle said a portion of the barn area will only be open from the Thursday prior to each Saturday race date until the day (Sunday) afterward. The dorms will not be available and the track kitchen, which burned down last year, will not be rebuilt.
It is expected that 12 to 14 races will be carded on each of the three days, with steeplechase racing added to the mix. Preference at the entry box will be given to horsemen who supported live racing at Suffolk Downs in the recent past, provided their horses fit the conditions.
Meanwhile, the New England HBPA is moving forward with plans to construct an equine center and family-friendly facility in another part of the state that will be ready to open once Suffolk Downs shuts its doors for good.
"We're hoping in the very near future, and with the help of the legislature, that we will be building a brand new facility for racing," Spadea said. "We feel that racing in New England can and will be what it used to be. We're trying to secure a permanent racing program for our horsemen and provide good racing with a lot of fun for the fans."