Long Time, No See: Racing Back at Brockton

by Jeff Gutridge

Hoping to recapture its popularity from nearly 30 years ago, the Brockton Fair in southeastern Massachusetts will open June 30 for a 30-day meet that will extend through Aug. 18. The meet originally was scheduled for 20 days.

Thoroughbred racing last took place in Brockton in 1972, when the track generated average daily handle of $195,000 for a 10-day meet. In previous years, $500,000 handles weren't uncommon. George Carney successfully operated the track then, but this time around, his son, Chris, will manage the operation.

"Our family decided to bring back racing to Brockton because we love horses," Chris Carney said. "I live in Brockton, and this just something extra the people in this area will have something to look forward to this summer. It would be nice to generate the same kind of interest we had in the early 1970s."

The Carneys began entertaining the notion of bringing racing back to the bull ring about five years ago, when tax laws affecting fair racing were eased and simulcasting became an extra source of revenue for tracks.

"We were involved in other endeavors in the mid-1990s, but we kept adding barns and other infrastructure to the facility each year," Carney said. "We've done so much in recent years, we kind of forced our hand to bring back racing this summer."

The track will be open each Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. There will also be a special program July 4.

Carney is expecting an opening day crowd of 8,000, and average daily attendance of 4,000. The Brockton Fair attracts an average of 20,000 people each day to the fairgrounds.

"We can guarantee an on-track daily handle of $350,000, but we are optimistically shooting for $500,000 a day on the track," said Carney, who expects to employ about 150 people a day at the facility.

Additional revenue could arrive in the form of simulcasting, which could have its future decided June 28 in the Massachusetts Senate. Current state legislation authorizing simulcasting expires at the end of the month, but the Senate is expected to approve a new law, which allows simulcasting at fairs, prior to the June 30 deadline.

"If the (simulcasting) bill is passed in the days prior to opening day, we hope to bring in another $150,000 a day by simulcasting our signal to other tracks," Carney said.
Brockton plans to send its signal to Suffolk Downs, Wonderland Dog Track and Plainridge Racecousre, all of which are located in Massachusetts, and Rockingham Park in New Hampshire. Brockton officials have received commitments from tracks outside of the region, but are waiting for the legislation to pass before those outlets are announced.

"We are expecting additional tracks to take our signal as the meet goes along," Carney said. At Brockton, signals will be imported from other tracks.

The return of racing to Brockton is attracting horsemen from all over the region. The barn area already has reached its 316-horse limit and, as many as 75 trainers, including J.J. Kelly III, Jay Bernardini, Michael Gorham, Lori Lockhart, and Robert Manning have indicated a desire to race at Brockton. Some of the jockeys expected to ride at the meet are Vernon Bush, Miguel Santiago, and Bubba Wilson.

Nine races will be carded Saturdays and Sundays, and eight races on weekdays. A ninth race could be added Tuesdays and Thursdays, depending on the success racing secretary Tom Creel has in filling races.

The purse for each race will average $3,100, but if simulcasting revenue is sufficient, the purse structure will increase, Carney said.

"We hope to be the minor leagues of racing," Carney said. "We'll be able to introduce racing to first-time trackgoers, and potentially attract some future horse owners. Getting new people interested in racing will help the Thoroughbred industry in Massachusetts."