Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts

Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts

Chip Bott

Suffolk Gets OK for $2.4M in Purses This Year

Money comes from fund supported by gaming revenue at Massachusetts casinos.

Suffolk Downs received approval from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission June 9 to use $2.4 million from the Race Horse Development Fund for purses over six days of Thoroughbred racing this year.

Expenditures for a proposed race meet at the Brockton Fairgrounds, however, remain on hold given uncertainty over how many days the facility southeast of Boston will race this year.

Suffolk Downs last year offered three days of racing. That will double to six with racing on three weekends about a month apart beginning July 9-10.

Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer for Suffolk Downs, said he expects overnight purses and Massachusetts-bred stakes to average about $500,000 a day. Purses for state-bred stakes come from a separate breeding component of the RHDF.

Steeplechase races are part of the plan if they are needed, Tuttle told the MGC.

"We have them in the (condition) book, but whether we need them will depend on how the other races fill," Tuttle said. "We've doubled our program from last year so it may be a bit more difficult to recruit horses to fill races."

MGC director of racing Alex Lightbown said there is about $8 million in the RHDF for Thoroughbred purses. She said Brockton officials planned to ask for about $5 million to fund purses for 30 days of racing, but if related legislation doesn't pass it could only offer 15 programs this year.

With 30 programs, Brockton would offer about $150,000 a day in purses.

"They only have 15 days available now but want an extra 15 days," Lightbown said of Brockton. "If (the meet) is just 15 days, it would be a very different proposal from (what was submitted) last fall. They hope to have that for the next (MGC) meeting. They had hoped to (begin racing) the first week in July, but that had to be pushed back."

The MGC also approved a request from the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association to use $225,000 for expenses related to the Suffolk Downs meet. The panel, however, rejected a request from the horsemen's group for another $100,000 that would be used to help fund a feasibility study for an equine park that would ultimately be the replacement for Suffolk Downs.

MGC general counsel Catherine Blue said that by law the RHDF, which falls under the MGC, must pay 80% to purses, 16% to breed development, and 4% for horsemen's health and welfare. The feasibility study wouldn't qualify; a similar request was made last year.

"The study they are proposing is really more of a capital-type expense that's not payout out of the RHDF," Blue said. "There's really not a good way to pay for it out of the racing statute, either."

It was noted during the meeting that legislative changes last year allow purse revenue derived from pari-mutuel handle to be used to offset expenses for live racing. Tuttle said he expects the expenses this year to total about $950,000, and that any unused funds revert to the New England HBPA.