Suffolk Downs

Suffolk Downs

Courtesy of Suffolk Downs/Patricia McQueen

Massachusetts Takes Step Toward New Track

Equine center would feature venues for several breeds.

The creation of a non-profit Thoroughbred racetrack and equine center in Massachusetts advanced closer to reality with the release of a favorable independent feasibility study July 8.

The 47-page report—authored by the Center for Economic Development and the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst—concluded that the project would provide a "significant" economic annual boon for the state, revive the local Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, and enhance the statewide agricultural and equine network.

The study was backed by the New England affiliate of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which is now building bipartisan support at the state capitol for the passage of enabling legislation to greenlight the project.

"We are extremely enthusiastic and very excited about the positive findings in the study, and are greatly encouraged by the support that is growing in the legislature to allow us to turn our dream of finding a long-term solution for racing and breeding in Massachusetts into reality," said Anthony Spadea, president of the NEHBPA.

The study details "The Massachusetts Model," unlike any other in the country, for a prototypical multi-use, combination racetrack, featuring a one-mile oval with a seven-furlong turf course. The facility will also include a grandstand, upscale equine center, and on-site Thoroughbred retirement and retraining farm for as many as 40 horses at the outset. A hotel would likely be included.

Construction costs in total are not expected to exceed $150 million, with $90 earmarked for acquisition of the required 300 to 600 contiguous acres of land located near an interstate highway or major state road. Although no specific location was noted, there are currently 10 active real estate listings within state borders that meet the criteria.

The study projects that with 75 live racing days held annually from mid-May to mid-October, an average of nine races per day, approximately 800 horses stabled on the new backside, and an average minimum of 3,000 fans in attendance in the new grandstand, the Thoroughbred racing component would have an annual economic output of $66 million.

When factoring in the equine center capable of hosting indoor and outdoor events year-round for dressage, eventing, and hunter/jumper competitions on Olympic-sized surfaces, along with a conference center, farmer's and artisanal markets, equine health and training services, and several other features, the project is expected to produce an annual economic impact of close to $100 million and produce another $5 million each year in state and local taxes.

Furthermore, the study found that the equine center would create 957 jobs in the state, and that it would boost another 115 foals being bred in Massachusetts yearly, as long as there are continued allocations from the state Race Horse Development Fund awards to breeders.

The study termed the project a "job and tax producer." In addition to backing from the NEHBPA and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association, horsemen from a variety of other breeds are also standing solidly behind the plan and working with the Thoroughbred groups to secure passage of enabling legislation.

"Support in the legislature is building strongly, and all of the horsemen who have been helping us along the way are as enthusiastic as we are. We are very appreciative of the many groups of horsemen who have given us their support and loyalty," Spadea said. "We will keep striving and working as hard as possible to make this a reality for all of us, so we can all stay at home to train and race our horses and make a living."

The concept for the equine center was created by top officials from the NEHBPA, who as far back as 2013 were confronted with the dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over the future of Thoroughbred racing in New England. Consequently, many of the horsemen and riders scattered to other tracks.

The ownership group of Suffolk Downs had long maintained that live racing was no longer economically viable without a casino license. The group partnered first with gaming titans Caesar's and then Mohegan Sun but in 2014 was denied the license authorized for the greater Boston region by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

Suffolk held three live racing days in 2015, and will host six days in 2016, beginning July 9.

The Brockton Fairgrounds, which last held a Thoroughbred meet in 2000, is hoping to race 15 days this year, starting at the end of the month, but still needs final approval from the MGC.

The last sliver of hope that Thoroughbred racing could ever return to Rockingham Park, which hasn't held a live meet since 2002, was extinguished when the New Hampshire track was sold earlier this year to a local developer and it was announced the doors will be shuttered for good Aug. 31.