Tim Ritvo, The Stronach Group's chief operating officer, met with racetrack owners, state legislators, and Massachusetts gaming commissioners July 24 to delve deeper into the possibility of converting a former greyhound track into a live Thoroughbred venue for next year.
"My father and I met with Timmy today and everything worked out good," said Chris Carney, the son of Raynham Park owner George Carney, who met with Ritvo for three hours in the morning. "He was going on from here to meet with some people up at the Statehouse and on the gaming commission."
Ritvo and the Carneys, who also own the Brockton Fairgrounds and hosted Thoroughbred fair meets there in the summers until 2001, performed a site inspection of the Raynham property during the meeting.
"We talked about whether Raynham was big enough, and whether the state had an appetite for this," Carney said. "I showed him some sketches to build a track there and that was about it. He was happy to see the location and he said he thought it was big enough to do whatever we needed to do. He was excited and so are we."
Carney said that on-site construction would include the conversion and expansion of the unused quarter-mile dog track into a six-furlong main track and the building of new barns with 300 total stalls to allow stabling at the track. Massachusetts outlawed live dog racing in 2010 but allows Raynham Park to simulcast horse and dog racing so the clubhouse is still fully functional.
"There was discussion of installing a turf course, too," said Carney. "The Stronach group is experienced with building barns in Maryland and at Gulfstream (Park). We talked about stabling here on the backside rather than at an off-site training center."
Initial plans would call for a limited live season of 30 days in 2018 that would coordinate with the meets at the Stronach-owned Maryland tracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. It is unclear at this stage whether a Massachusetts meet would fit into the spring, summer, or autumn calendar.
Suffolk Downs in Boston, which is owned by Sterling Suffolk Racecourse LLC and has hosted live racing since 1935, has raced six days in a calendar year since 2015, and plans call for another six-day meet in 2018 even though the property was sold recently to a real estate developer with no interest in continuing live racing or simulcasting.
The purchase and sales agreement with the new owner allows Sterling Suffolk to lease the racing and simulcasting operation for $20,000 per month this year and next, with an option to continue dependent upon the demolition and construction schedule.
"Timmy was very happy to come here today. He spent plenty of time with us and asked a ton of questions and we asked as many of him as he asked of us," said Carney. "We did this meeting on our own today, and then I believe he was going to go to the (Massachusetts Gaming) Commission and he met with them today on his own. I believe when he left here he was also going to the legislature today."
Carney said that he, his father, and Ritvo were excited about their meeting and that Ritvo told them he would take the information back to The Stronach Group and they would proceed together from that stage.
Carney said that he is "very optimistic," but he is also realistic. Cooperation from the state legislature, which controls the lucrative Race Horse Development Fund, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which regulates the RHDF and live racing, is a necessary component of any deal being struck.
"A lot of this is in the state's hands, and the gaming commission's hands. I've been down this path many times before with the Thoroughbreds," said Carney.
In 2016, the Carney family proposed the return of live racing to the Brockton Fairgrounds but the Massachusetts Gaming Commission denied the track's request for disbursement of money from the RHDF to cover the administrative and operational expenses of running a live meet because the legal opinion was that it does not comply with current state statute.
"We're doers and we want to do it, I think Raynham would be a good host community so we'll see what happens," said Carney.
Ritvo, who is a Boston native and began his career as a young jockey riding at the New England tracks, was traveling and did not return calls July 24.
Meanwhile, the New England affiliate of the Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association is still moving forward with plans to develop and operate a new, state-of-the art equine center and horse park that would include a one-mile oval and turf course as well as a farm for retired Thoroughbreds.
The project would also require legislative support and changes in state statue for disbursement of RHDF funds in addition to the approval of the gaming commission.