Suffolk Downs, New England’s Last Thoroughbred Horse Track, Hosting Final Live Races

BOSTON (AP) — New England’s last thoroughbred horse track, Boston’s Suffolk Downs, is hosting its final live races this weekend, but it’s not clear what comes next for the industry, which continues to receive millions of dollars in casino tax subsidies.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, the company that operates the once grand, 84-year old track, has been running a handful of summertime races since losing out on its bid to build a resort casino on the property in 2014.

Two years ago, it sold the property — where the Depression-era champion Seabiscuit was discovered by the team that launched him into the limelight — to a real estate developer that plans to build apartments, condominiums and offices on the 161-acre property straddling Boston and Revere.

But Sterling Suffolk still wants to remain in the racing business and is betting on legislative approval this year to make that happen.

The company has proposed restoring the Great Barrington Fairgrounds near the New York state line while keeping its more lucrative simulcast and online betting operations in the Boston area. Current regulations don’t allow for a state-licensed race operator to split its operations this way…

Is Horse Racing Dead in Massachusetts? Not Yet

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, LLC (SSR), the company that operates Thoroughbred racing, wagering and simulcasting at Suffolk Downs, and Fairgrounds Realty LLC and Fair Grounds Community Redevelopment Project Inc., the entities that own the Great Barrington Fairgrounds, have reached an agreement for a long-term lease of the historic race track property in Great Barrington to commence racing as soon as 2019, the companies recently announced.

Under the agreement, Sterling Suffolk Downs would refurbish the Fairgrounds property and operate a commercial race meeting at Great Barrington while continuing to operate simulcast wagering at its current location in East Boston. Suffolk Downs, the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (NEHBPA) and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders (MTBA) are seeking modifications in state racing and simulcasting laws, which are set to expire at the end of July, to accommodate the new arrangement.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for us to help preserve and refurbish an iconic property in the heart of the Berkshires, to boost economic development in Great Barrington, continue live racing and preserve the hundreds of jobs, associated agribusinesses and working open spaces associated with the Massachusetts racing industry,” said Chip Tuttle, Sterling Suffolk Racecourse’s chief operating officer. “We are confident that we can do this consistent with Fair Grounds Community Redevelopment’s vision for sustainable preservation of the fairground property as a space devoted to community recreation and with a strong connection to its agricultural heritage.”

“We are excited to enter into this partnership which offers potential benefits to so many people and organizations in our community, western Mass. and the surrounding area,” said Bart Elsbach, chairman of the Fair Grounds Community Redevelopment Project, “Finding a group to partner with us in a meaningful way to continue use of our site in keeping with its history while continuing to offer the area valuable recreational and economic benefits without aggressive commercial development is consistent with our ongoing vision for the fairgrounds.”

The Great Barrington Fairgrounds has a rich history. It was the host of the longest continually operating agricultural fair in New England. Horse racing started on the property in 1859 and it was regarded as the centerpiece of the Massachusetts fair circuit. Pari-mutuel wagering began at Great Barrington in September of 1940 and continued through 1983. The track last offered Thoroughbred racing 20 years ago in 1998. The grandstand, barns and track facilities still stand, though they will require restoration and repair. In addition to improvements to the track surface, grandstand and other facilities, SSR officials indicated that they would be looking at expanding the racing surface at Great Barrington.

Massachusetts map“In its current condition, we are confident that we could conduct racing as soon as next year, should we need to, and we plan to explore with Bart, his team and the town options on expanding the racing surface to accommodate racing at longer distances. There was traditionally strong support for racing here and we hope to attract fans from across New England and New York.”

Suffolk Downs is scheduled to host three live racing and food truck festival weekends this summer on Saturday and Sunday, June 9-10, July 7-8 and August 4-5. Track officials have said that they hope to continue racing at the site in 2019.

In December 2012, the 57-acre fairgrounds property was purchased by Sheffield couple Bart and Janet Elsbach with the vision to preserve and restore the environmental health of the site. The Elsbachs created the not-for-profit Fair Grounds Community Redevelopment Project which has provided agricultural, educational, recreational, and other beneficial opportunities to the local community and visitors through the preservation and sustainable development of this historic fairgrounds site.

The revival of racing at Great Barrington has the support of the NEHBPA and the MTBA. The two organizations entered a joint agreement with Sterling Suffolk Racecourse in November of last year to seek alternative venues for continuing Thoroughbred racing in the state and to pursue changes in the state’s racing and simulcast laws that would facilitate the continuation of live racing. SSR sold the Suffolk Downs property to a development company in May of 2017 and has continued to operate under a lease agreement since then.

“Our membership is made up of hundreds of small businessmen and women and local family farms who want to continue the chance to earn purse monies and to make a productive contribution to the Massachusetts’ economy,” said Anthony Spadea, president of the NEHBPA. “Many of us raced at Great Barrington in 1997 and 1998 and would enjoy the opportunity to make it the seasonal home of racing here. We appreciate the support of the Legislature, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the Suffolk Downs team to keep this industry active and vital.”

Source: Press Release

Suffolk Downs to Raise Summer Meet Purses 15%

Live racing will return to Suffolk Downs this summer with three two-day racing festivals and the track announced today a purse increase of 15% on overnight purses. The three festival weekends are scheduled to be held June 9-10, July 7-8 and August 4-5.

In 2017, the track conducted four weekends of live racing with an average daily purse of $493,095, including incentives.

The track offered lucrative starter incentives for trainers at $400 per horse and owners were rewarded with $500 for horses finishing first through fifth (on top of purse money) while the owners of horses finishing sixth through last received a bonus of $1,500. This incentive program will continue in 2018.

“We are looking forward to another season of racing and we are glad to be able to continue to reward the horsemen and women who have supported our festival weekends, especially those who stabled here in the past,” said Chip Tuttle, the Chief Operating Officer at Suffolk Downs. “We understand that asking people to ship in for each weekend requires that we ensure some return on their investment and we expect that we’ll be over $500,000 per day in purses with this increase. We appreciate the cooperation of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in making these weekends a success.”

horse racing blinkersWith the 15% purse increase for 2018, $5,000 claiming races will now carry a purse of $30,000, maiden special weight races will offer a purse of $47,500 and allowance/optional claiming races will be listed at $52,500, pending approval by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The track is also scheduled to host a stakes race both weekends in July and August and those black-type events will have a purse of $100,000. The first weekend of racing, June 9-10, will coincide with the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes.

Over the course of each weekend, there will be stakes races restricted to either horses foaled in Massachusetts or sired by a Massachusetts-based stallion. Each offers a purse of $50,000 and is a showcase for the Massachusetts Thoroughbred breeding industry.

In addition to live racing, the track will be hosting a food truck festival each weekend featuring food trucks from a variety of local vendors, craft beer, live music and family fun activities for the whole family.

For more information, visit

Photo Gallery: Return of horse racing at Suffolk Downs

Photographer Matt West Local Coverage Sunday, July 09, 2017 Jockey Tammi Piermarini pats Dr Blarney on the neck after a first place finish in the Rise Jim Stakes (First race ) at a day of racing at Suffolk Downs on Sunday, July 9, 2017.

Source: Gallery: Return of horse racing at Suffolk Downs

Horse Racing may return to New England’s last Thoroughbred Track

 BOSTON (AP) – New England’s last remaining thoroughbred horse racing track might continue to hold live races after all. Months after its owners said they would stop hosting races after the 2014 season, Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association announced Friday that they’ve reached an agreement to hold races in 2015…

Regulators to finalize MGM & Wynn casino licenses

BOSTON (AP) – State gambling regulators are completing casino licenses for MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts after voters emphatically rejected repealing the state’s casino law. The gambling giants were granted the state licenses pending the outcome of the November election. Residents voted by a 20 percentage point margin on Tuesday to keep the 2011 law…

Small Track Closing Deals a Major Blow to Horse Racing

slot machineby Charles Simon, Thoroughbred Trainer

This weekend in thoroughbred racing many important stakes were run throughout the country and, if you include the Arc de Triomphe card, throughout the world. The electric return of Wise Dan, the emergence of potential Derby stars, a Hong Kong shipper taking down grade 1 California sprinters and Treve returning to form to defend her title in the Arc, all big events. However, in my opinion  the story that will ultimately have the biggest impact on racing in this country heading into the future is Suffolk Downs closing.

While it has never been a top tier track in my lifetime Suffolk Downs was the last holdout in one of racing’s historical strong areas, New England. Surely most of us don’t follow Suffolk closely, don’t bet much on their signal and with the demise of the Mass Cap, they didnt really even have a signature day anymore. The horses that are stabled there will filter into lower level tracks throughout the country and the horsemen and jockeys will mostly relocate as well. However we now have another major metropolitan area (Boston’s metro area was in excess of 4 1/2 million people as of 2010) that has no exposure to live racing, and exposure to live racing is the only way that racing will ever be able to grow its fan/bettor base.

Growing up in Saratoga in a far less electronically connected era, we knew about racing at Suffolk and Rockingham and the fairs. New England shippers were always respected when they showed up at the Spa. Those sharp shippers have been few and far between in recent years as the New England circuit slowly eroded into just Suffolk when Rockingham closed and its hard to call the recently concluded final meet as anything less than C minus competition.

But an entire area of our country, a heavily populated area full of sports crazy people (however misguided Red Sox, Patriot and Celtics fans are) is now without any link to racing which is not a positive anyway you look at it.

Gaming is part of the deal now and while it has its obvious downsides the facts are that racing outside of a very few notable exceptions depend on it. A recent Blood-Horse article noted that 35% of the total purse account in North America was the result of gaming. The fact that we in racing have little control over the gaming end of the equation is a scary proposition. Look at Suffolk as the politicians and elected boards in Boston ignored racing, its tradition, its rich history, the ancillary benefits and awarded the only gaming license to an outside group. I suppose now might be the time to note that Penn National Gaming actually HAS a slots license to build a parlor in Plainville, MA but the odds that they have any interest in racing there is a billion to one.

Racing has moved towards big days with cards stacked with graded stakes like yesterday, and it is hard to argue with their success both handle-wise and buzz created. However the Suffolk Downs of the world, the day to day racing on Thursday afternoons and winter racing have their place and work to help create fans that can eventually come to appreciate the Wise Dan’s and Treve’s of the world. Owners from large cities like Boston might become really big owners like Centennial farms after having gotten their feet wet at a place like Suffolk or Rockingham. Trainers like Ron Dandy and Vinny Blengs and Mike Aro and Tim and Kathy Ritvo and Bob Dibona and John Rigatterri and Ned Allard and George Handy and Karl Grusmark and Mike Gorham and Charlie Assimakopoulos and Bill Perry and Bob and Steve Klesaris and David Vivian and countless others that I missed started or had a big portion of their career kicked off in New England.

Nowadays, they are building ridiculous tracks in ridiculous places with ridiculous names like Belterra Downs and Mahoning Valley because we have roped racinos’ into having to have us in some way shape or form. Nine Horse of the Year competed over the years at Suffolk Downs including John Henry, Seabiscuit, Cigar, Skip Away, War Admiral, Whirlaway and Assault. Real Quiet, Riva Ridge, Creme Fraiche, Mom’s Command, Skip Trial, Include, Waquoit, Discovery, Gun Bow. Think Mahoning Valley will ever have one horse of that caliber grace their backside? We keep losing places like Boston and perhaps Chicago is next and replacing them with Erie, PA and Dayton, OH. Only in racing would our leadership not see the folly in believing that this is OK.

One of the Greatest Mass Cap Races of all Time

With Suffolk Downs soon to be closing, it’s the right time to look back at the incredible field in the 1987 Massachusetts Handicap which featured 1985 Belmont Stakes winner Creme Fraiche, Tour d’or, Skip Trial (future sire of Skip Away), superstar Broad Brush, and the local favorite and vastly underrated Waquoit.

Mass. Track Suffolk Downs working hard for Casino License

Little Suffolk Downs in Boston, MA is making strides towards turning the racetrack into a much larger complex that includes a full-scale casino.

“We would hope that the strength of having 76 years as a responsible participant in the gambling business would be a factor in our favor,’’ said Chip Tuttle, COO of Suffolk Downs.

Tuttle conceded that even with modest improvements, racing is still fighting for survival, not only in New England, but nationally.

Read the latest update here.

Casinos in Mass. to offer a Lifeline to Suffolk Downs

Slot MachinesLegislative leaders in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts released a new bill this month to license three destination resort casinos, including one in Southeastern Massachusetts for a Native American tribe, and a single, competitively bid slot machine parlor license.

Mr. Patrick, who first called for three casinos in 2007, last year rejected a bill because it included two racetrack slot parlors. The governor recently offered a compromise, saying he would go along with a bill with three destination resort casinos and one publicly bid slot parlor license.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said any of the existing tracks could bid for the slot facility that would include up to 1,250 slot machines.

The speaker said the bill, which would divert 9 percent of the revenues from the slot machine facility to a fund to increase horse racing purses, will provide a lifeline to the race tracks at Suffolk Downs and Plainville.