Wednesday, September 24, 2014

End of an era

Photo courtesy of Friends of Suffolk Downs
Suffolk Downs, New England's last remaining Thoroughbred racetrack is slated to close in early October. The last live race will be on Saturday, October 4, 2014. Its closure will leave a void in our region--the Sport of Kings will be gone from East Boston, replaced by a casino in Everett. I can't imagine that the people employed in the shedrows and on the backstretch want to trade working with Thoroughbreds for dealing cards and stocking slot machines. And where will the trainers based in Massachusetts and its border states go? Sell their farms and move south to the Mid-Atlantic, or west to New York? Approximately 2000 people will be out of work with the track's closure.

This track has a richer history than meets the eye. Constructed 79 years ago on the mud flats, it has hosted such famous equine athletes as Seabiscuit,  Whirlaway, Cigar, and John Henry. Suffolk Downs took the lead in establishing a "no kill buyer" policy. All retired horses needed to be re-homed. Any trainer found in violation would be banned from the track. Many tracks have since followed suit and now have the same rule on their books. Suffolk Downs isn't glamorous, located in a gritty part of the city. It has been struggling to keep open for years and had pinned its hopes on winning the bid for a casino with the racetrack. This past week, it finally lost the battle--a sad day for Thoroughbred enthusiasts in the Bay State and its surrounding environs.

The folks at CANTER New England have been working like mad to re-home the remaining horses still at the track that won't be moving on to a different venue. My hat goes off to these people who have worked tirelessly, year after year, to put on the Suffolk Showcase each fall, helping find new careers for horses no longer competitive enough to stay with their trainers string. Now, the urgency to re-home these horses has stepped up a notch as the final weeks of racing comes to a close. I urge anyone who may be looking for a horse, or if you know of someone in the market, please check out the trainer listings. Lots of great horses are available for reasonable prices and the folks from CANTER can help tremendously.

On a more personal level, I will no longer enjoy perusing CANTER New England's annual trainer listings each autumn, selecting horses for my fantasy farm. Three years ago, my partner and I attended CANTER's Suffolk Showcase with the intention of finding another horse so we could both ride together and would not have to share time with our OTTB Harley (JC name Halawa Moon). I gazed at all the eye-candy like an awe-struck horse-crazy 12 year old. We watched the horses parade past, looking at conformation and watching for signs of lameness. I could have easily taken at least five home that day. We left with John thinking about a couple of horses he'd selected. On a cold, rainy November day, not one, but two fillies arrived: Rolex Girl and This Chic's Got It (now called Ruffy), bringing our stable of ex-Suffolk Downs OTTB's to three.

This Saturday promises to be a bright, sunny September day. As the morning sun glints off the shiny coats of Suffolk's remaining Thoroughbreds, and they prance in the sharp fall air, a new page will start for many of these horses as they head to new homes and new careers.


  1. I have mixed feelings about the racing industry. I feel its ethics need a major overhaul, but it sounds like Suffolk Downs was already well on the way to making a better life for its four-legged athletes.
    A sad day for Massachusetts

  2. Yes, you're quite right about the industry in many ways. I think the re-awakening of the value of OTTB's may help improve things, although there's still a lot of steps that need to be taken to improve the industry. Suffolk Downs was not Saratoga, but with our only track gone, New England horsemen and women will now have to look further afield for OTTB's for the their chosen sport in the future.


Thanks for visiting Harley's blog.