05/12/2010 11:00PM

75th season opens with optimism


Management at Suffolk Downs is in the mood to celebrate. They just don't know how big a party they can afford as the East Boston, Mass., track opens Saturday for its 75th racing season.

Favorable legislation continues to progress in the Massachusetts statehouse, pushing the prospect for expanded gaming as close as it has been in years. Optimism is growing, but waiting is the hard part.

"We are opening with a strong sense of renewal and the 75th anniversary is a significant milestone that should be celebrated," said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk's chief operating officer. "We're also optimistic over the advancement of the gaming debate. There are a lot of positives, but several parts are left to come and we might not be sure where we stand for a couple months."

The track also had to wait for the horses. Opening day was pushed back two weeks from Kentucky Derby Day to Preakness Day to allow more horsemen to make their way north, specifically from Tampa Bay Downs.

"When you make the trip up I-95 from Florida, there are a lot of other places where you can turn left or right for higher purses augmented by gaming," said Tuttle. "We are isolated geographically. Thankfully, we do have a loyal group of horsemen who have stuck by us, but we had to wait for them in order to open."

With the barns filling up, Suffolk will continue to try and fit into simulcasting niches. That plan has helped the track make some handle gains despite the rough economy. Tuttle says Suffolk will continue to work closely with various account-wagering providers to keep that trend alive.

Starting Saturday, May 29, the track will have a four-day-a-week schedule consisting of Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. Until then, there will also be two Wednesday cards, on May 19 and May 26, plus a special Sunday program on Hot Dog Safari Day on May 23.

Perennial leading jockeys Winston Thompson and Tammi Piermarini are back, joined in the colony initially by Jackie Davis, daughter of former top New York rider Robbie Davis. John Rigattieri is also back to continue his six-year run atop the trainer standings.

The opening day 10-race card features a first-level allowance sprint. Bobcat Brody will be among the top choices. He was second as the even-money favorite against similar competition last fall in his only local start.