09/17/2014 2:54PM

Anxiety, anger as Suffolk Downs closes

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Heartbroken. Betrayed. Sad. Scared.

Those were some of the adjectives expressed by the dismayed and dejected horsemen, riders, breeders, employees, and other industry stakeholders Wednesday, the day after they learned that the 79-year-old Suffolk Downs will be shutting down because gaming partner Mohegan Sun was passed over for the sole Boston-area destination resort casino license.

“When I was driving to the track this morning, I was feeling a lot of anxiety and then had a panic attack,” said Tammi Piermarini, a perennial contender for leading rider here. “I never thought it would come to this, but the loss of the casino was the final straw. It was our last hope.”

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 3-1 to award the license to Wynn Resorts, which plans to develop a $1.6 billion casino two miles from the stable gate. On Wednesday morning, Wynn officials notified the commission that they would accept the conditions imposed, and the binding agreement was signed.

At the same time, Suffolk’s chief operating officer, Chip Tuttle, held a meeting at the track for a few hundred employees to explain the process for ending live racing operations after the meet ends Sept. 29 and stopping simulcasting in the building some time in December.

“That was a very difficult meeting, as you can imagine, as a lot of people have worked and raced here for a number of years,” Tuttle said. “Our people are very upset, and some don’t quite understand the gaming commission’s decision and the very negative impact it has on them. It’s a tough couple of days around here, but we’re certainly doing our best to work with the employees. There are very difficult repercussions for the people here.”

Principal owner Richard Fields, who politely declined to be interviewed, was at the track shaking hands and talking with people. Tuttle said the track has not been profitable since 2006, and Fields and his partners have been generous and patient since then while losing about $60 million.
Tuttle added that without the casino, it is impossible to keep the track in business. That pronouncement, although not new, still hit hard as it reverberated around the track.

Owner Joe DiRico, who has campaigned several New England divisional champions over the years with his 94-year-old father, Alfred, was on hand to watch his horse run in an $18,000 maiden special weight race.

“Everyone is extremely disappointed in the commission’s decision because we all have so much at stake,” he said. “I dropped four well-bred foals in Massachusetts this year trying to get ahead of the curve, and it backfired on me. Now I’m sitting on two Mass-bred yearlings and two weanlings with no place to run them.

“My father and his older brother were here the day this track opened in 1939, and our family has been a mainstay in New England racing for a long time. We’re all very sad that this is the end of the line.”

George Brown, the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association president, whose farm has been in his family since 1850, said he will have to find new homes for his four stallions. He added that he won’t be doing any more breeding and doubts any of his group’s 100 members will either.

“I’ve been hanging over the cliff for so long that my fingernails are all broken,” he said.

Many of the trainers and riders who call Suffolk home discussed the difficulty of packing up, shipping out, and trying to start over someplace new.

“Where am I going to take my family and start my life over?” asked Piermarini, the mother of three young children. “I have to uproot and go someplace because riding horses is my business. It’s hard enough being a woman in a male-dominated sport, but now I’m 47. I may be the third-winningest female rider, but trainers are going to say, ‘What has she done lately?’ ”

“This is not a good day,” said John Pimental, a trainer who also doubles as an outrider in the afternoons and has been married to jockeys’ agent Diana Pimental for 41 years. “We’ll go to Tampa [Bay Downs] to race for the winter, and after that, we’ll have to look at Delaware [Park], but Diana doesn’t want to move. We own a home here, and our children and grandchildren are here.”

Valerie Ritvo Cabezas, the sister of Gulfstream Park president and former Suffolk rider Tim Ritvo, said the news left her unable to sleep Tuesday night. “It’s going to be so hard to say goodbye,” she said tearfully.

BigBear More than 1 year ago
Winn spit in the MGC's faces and still got the vote . What does that say to you ??? To me it means some members will always be thought of as having a big payday.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
As someone who has been involved in horseracing since 1957 as a bettor, hotwalker, groom, stable agent and owner, I have mixed feelings about Suffolk's closing. As a few have mentioned, the tracks and powers that be have no one to blame but themselves. I have seen things change and not for the better or for the bettor. Although I still make money betting, I find it more difficult. All the the illegal drugs that horses are given which cause sudden form reversal make it a guessing game. High take out rates are ridiculous. Too many times watching a horse leave the gate at 8-1 taking the lead into the far turn and then winning at 5-1. How long does management think people are going to put up with this? As far as Saratoga goes, people still go to the track because it's a summer get a way place for six weeks. That could never be sustained for three to four months which might be the length of a race meet. The picture is not pretty and the future is in doubt.
Sinatra Jeter More than 1 year ago
You say that as a bettor, hotwalker, groom stable agent and owner that you know about the illegal drugs that horses are given which cause sudden form reversal make it a guessing game. Can you be more specific? What are the drugs being given and is your silence part of the problem?
russell More than 1 year ago
In 20 years you will have less than 20 tracks that race more than 35 days a year. The breeders already see this and the foal crop is the lowest since 1968 and has declined 8 years in a row.
jon g More than 1 year ago
NY,KY,Cali,and FLA. Everything else should be fair/boutique meets
jon g More than 1 year ago
I never took my kids to the track as i don't want them turning into degenerates like 90% of the people at the tracks. I'm lucky to be one of the 10% that's not
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
who gives a %$^#ng %$it!
jon g More than 1 year ago
you do,obviously
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
jong=troll
johnd More than 1 year ago
Tick, tick, tick. One by one they'll all die off. Read my lips: "It's the product stupid". People are just not interested in horse racing, neither thoroughbred nor harness. The casino money is nothing but a form of temporary welfare. When that dries up, then those tracks depending on that money will also close. In the meantime, the industry had better pray that the state's don't decide to change the rules and allow casinos WITHOUT live racing. If that happens, then racing will be over in all but the largest jurisdictions. Sad situation but racing brought it on themselves and it's just a matter of time until the chickens come home to roost.
Tim Roberts More than 1 year ago
Ever been to Saratoga?
johnd More than 1 year ago
Tim: read the post, to wit: "then racing will be over in all but the largest jurisdictions." Suggest a course in remedial reading, Tim.
Steve Churchman More than 1 year ago
I am 60 years old and have been around horses for 52 years. First fascinated with the animals themselves then the excitement of the barns. mucking them out gave me a sense of belonging. When I had money my uncle would make the bet.and I quickly learned it's not easy. I like puzzles and chess and numbers. I spent countless hours study the forms and programs and I'll never forget my first score. Canadian Pine at Assiinaboia Downs in Winnipeg. Hooked for life. I took my 20 year old nephew who is a top student at Western University to Woodbine last week. He said "you have to know all that stuff in the form"? I said it sure helps. He watched the first race with me and enjoyed it. He said when is the next race. 30 minutes I said. You/re kidding!. He excused himself and went down to the slots and drooped 100. My long winded point the youngsters we need are used to immediate action and spending time learning to handicap, yeah right. We geezers are dying off. God help the tracks,
Steve Churchman More than 1 year ago
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P T More than 1 year ago
Racetrack will continue to close one by one when you don't have bottoms in the seats. Racing wont die in general but you sure as hell wont see the amount of low level tracks you once did. Everyone cried when HP closed, who the hell went!? Boo Hoo for Beulah, nothing but local horsemen in the grandstands, c'mon! You cant complain when the fan isn't going to support the product. Operations in all kinds of businesses close weekly and why? There is no support nor attendance to what they are offering to sell.
Pagani Zonda More than 1 year ago
In Toronto they tried to pull the same BS. They wouldn't put the Wynn casino at woodbine and wanted to put it downtown. Well every citizen of Toronto told that Corrupt bunch to F off back to Nevada. We don't want our Restaurants, Bars, and other forms of entertainment to get ruined so some mega casino can make a profit. Waiting for my stalker to pounce on this because I mentioned the word Woodbine.
KissmeCatexoxo More than 1 year ago
I live in Las Vegas and can tell you that even the gambling is losing its edge. It is all Day pool parties like Rehab@ Hard Rock that charge $5000 for a cabana that has a 8 week waiting list. Kids dropping $30-$40K an afternoon are willing to pay $5000 to be sprayed with a bottle of champagne by a girl in a bikini or at the pool party to rub elbows with some celebrity. There are a select few places still doing well but unless it's a bar or club were a top DJ makes $250K an afternoon, it makes you wonder.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Do people not realize if Suffolk had 5k10k in the seats each night, this wouldnt be an issue? Casinos get far more thru the doors each day, hence them getting preferences these days.
Andy More than 1 year ago
Cal Expo had no more than 50 players each last Saturday and Sunday, which included a CalBet tournament Saturday. Writing on wall.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
My comment was denied. but mark my words Casinos will die out once the novelty wears off.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Casinos don't die off, their players do. Then the next generation replenishes.