10/01/2003 11:00PM

Demonstrators swarm statehouse for slots

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - In true New England fashion, the region's horsemen took to the streets Thursday along the historic Freedom Trail and onto the steps of the Massachusetts Statehouse to demonstrate in the hopes of getting slots at the tracks and saving their jobs.

The rally was designed to attract sympathy from state legislators who will take up gaming bills over the next six months - bills that could decide if Thoroughbred racing continues in the region after next year.

"The track needs to get slots in order to be able to stay open longer," said Lynette Bush, an owner-trainer at Suffolk Downs and one of the chief organizers of the demonstration. "There are a lot of people that are going to be homeless and jobless, and families that will be split up if the state doesn't do something to help us."

The more than 150 demonstrators carried signs that said "Seabiscuit says take a gamble on slots," referring to the Depression-era equine hero and Massachusetts Handicap winner. Most on the pickets - trainers, backstretch workers, and track employees - will be out of work or forced to relocate at the end of the month when Suffolk closes for the year and doesn't plan to reopen until May 1, 2004.

The feelings among horsemen and track officials are a far cry from a year ago when the commonwealth elected a governor who pledged not to raise taxes despite a huge budget deficit. Bills calling for slots at the state's tracks as a way to raise revenues were defeated in April when leadership in the Legislature failed to throw support behind them. Instead the budget was met by drastic cuts in services and public sector jobs.

"We have to change things," said Representative Brian Wallace (D - South Boston), who supported slots legislation in the spring and was present at the demonstration. "The economic impact has been devastating, and when we're losing firemen and school teachers while slots at the track could pump $510 million dollars back into the economy, for me it's really a no-brainer."

Field of eight for Peabody

Saturday's Amelia Peabody Stakes will be the only stakes for 2-year-old fillies here this year, and it's restricted to statebreds. Last year, that didn't matter because statebred Jill's Layup won when the race was open to all 2-year-old fillies. There doesn't appear to be any fillies of that kind this year.

Ask Queenie is alone among the eight entrants to have won a race, with a maiden victory in the mud in August. She will likely be joined on the pace by Teeney Bubbles, who finished on the board in four starts but who has yet to win.

Of the four first-time starters in the field, Tap Into Fame figures to hit the ground running. A homebred daughter of Pleasant Tap, she has been working at Delaware Park for owner John D. Murphy and trainer Mike Gorham and is a half-sister to Repriced Fame, who was in the money in three similar Massachusetts-bred races in her career.

Contest, seminar on Saturday

One of the last chances to advance to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship takes place at Suffolk Downs Saturday with a contest running in conjunction with DRF publisher Steve Crist's appearance at the track to sign copies of his book, "Betting on Myself."

The $2 contest entry fee competition requires five mythical win wagers on Saturday's live racing with the top two finishers going on to the national finals in Las Vegas in January.

Crist will conduct a handicapping seminar beginning at 11:30 a.m. in the Clubhouse Teletheatre with a book signing at 1:30. He will also appear at Wonderland Greyhound Park Saturday evening.