08/29/2006 11:00PM

Mass Cap again victim of business woes


Suffolk Downs has canceled the Massachusetts Breeders' Cup Handicap again in 2006 because of poor business this season and stalled simulcasting and gaming legislation that would help the troubled East Boston track.

It is the second straight year the Massachusetts Handicap - long the premier national racing event in New England - will be shelved and puts the 62-year-old race in danger of losing its Grade 2 status. The race was also canceled in 2003 and from 1990 through 1994.

It was slated to have a $300,000 purse this year, with a third of the money coming from the Breeders' Cup, and would have been a part of ESPN's "Emirates Airline Countdown to the Breeders' Cup" television series on Sept. 30. Suffolk officials say the track's share of the purse will be put toward overnight races.

"We continue to be negatively impacted by the onslaught of gaming in Rhode Island and Connecticut, and the current impasse in the legislature has caused a troubling atmosphere of uncertainty," said the chief operating officer of Suffolk Downs, Bob O'Malley. "We are concerned about finishing our fall meet and the possibility of a protracted shutdown in 2007 due to the impending expiration of enabling legislation."

Suffolk has been fighting an uphill battle with state lawmakers in seeking expanded gaming. The track joined with the state's other parimutuel facilities in pushing for slot machines last fall and tied it to legislation that allows the tracks to simulcast. Not only was the slots bill defeated, but the tracks failed to agree on new simulcast laws before an April deadline and were all forced to close for six days. A compromise simulcasting bill runs only through the end of the year.

The latest negotiations to replace the temporary simulcast rules with a permanent deal fell apart last week and sealed the fate of the Massachusetts Handicap.

"You have to have mixed feelings on a day like this," said Jeff Hooper, a board member of the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and trainer for Suffolk Downs' chairperson, Patricia Moseley. "You want a day like that to bring the best horses to your facility, and you want to do it for the fans, but there's only so much money to pay purses, and it's critical to sustain what we have now. "Priority number one has to be getting help from the legislature."