05/04/2006 12:00AM

Mass Cap return highlight of meet


EAST BOSTON, Mass. - The return of live racing to Suffolk Downs always boosts morale, but the return of the Grade 2, $300,000 Massachusetts Handicap to the stakes schedule gives everybody here something to look forward to after another disappointing winter for the struggling New England racing industry.

Suffolk's signature race is back after a one-year hiatus, and has been moved to Sept. 30 from its traditional June date in an attempt to make it a prep for Breeders' Cup Classic hopefuls. Other stakes are expected to be announced soon to fill out the 109-day meet. Racing will be conducted Mondays through Wednesdays and on Saturdays through Nov. 11.

This will be the third season New England horsemen are returning to Suffolk after wintering elsewhere - Suffolk used to hold a winter meet before Rockingham Park switched to harness racing and relinquished its summer Thoroughbred meet. They're back at a track that was forced to shut down simulcasting for a week in April amid debate in the legislature that eventually shot down the idea of slot machines at the state's four parimutuel facilities.

"We won't give up trying to improve our position," said Bob O'Malley, Suffolk Downs's chief operating officer. "We have no plans at the moment to stop racing, but we have to get to work on something concrete. We can't live on the way we have in the past with these temporary solutions."

The return of the Mass Cap is one very positive sign. It was cut last year after slow winter business forced the track to redistribute the funds from major events into day-to-day races. Offlee Wild beat Funny Cide in 2004 in the last Mass Cap, a race that has been won by champions Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, Riva Ridge, Cigar, and Skip Away.

"We are excited about bringing the Mass Cap back," said O'Malley. "With the race scheduled five weeks before the Breeders' Cup, it will be a logical spot for some of the classic division contenders to make their final prep."

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 109 days; Saturday thgrough Nov. 11, Monday to Wednesday and Saturday

POST TIME: 12:45 p.m. Eastern

HIGHLIGHTS: Grade 2, $300,000 Massachusetts Handicap, Sept. 30

ADMISSIONS: grandstand or clubhouse, $2

PARKING: preferred, $2; valet, $4

LOCATION: Rt. 1A, One mile north of Ted Williams Tunnel, Callahan Tunnel & Logan Airport; MBTA Blue Line Suffolk Downs station


PHONE: (617) 567-3900

INTERNET: www.suffolkdowns.com