10/21/2014 6:15PM

Raffetto signs on as consultant to New England HBPA


Lou Raffetto, a longtime industry executive who once served as the vice president of racing at Suffolk Downs for nine years, has signed on as a consultant to the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. He will assist the horsemen in their attempt to strike a deal with the owners of Suffolk that would allow live racing to return to the track in 2015.

Raffetto was introduced to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at a hearing on Tuesday by New England HBPA president Anthony Spadea, who was accompanied by the organization's executive director, Bruce Patten.

“We hope to work out an arrangement with Suffolk Downs for the next three years of live racing at Suffolk Downs,”  Spadea testified at the public input session on the New England HBPA's placeholder dates application. “Bruce is an engineer by trade and I’m a financial planner. We’re not racetrack managers. That’s why we brought in Lou Raffetto.”

Raffetto and the New England HBPA officials will meet on Wednesday with Suffolk management as talks on reaching a financially viable deal continue.

Raffetto, who has also been a top executive with the Maryland Jockey Club, was an integral part of the team that reopened Suffolk in 1991 after it had been shut down. He is credited with restoring the Massachusetts Handicap to a place of prominence on the national racing calendar by enticing the connections of future Hall of Famers Cigar and Skip Away to run in it.

“I have nine years of experience with Suffolk Downs and I’m very proud of what we accomplished with Suffolk in general and with the Mass Cap in specific,” said Raffetto. “Lazarus came back from the dead once. Let’s try it again.”

In the immediate aftermath of the gaming commission's Sept. 16 vote to deny Suffolk's gaming partner, Mohegan Sun, the only Boston-area casino license and instead award it to Wynn Resorts, Suffolk's owners notified workers and horsemen that there would be no more live racing at the 79-year-old track after the meet ended on Oct 4.

That left in doubt the Thoroughbred horsemen's 75 percent share of future revenues from the state's new Race Horse Development Fund, which was built into the 2011 expanded gaming legislation and will be provided by three casinos and one slots parlor once they are  constructed and come online.

The NewEngland HBPA elected to pursue a lease agreement with the track and filed a placeholder dates application with the commission in the interim. The commissioners must grant or dismiss that application by Nov. 15. If they get the go-ahead, the horsemen must come back with a completed application for running a meet for a minimum of 65 live dates.

The owners of the Brockton Fairgrounds, which has not conducted Thoroughbred racing since 2001, have filed two placeholder dates applications for an agricultural license, which requires a 30-day minimum meet.

The commission will hold a hearing on Oct. 23 to draft regulations pertaining to the Race Horse Development Fund and its distribution of revenue to the horsemen for purses, breeders incentives, and backstretch welfare.