03/04/2011 9:40PM

Suffolk Downs, horsemen settle on purse levels and racing days

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Suffolk Downs and the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association reached a deal Friday on purse levels and the number of racing days for the upcoming 2011 season, ending a five-week impasse that had cut off incoming simulcast signals from some East Coast tracks.

According to officials from the East Boston, Mass., track, the season is expected to begin in May on a date to be determined. The track will distribute $8.25 million in overnight purses for an 80-day meet, or $103,125 per day. Among the sticking points during the dispute was the track’s desire to reduce racing dates below the state mandated 100-day level. The horsemen’s group said it will agree not to object when Suffolk goes before the legislature to try and change that law.

The track and horsemen will also split net simulcasting revenues equally and the barn area will be open from late April through mid-November.

The seeds of the dispute were planted last summer when legislation for expanded gambling in Massachusetts failed and the track reduced purse levels to state minimums for the final three months of the season. Negotiations on a new contract broke down in January and the horsemen withheld their consent for Suffolk Downs to take simulcasts from Aqueduct. Other horsemen’s groups pulled their signals from Suffolk in support of the New England HBPA, including the Florida horsemen, which cut off the lucrative Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs signals. Suffolk was forced to reduce staffing levels and also denied HBPA officials access to their office trailer in the barn area.

Suffolk Downs officials said simulcasts from Aqueduct and Gulfstream would be restored to the schedule this weekend and that they were hopeful all the blocked signals would be back by the start of next week.

“As we strive to offer a competitive racing program that is attractive to fans and horsemen, we are gratified that the NEHBPA has agreed that fewer days for higher purses is preferable to the alternative,” said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk’s chief operating officer. “We look forward to the 2011 racing season and to working together on expanded gaming legislation in Massachusetts that will create jobs, generate revenue for the state, benefit the local economy and ensure a strong foundation for racing here in the future.”