09/15/2011 3:34PM

Suffolk Downs plans memorial for starter Schwigen


Suffolk Downs will hold a memorial service Sept. 24 for Tom Schwigen, the longtime starter at the track who died of a heart attack last week at age 68.

Easily recognized by his trademark hats and red, bushy mustache, Schwigen was Suffolk’s starter when it reopened in 1992 and also was the starter at Rockingham Park and other New England tracks throughout his career.

“Tom was not only the best starter I have ever seen, he was a one-of-a-kind,” said Sam Elliott, the track’s vice president of racing. “He was a gentleman, a storyteller, and great guy. He will be sorely missed by anyone who ever had the pleasure to meet him.”

The service will take place in the six-furlong chute beginning at 11:15 a.m. and is open to the public.

A native of Illinois and resident of New Hampshire, Schwigen grew up in a family of horsemen and realized a lifelong dream this past May by serving on the starting crew for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.

Former assistant Neil Miller has been promoted to the head starter’s job.