04/26/2011 2:39PM

Suffolk Downs plans Preakness opener for 80-day meet; purses to average $103K a day


Suffolk Downs officials on Tuesday announced a 2011 racing schedule comprised largely of three-day racing weeks with plans to card 80 programs and offer more than $103,000 in daily purses at the East Boston, Mass., track.

The 76-year-old facility will open May 21, Preakness Day, then run Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays through Nov. 5 to coincide with the Breeders’ Cup. The track will also race Friday, Nov. 4, and at least six other dates will be scheduled later in the summer and fall.

The track and the region’s horsemen went through an acrimonious dispute this past winter over racing dates and purse levels, with the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association withholding consent for Suffolk to offer simulcast wagering after contract talks broke down. The sides eventually compromised, with the track promising $8.25 million over 80 days.

State law stipulates a track must run at least 100 programs in order to simulcast. A bill to change that law is pending before the legislature, but no timetable has been set for when it will be taken up.

“We’re excited about the adjustments we have made to our racing program,” said Chip Tuttle, the chief operating officer at Suffolk Downs. “With increased purse levels, a later start date, and a three-day racing schedule, we feel we can offer a better racing product with more competitive fields which will be attractive to fans and financially rewarding to our horsemen. We will add days in the summer and fall when the horse population is the strongest to fulfill our contractual and statutory obligations.”

The 2011 purse levels are 30 percent higher than last year’s when the track made deep cuts in the wake of a failed expanded gaming bill. Expanded gaming is again percolating in the Massachusetts statehouse and Suffolk recently announced an agreement with Caesars Entertainment to manage Suffolk’s planned resort casino should a gaming bill succeed this year after more than a decade of close calls.

Opening day will feature a special first race post time of 1:15 p.m. with 12:45 p.m. the start most other days. The minimum bet on the pick four will be lowered to 50 cents this season.

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