09/20/2014 8:28PM

Suffolk open to possibility of horsemen leasing track


Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle called a meeting with the horsemen on Saturday evening to assure them that even though the track's owners have no intention of racing next year, they will consider an alternative plan as long as it is economically feasible.

"We're willing to listen if they want to come up with a proposal. While we have no plans to race, if someone else does and it makes sense economically, we'll keep an open mind," Tuttle said.

New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association president Anthony Spadea informed the membership attending the meeting that the organization is trying to find a workable solution to the track's impending closure. Earlier in the week, the owners announced that this season would be the last for live racing at the 79-year-old track as a consequence of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission's decision to b pass the track's gaming partner, Mohegan Sun, when granting the sole Boston area casino license to Wynn Resorts.

Spadea issued a forceful call to his membership to remain united in this precarious time for New England racing. He added that monies that will soon flow into the state's Race Horse Development Fund, which was established as part of the 2011 expanded gaming legislation as protection for the industry when the single slots parlor and three casinos become operational.

It is estimated that the Thoroughbred horsemen's share could grow to about $130 million over time so the horsemen would like to devise a way to lease the track.

"You've got a lot of smart people who know what they are doing and are looking out for your interests 100 percent," Spadea said. "We are going to explore every avenue to find a way to race and find a suitable place to race. Let's stay strong so we can come up with the best solution."

The owners of the Brockton Fairgrounds stepped up to offer a home to the horsemen and said they intend to apply for a single date this year and a 2015 meet when applications are due Oct. 1. But there are only about 150 stalls there, a half-mile track, and no turf course.

"I certainly won't be racing my horses on an old fair track," said owner and trainer Matthew Clarke.  "I am a realist and I understand that the owners of Suffolk cannot continue to invest money in the track [without the casino license] and keep racing. I am very happy with what I heard in that meeting. They will listen to a plan that might restore the track to profitability. I pledge to work diligently with any horseman who is prepared to work toward that end.

"I am far from despondent. We are battered and bruised, and we feel betrayed by the commission's decision after we all supported the expanded gaming bill and fought for the protections in it. Now that we were poised to reap the benefits, we have no place to play."

The MGC, which has absorbed considerable heat from the racing industry and the public for its decision, scheduled a meeting for Sept. 26 when it will address the looming unemployment for several hundred racetrack employees and the loss of 1,500 direct and not direct racing and breeding jobs in the state.

"All the horsemen are trying to attend that meeting," said Alan Lockhart, a third generation Massachusetts horseman whose grandfather, Lloyd, is enshrined in the New England Turf Writers Hall of Fame. "None of this makes any sense; We're all still trying to understand it."

Meanwhile, Tuttle said that the current meet will likely be extended from Sept. 29 until Saturday, Oct. 4 in order to give Suffolk a proper send-off, and that the stable area will be kept open for a few weeks thereafter to help the horsemen find another place to go.