09/30/2003 11:00PM

Suffolk to pass on winter met

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Suffolk Downs will not race during the winter of 2004 after requesting from the Massachusetts Racing Commission 150 racing days for next year for a meet running May 1 to Nov. 27.

The official request means New England horsemen will be forced to relocate for six months when the current Suffolk meet ends Oct. 27.

The move comes a year after Rockingham Park in New Hampshire switched from Thoroughbred to harness racing and ended a 12-year circuit arrangement with Suffolk that had traditionally seen Suffolk running in the winter, spring, and autumn.

Suffolk officials have already stated they will try to reduce the number of racing days mandated by state law if the legislature fails to pass any kind of slot-machine bill this year. Current law requires tracks to run 150 live programs in order to simulcast outside races.

A slots bill could emerge from the state Senate during the current fall session, but will likely be held over in the state House of Representatives until next spring. Any reduction in the number of racing days would also emerge at that time as well.

Horsemen and track employees will stage a rally outside the Mass. Statehouse Thursday hoping to garner sympathy from legislators.

* The Three County Fair in Northampton will hold 10 programs over three weekends in September 2004. Brockton Fair also put in a request to run two 15-day meets from July 1 through August 21. Brockton staged a meet in 2001 for the first time in 26 years, but applied for dates the last two years and did not run.