09/06/2001 12:00AM

Suffolk sets its fall schedule


SALEM, N.H. - Nearly two years have passed since the legislation that governs racing in Massachusetts lapsed. In the absence of new permanent legislation, racing has continued under a series of extensions of the old law.

Suffolk Downs, although unable to finalize a purse structure without new legislation, will proceed as planned with a fall meeting. Opening day will be Saturday, Sept. 29. Racing will continue through Saturday, Dec. 22 on a five-day-a-week schedule, with post time at 12:45 p.m., Thursdays and Sundays will be dark.

Racing will resume on Jan. 1, 2002 on a four-day-a-week schedule, with next year's dates to be requested from state authorities by Oct. 1.

John Morrissey, Suffolk's racing secretary since the track reopened on Jan. 1, 1992, has planned a slate of six stakes races to be presented between opening day and Nov. 10. All carry $25,000 guaranteed purses.

Morrissey is confident that the barn area will be full for opening day, and that will ease his job of filling five days' worth of races each week. (Last fall, Suffolk raced four days a week, but this fall the racing days that were canceled earlier this year because of inclement weather must be made up.)

"It's always full in the fall," Morrissey said, noting that the barn area at Rockingham "is bigger than ours and the people who ship to Florida for the winter will come here first."

Until a new racing bill is passed, not only is the purse structure uncertain, but the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association will not release its stakes schedule for the fall meeting.

"Everyone feels the bill will happen," Morrissey said.

Another question about the future of Suffolk concerns who will run the track. Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment has reportedly been negotiating with Sterling Suffolk, LLC to buy or lease the track, but no official announcements have been made.

* The final round of the Coors Light-Rockingham Park Handicapping Tournament will take place Saturday. Forty finalists will vie for a top prize of $1,500. Second place is worth $750 and third $500.

* Ron Dandy should finish out the Rockingham meeting as the leading trainer while the final weeks will decide whether Winston Thompson or Taylor Hole is the meet's leading rider.

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