Live Racing to Return to Suffolk Downs this Fall

Thoroughbreds will run at the East Boston racing track three times this fall.

Horses racing at Suffolk Downs / Photo By bradfordst219 On Flickr Creative Commons

Horses racing at Suffolk Downs / Photo By bradfordst219 On Flickr Creative Commons

Get your derby hats and seersucker suits ready because the ponies will run again at Suffolk Downs this fall.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved three days of high stakes racing at Suffolk Downs on September 5, October 3, and October 31. The three day run will occur less than a year after Suffolk Downs announced the end of live racing at the track in the aftermath of their failed bid for the lone eastern Massachusetts casino license.

Suffolk Downs has to host at least one live horse race this year in order to comply with state laws pertaining to off track betting.

The commission voted 4-1 to approve the three days of racing and recommended that the purses for the events be funded with $1.2 million from the state’s racehorse fund. The fund is comprised of revenues from a variety of gaming sources, including fees from the licensed state casinos, nine percent of the revenue from the slots at Plainridge Park, and a tiny percentage of all state gaming revenue in the state.

The commissioners grumbled about the short run of racing at Suffolk Downs and said that they hoped for a longer run in 2016. Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle said there is a “dynamic tension” between the number of days of live racing and the level of purse money. Higher purses attract more fans and a higher quality of horse, he said, while longer runs of live racing are more appealing to local horse trainers and jockeys as they do not have to travel around as much from track to track.

“One of the things our lack of success has proven over the years is there is no consumer market for races with purses of less than $100,000 a day,” said Tuttle.

Tuttle noted that even with the boost from the state horse racing fund, the purses will not be large enough to attract horses like Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

Tuttle declined to speculate on the crowd at the track but said the thinks there is a segment of the population in Massachusetts that is eager to watch live horse racing at Suffolk Downs. “We’re not putting a ton of resources into marketing and promotion because the horsemen just don’t have the resources to do that,” said Tuttle.

With the collapse of the Suffolk Downs casino project, local horse racing workers are looking at starting their own track for thoroughbred racing elsewhere in the Commonwealth, most likely in the western part of the state. The Suffolk Downs property, with its close proximity to two Blue Line stations and the Logan Airport, is too valuable to continue to operate as a race track according to many close to the industry.