Boston’s historic Suffolk Downs thoroughbred racetrack hosted its final live racing events this summer Boston’s NPR radio station WBUR reported.
Formed in 1935, the depression-era Suffolk Downs is New England’s last thoroughbred horse track. Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, the operator of Suffolk Downs, lost a bid in 2014 to build a resort casino on the property. The last races were held June 29-30 and Suffolk Downs remains ope for year-round simulcasting, according to the track.
In May 2017, the 161-acre Suffolk Downs was sold to The HYM Investment Group LLC. The company announced plans to turn the racetrack into an economic hub that will include retail stores, hotels, and restaurants.
Two famous champion thoroughbreds are tied to Suffolk Downs: Seabiscuit was first discovered there in 1936 by trainer Tom Smith, and in 1995, the track drew its largest crowd when tens of thousands gathered to witness champion thoroughbred Cigar earn his 15th victory in a row.
In addition, Suffolk Downs drew mainstream fame in 1966 when The Beatles held a concert at the racetrack.
But with New England’s last thoroughbred racecourse shut down, both horsemen and fans alike are wondering what’s next.
Sterling Suffolk Racecourse is looking into restoring the Great Barrington Fairgrounds, near the New York and Massachusetts state line, but they will first need legislative approval.
Sterling Suffolk wants to split its operations by holding live racing at the Great Barrington track while continuing its online betting operations in the Boston area.
However, current protocols don’t allow for a state-licensed operator to split its operations in this manner. In addition, the company is also asking to extend the length of their racing license from one year to 10 years.
With the resort casino being shot down, there's no chance of being able to revive revenue with other gambling means, unlike Colonial Downs in Virginia. In early August, bolstered by casino games, Colonial Downs ran its first race since 2014.
Sterling Suffolk Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle, talking with WBUR, discussed restoring the Great Barrington Fairgrounds.
"Great Barrington works because it’s a more reasonable option than starting from scratch. But it’s not really practical for us to take on the complete refurbishment of that property unless we have a longer term license and the certainty that comes with it."
Sterling Suffolk is also seeking legislative approval to use a special state fund, The Race Horse Development Fund, to improve the quality of the racetrack. However, regulations state that the funds must be dedicated to horse racing purses and benefits for industry professionals, so using the money to improve a racetrack is not one of the permitted uses.
Tuttle said that the funds don’t do the horsemen any good if they don’t have a place to run.
The Great Barrington restoration would reportedly cost up to $15 million, and it would require extending the length of the half-mile track. If Sterling Suffolk gets the approvals they are looking for, the Great Barrington track could be ready by next fall.