Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Suffolk Saga

It’s saddens me to write about what is currently happening at Suffolk Downs. I have had many good memories of races won there, good friends and fun times.

But it could all be coming to an end. The dispute between the track and horsemen seems to be at a standstill, as the track, unreasonably, expects horsemen to take a decrease in race dates, a decrease in already radically-cut purses and an unfair distribution of simulcast revenue. As a result of this, the NEHBPA has withdrawn it’s consent to allow the NYRA simulcast signal coming into the track. Other states have followed suit in solidarity.

I have to say I am truly amazed that the horsemen have stuck it out this long.

Kudos to the NEHBPA for digging in and standing their ground. And to the other HBPAs around the country that stand with them. Because horsemen and horsewomen deserve better than what they have been getting.

For many years it’s always been a question not only IF there would be a meet each year, but just what concessions horsemen would have to make to insure it. There was a short time when the “new” owner seemed to be “horseman-friendly”, but I can see now where the intent may not have been sincere. Pouring money into the track seemed to be more about preserving and protecting the investment, with an eye on future slot revenues, and not about improving the track. If it had been about what was good for racing, for example, they would have addressed both the turf and dirt track surfaces, which have been in dire need of revamping for years.

I am STUNNED at the attitude of management this week, especially with the comments coming from the C.O.O. Now I don’t know him and my guess is, he would rather keep his job, than not have one. I get that. And maybe he’s just a mouthpiece too. But he talks about the lack of respect that horsemen have for the racing fan. Huh? Sorry, but I didn’t think that owners, trainers, vets, exercise riders, jocks, grooms and hotwalkers had that responsibility. Isn’t it the responsibility of the business owner to keep his customers happy? And with that in mind, didn’t management know that the simulcast signal would be pulled if they weren’t serious and sensitive to the horsemen’s interests and concerns? Of course the fans are unhappy, but that’s managements’ problem to resolve. Where’s the accountability here? The C.O.O. also talks about the economic hardship and emotional distress put on the employees at the track. Now I’m not happy about anybody losing their jobs, especially some of the nice people and great talent at the track. But come on sir, what about the economic hardship your horsemen have been enduring over the years? Maybe you should have taken a walk around the backside last summer to see some economic hardship and emotional harm. Or maybe not. Because walking around the backside last summer after reducing purses approximately 34% AFTER the meet started may not have been the thing to do either, now that I think of it.

Trouble is, Suffolk Downs doesn’t want to be accountable for anything. They say they want a race meet but they are not ACTING like they want one. Because if they did, they would be trying to negotiate instead of criticizing the horsemen, both here and around the country, whining about losing money, and placing blame for all of this on everyone but themselves.

Racing could come to a halt at Suffolk Downs this year. And that would mean no live thoroughbred racing in all of New England. I hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does, it won’t be because of the horsemen. They can’t possibly continue under these circumstances. They are doing what they need to do.

If you are interested in reading the correspondence in detail from the NEHBPA, check their website, here.


  1. Times have changed in thoroughbred racing, both sides need to be flexible re: racing dates and purse structure.

    The BloodHorse reports:
    According to sources, the HBPA demanded the track commit to pay $10.6 million in purses for the 2011 meet, which would be an average daily distribution of $106,000. Suffolk Downs management said it countered with an offer of $100,000 per day over 67 to 76 days, providing the law governing the minimum number of racing days could be changed.


    Then it is possible that Brockton Fair might want to pick up the dates the Suffolk Downs cannot support as a business.

  2. This is from the 11th and can be found on the HBPA website. A bit different from what the BH reported.
    "We have asked Suffolk Downs for an equitable share of the simulcasting revenue. If it agreed to pay to purses 50% of that net revenue and to share other revenue as previously agreed, we would be able to reach a contract which would project to fund purses in the range of 95,000 to $100,000 per day for a 100 day meet."
    Let's see what happens at the meeting today.

  3. That "equitable" 50% share is actually more than what the horsemen in other racing jurisdictions are getting.

    I don't remember exactly where I read it but but someone (Google?) had the a comparison.

    The bottom line is that the racing business has changed and like new crops of foals and new riders in the jockey colony everyone changes along with it.

    The NEHBPA has to be a bit more flexible than they have shown thus far. On the Suffolk side, why should they be forced to lose money on their meet again?

  4. Hi Norm,
    I think the NEHBPA learned last year what happens when they are flexible. The "good will handshake" with no contract they had with management ended up being a huge decrease in purses. That's where "flexible " got them.
    It's no secret that management really only wants a casino. And unfortunately that's up to the politicians. Maybe Suffolk should have spent less millions on lobbying ( has it done them any good?) and saved a few bucks to keep racing in better shape in Massachusetts. I guess it comes down to what their priorities are.
    Thanks for visiting!
    I plan on winning your contest this weekend!