Suffolk Downs: Will The Show Still Go On?

by | 02.09.2011 | 12:42pm

I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, Mass. The track first hit my radar screen when the late baseball impresario Bill Veeck (rhymes with wreck) wrote a book, “Thirty Tons a Day: The Rough Riding Education of a Neophyte Racetrack Operator,” chronicling his short-lived tenure as president of Suffolk in 1969-70.

Remnants of Veeck's days at Suffolk still exist: a palatial office including a unique private shower with multiple jets that allowed him to take off his “peg-leg,” then hobble in and wash off the backstretch dirt without having to be too acrobatic. His book's title refers to the thousands of pounds of horse manure created on the backstretch each day; the subtitle dealt with the unexpected difficulties an entrepreneur like Veeck encountered as a rookie racetrack operator dealing with regulators, politicians, horsemen, and employees.

Forty years after Veeck, another first-time racetrack operator, Richard Fields, finds himself equally perplexed by the challenges of trying to keep Suffolk Downs alive.

Back in Veeck's day, comparatively speaking, New England racing was thriving. Today, all the region has left is Suffolk Downs, known to many who have been there through thick and thin as Sufferin' Downs.

Suffolk also has seen some great racing over the years, and you don't have to go back to the 1930s and ‘40s when horses like Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, and Stymie took center stage. In the 1990s, the two-time Horse of the Year Cigar rocked Suffolk Downs with back-to-back victories in the Massachusetts Handicap.

One of Veeck's goals was to increase the number of racing days to grab a bigger share of the booming gambling market. The boom has long since gone bust, however, and Suffolk was on life support when Fields led a partnership that bought the track in 2007.

Fields and his partners have made no secret of their desire to turn Suffolk into a gambling palace, and they have said racing will be a major part of the show. He has lobbied long and hard to get legislative approval, and it only seems a matter of time before the legislature and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick agree on a package that will give Suffolk Downs an opportunity to bid on an expanded gambling license.

In the meantime, the show goes on, with year-round simulcasting helping support an anemic live racing program that has a statutory minimum of 100 days per year, offers rock-bottom purses of about $78,000 per day, and attracts very little interest from horseplayers.

But the show may not go on much longer. Fields and his Suffolk Downs team want to reduce the minimum number of days by as much as one-third, and horsemen, through the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, have drawn a line in the sand.

Horsemen, in fact, want to increase rather than decrease the number of live racing days, citing numerous reasons.

The NEHBPA, in a “fact sheet,” wrote the following:  “The legislature, in the last bill passed by the House and Senate (but amended by the Governor), supported the position of the NEHBPA, Massachusetts Breeders Association, and advocates of open space and the Massachusetts farms, acknowledging that a minimum of 125 days of live racing is necessary to support the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders and Massachusetts farms.”

I found that to be a laughable statement. According to the Jockey Club Fact Book, there were 41 Thoroughbred mares bred in Massachusetts in 2009. Forty-one. The Massachusetts foal crop of 2008 was 34. Five years earlier, it was a whopping 86 foals.

So according to the legislature, the NEHBPA, and the Massachusetts Breeders Association, the state needs four racing days for every live foal it produced three years ago. Using that formula, Kentucky would require more than 30,000 racing dates a year.

You know which states produced more Thoroughbred foals than Massachusetts in 2008? North Dakota, Georgia, South Carolina, and even Utah, where it's illegal to even say the word “gambling.” The state of Washington, which produced 519 Thoroughbred foals in 2008, will race 82 live days at Emerald Downs in 2011.  Yet these horsemen think the breeding industry needs 125 days … for what? To nudge the foal crop up to 50?

I don't know where the truth lies when it comes to the distribution of simulcast revenue (or what's left of it, since the NEHBPA used its legal right to shut down the signal from the New York Racing Association and convinced horsemen in other states to help them by withdrawing consent on signals from numerous other tracks, including Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, where so many Suffolk horsemen spend their winters).

But I do know that it is the height of stupidity to insist on maintaining an artificially high number of live racing dates when a) purse levels are pathetically low; b) the product is awful; and c) no one wants to bet on a product that is so bad.

No organization in their right mind is increasing live racing dates or saying, “We need more racing.” Most racing jurisdictions are cutting back, trying to find windows to use simulcast opportunities to their best advantage. There is a growing “less is more” philosophy in the sport that Monmouth Park exemplified so well last year.

If Bill Veeck were still around, he could write the same book today about Suffolk Downs and give it the same title. Only this time, the manure wouldn't be coming from the horses.

  • There is no Massachusetts breeding industry to speak of.

    Jessica Chapel found these numbers week:

    3 registered foals in 2009
    2 registered foals in 2010

    If that page is updated regularly, that amounts to about 40 acres of open space. :D

  • NE racing fan

    The NEHBPA is crazy. Suffolk has gone above and beyond to keep things going the last few years. This isn’t the first time the NEHBPA has gone down this road. They blew up the New England circuit when they were similarly unreasonable in negotiations with Rockingham. How’d that work out for them? Now they’re on the verge of single-handedly putting racing in New England into extinction. They’re trying to penalize Suffolk for being the only track in New England that’s still running and expecting them to run an unreasonable amount of days. Rather, they should be eternally grateful to Suffolk. The real losers are we the bettors. If it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have any money to compete for in the first place. Now they’ve made it near impossible for us to place a wager on most of the best tracks. That seems counter-productive to trying to keep what fans of the sport are left.

  • jockeyboy

    Yes there is no breeding program the racing there is terrible but in order to change they money and days to get better quality of horses and races. Monmouth park and oher tracks that are reducing to boutique meets are going to destory the breeding program in the area.

  • Billy R

    you need to look at other States to see how vibrant breeding became when gaming was introduced. Give the horseman and breeders a chance.

  • jockeyboy wrote:

    Monmouth park and other tracks that are reducing to boutique meets are going to destroy the breeding
    program in the area.

    News to me.
    Which mid-atlantic tracks are doing just that?

  • Mousse

    Ray….splitting the simo handle 50/50 and asking for a bit more than the minimun 4% of the handle is not an unreasonable request. Suffolk has put their own spin on this dispute and their ulterior motives are very transparent NO RACING 2011! Although I sympathize with the simo customers, this tactic (signal blocking)is the only option available to have any type of meaningful dialogue between the parties. We’ll see which side blinks first. In the meantime it’s the inept, corrupt Massachusetts pols that have brought this sport to the brink of extinction!

  • jockeyboy

    breeding programs need racing days not boutique meets. Like charlestown when they got expanded gameing there breeding program went sky high but before then what was it worth?

  • The situation in New Jersey is unique. They’re trying to hang on for about two or three more years before other sources of (non-slots) revenue kicks in.

    As for Charles Town / Mountaineer, the sure they’ve made progress with the WVA-bred program but…

    What have theses slots-infused breeding program really done?
    Have they improved the quality of thoroughbred in places like New Mexico, Indiana, Louisiana, or has it made fashionable to breed more mediocrity – horses with low shelf life?

    I think a lot of us want to see these state-bred runners fill the race cards by competing against open company and not under the protective shelter of the state-bred condition for exorbitant sums.

    That is not progress.

  • The situation in New Jersey is unique. They’re trying to hang on for about two or three more years before other sources of (non-slots) revenue kicks in.

    As for Charles Town / Mountaineer, the sure they’ve made progress with the WVA-bred program but…

    What have theses slots-infused breeding program really done?
    Have they improved the quality of thoroughbred in places like New Mexico, Indiana, Louisiana, or has it made fashionable to breed more mediocrity – horses with low shelf life?

    I think a lot of us want to see these state-bred runners fill the race cards by competing against open company and not under the protective shelter of the state-bred condition for exorbitant sums.

    That is not progress.

  • Keen Observer

    With a few exceptions who are always near the top of the standings and whose horses are competitive elsewhere on the East Coast, the bulk of the New England horsemen don’t want better racing. They want an entitlement program that maintains mediocrity at best, benefits them and discourages competition. Many of them can’t win a race anywhere else. Suffolk Downs has bent over backwards for these people for almost 10 years (like staying open for 18 straight months when the HBPA stared down Rockingham into switching to harness). What thanks to they get for saving racing in New England? The NEHBPA’s one-fingered salute.

    Smart of the HPBA to declare total war on Fields months before the gaming bill passes. He’s said publicly for four years that racing will be a big part of gaming development on the property. If the bill that passes is all casinos and no slots at tracks, as the Governor and Senate prefer, the HBPA better be ready to kiss some serious butt if and when Suffolk wins a casino license.

  • leona mckanas

    if all these racetracks are cutting back their live racing days just to simulcast their won’t be anything to simulcast

  • HBPA-Holes

    What are these guys doing? They wrecked the circuit with Rockingham and now they’re doing it again. New Egland HBPA President Al Balestra runs all his horses at Philly Park. Board member Anthony Spadea runs all his horses in New York. They were supposed to have an election in November and they cancelled it. Who are they working for, Foxwoods? I don’t want these people representing me.

  • The hbpa wants the same percentage as nearly every other jurisdiction in america splitting 50/50. Not the 28 percent management wants to give. 100 days at 100k is not a lot to ask for. Close it down if you can’t offer that. Otherwise what horsemen worth 2 cents will come back? Answer: none. And the numbers quoted on MA bred foals is not accurate in that one comment. Less is more when you give a 1M a day not 78k.

  • Gotta love the Suffolk Management planted comments on this article. Yeah Ray, Fields wants racing to be a big part of his gambling palace. His partners want ZERO racing and if there is a way to have casinos sans racing it WILL happen. Wake up man.

  • ron

    With a 19% take on wps and 26% on exotics, who needs suffolk downs.

  • jockeyboy

    listen hear. people need to stop comparing the failer of rockingham and suffolk downs different situations different time. fields wants a casino with no racing the hbpa is trying to stop it and get the money that suffolk has been dening us for years.

  • ratherrapid

    i have read the N.E. HBPA website. the arguments there are ludicrous.

    here’s how it goes:
    the owner has supplemented the track to the tune of 40 million in the last 3 years. Now because its “unfair” to have different percentages of simulcast revenues going to purses, like, e.g. Saratoga, the owner should fork out a few more dollars so that the purses he already supplements are even higher, or else….just close it down.

    that’s about what the argument boils down to. cut off your nose to spite your face. It’s fairly obvious to me who ever horse persons are engineering this do not have the interest of you all that depend on Suffolk in mind. Instead–what you’re probably looking at is a few strays wanting to capture a few more dollars before they leave.

  • JW

    Great article! I wonder how many of the HBPA board have ever read “Thirty Tons a Day”? They seem to think that running that enormous plant is easy! …and the state breeding program is a good one, but it depends on the certainty of a race track! People with mares due to foal this year will not have them drop in Mass if there’s no racing, period…..and yes, the foal crop has dwindled severely, but this is all due to the uncertainty. Right now, they do NOT need 125 days; all they need is the knowledge that there’ll be a track there to run on. If there’s a future there, the breeding will rebound.

  • jockeyboy

    Ok do you people really think that richard fields and the owners of suffolk downs are broke out of money? please they
    haven’t been paying the horsemen what other horsemen around the country get even at a bad track like suffolk and you think that the nehbpa is asking to much no we are asking what we should be getting. while the suffolk owners are trying to cut the purse and days so they can get rid of racing and just have a casino.

  • jockeyboy

    and don’t listen to the morons that are not informed on the situation and that are taking the side of suffolk downs and management cause they obviously are idiots how do not care for horsemen and the restructure of suffolk downs

  • Nothere

    Jockeyboy, I was wondering if you can tell me how often the horses will have to run on average within those 100-125 days of racing?

    I won’t ask you why you think Richard Fields and the other owners of Suffolk should continue to subsidize the dregs of racing because I think you need to work on the words, “Please” and “Thank you” before you use the word “idiot” again.

  • Duke

    Strip away all the animosity and the argument at Suffolk boils down to the future of thoroughbred racing everywhere. How do you address the dwindling fan support for the racing product. Unless tracks and Horsemen’s groups address this serious problem, there will be fewer and fewer tracks to race at. Suffolk Horsemen need to understand the problem before they can claim they have the only answer.

  • thomasMc

    The NEHBPA is asking for a 50-50 split of the simo handle which is the norm in the business not the 28% suffolk is offering. Whats wrong with that? In these negotiations the horsemen have one card to play which is control of the simulcast signal and they played it. Suffolk has cried about loosing money every year yet they had 3 million to buy wonderland how’s that ? Can any of you less is more people make a living working 3 days a week? Since Monmouth got away with it all tracks want to be bookies cut their costs and run little short meets. Monmouth’s handle did not cover the purse’s offered and increases were mostly due to running 12 races a day. The horsemen’s control of the simo signal per the interstate horse racing act was just for these situations, loss of racing dates and racing without a contract. What’s wrong with at least a 90 day meet at 100,000 a day and taking a united front to the governor (who caused this in the first place) to pressure him on expanded gaming?

  • Duke

    The gaming bill that the HBPA principals claim supports 125 days of live racing also states that if a contract between Suffolk Downs and the Horsemen cannot be agreed to then a mediator will determine a resolution. What happened to mediation prior to shutting down the simulcast signals that has crippled the industry, and sent fans elsewhere. Shutting off revenues should be the last resort not the first.

  • ratherrapid

    #23–i regret using the word ludicrous to describe your argument. obviously a lot of horse people feel exactly the way you do. and, yes, the simulcast is one of the few weapons. and also, personally i know nothing of your actual situation. However, two questions have been raised that I think deserve an answer since a demise of Suffolk would affect everwhere:
    1. Why would HBPA choose this very delicate time to get into a fight with the owners of your track that have subsidized you.
    2. Isn’t it true that in fact 100% of the simulcast $$$ goes into purses if there are insufficient track revenues and it is the owner providing the purses.
    From my position of ignorance, if the owner is providing all the cash to keep the track running, the % of simulcast seems a strawman.
    Days are always a problem when they try to reduce them, but possibly the situation is that present economics fail to support that many days. Would it be wiser perhaps to figure out how to keep the track open at this point than worry about purses???

  • jockeyboy

    ok to answer the questions for ratherrapid and nothere. first nothere trainers at suffolk because of the fact that suffolk downs has not paid out the purses that the horsemen are required with a 50/50 split horses at suffolk race alot more because of the bad purses they need to race their horse more so they can make money but it is not a case of racing days more of money. now ratherrapid the suffolk downs owners are trying to change the state law reducing our racing day from 100 to 67-75 days which if we would comply with would dig us into a hole we would not be able to get out of. If we got the addition of expanded gambling with the days reduced we would not be able to change it so the nehbpa has put its foot down to make sure we don’t give in and keep our 100 day meet so that the horsemen will be bettor in the future. the nehbpa is very concerned about keeping this track open but will not do anything to hurt the horsemen in the future and your other question i am not quite sure so i will not answer that until i have all the facts

  • Nothere

    So yes I know they will race more often for less money. Hence, my specific question. Let me try again. So lets say you get the 100 days at 100k per day, how many horses will the horsemen be able to afford to run at Suffolk? How often will the average horse need to run to fill those races for 100 days in 2011 when there are less horses to begin with and even more competition south of you in MD now? Is it possible to even make a living, be fair to any horse, or want to be part of a product that bad? Isn’t holding onto the 100 days really about keeping the product at a low level for as long as you can because that is the level you can play at?

    I am not clear on why you would think that Suffolk is motivated to subsidize the purses any longer or why you think that future MA casino legislation is dependent on Suffolk remaining a racetrack?

    I am even less clear on how pissing into the wind, and by the NEHBPA’s own admission giving the track the excuse that they think they want – to not race – is a wise choice?

    DeLeo screwed it up last year with pro casino Patrick by holding out for slots, and he seems well on his way to doing so again this year. Doesn’t seem like anyone playing the leverage card really has any? All I see is horseplayers that are being pissed off, will go elsewhere and might not come back to the Suffolk simulcast, money that is being lost that can never be recovered by Suffolk or the horsemen, and the few horsemen left trying to keep a cheap meet going because the truth is as soon as a casino comes in (not to worry, in MA that will be a long time away) either racing will cease altogether as you suspect or become a higher end boutique offering that eliminates the current low level of racing, and the imaginary MA breds romping in the storybook New England hillsides?

  • If a track can’t offer better purses and a decent amount of days, then it should close. Suffolk is not part of any circuit and far from the nearest track. This people have to plan and come for the meet. Right now NOBODY can make a dime with the purse structure and 75 days, you would be crazy to race there. Not worth the price of the van to get there.


  • JW

    As a long-time breeder, I am offended by the HBPA’s using the breeding program to keep up this insane battle. The breeding program is well-designed, but it is funded by the handle, including simulcasting…so they’re ranting about how important it is, but cutting off its lifeblood.

  • Crystal

    the website hasn’t been updated in a long time. It is pathetic at it’s best. If the foal crop in MA is not even going to hit 50 live foals for the year they why bother spending the man hours to create a table that shows what a sad state MA racing is in.
    Ma horseman do not want medocrity, they want a state program that will stand behind them and support their decision to stay in MA and raise horses and run farms by funding the state-bred races.
    If the state isn’t going to do that, than horseman have no reason to stay. If the state did this than they would see the quality of the horses rise, commerse rise, the quality of product to beat on during live racing rise, and the spirit of the horseman rise.

    Suffolk Downs with its concrete backside, and barbed wire atop of the security fence in East Boston reminds me of a prison camp. Some of the people who are there have the attitude as such as well.

  • Thank you for this very clear, concise story. I finally understand both sides of the issue, and appreciate that you could tell it well enough for that to happen. :)

  • Now for the Truth:
    The New England Horsemen Benevolent and Protective Association, Inc. (NEHBPA) is a non-profit organization that represents New England thoroughbred owners and trainers. In response to the mis-information posted by Suffolk Downs relative to its contractual dispute with the NEHBPA, the NEHBPA has responded to correct the inaccuracies of the Suffolk Downs Purse Dispute Fact Sheet. The present dispute results from the refusal of Suffolk Downs to share revenue with the horsemen as it has in the past and as it is customarily shared across the United States. The allegations made by Suffolk Downs are set forth as “SUFFOLK FACT” below.
    1) SUFFOLK FACT: Suffolk Downs, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2010, is New England’s last remaining Thoroughbred race track. Its owners are committed to preserving racing and have invested substantially to enhance racing over the last four years.
    THE TRUTH: Suffolk Downs is presently controlled by Joseph O’Donnell, a Massachusetts businessman (whose concession business previously sold the food at Suffolk Downs) and Richard Fields who bought into the operating company representing he intended to “save” New England Horse Racing. The owners are committed to developing the Suffolk Downs property and seek a Casino license from the State that will make their business and property worth a large multiple of the funds they have invested. They have invested millions of dollars to secure a casino license. For at least the last several years Joe O’Donnell has been opposed to continuing horse racing at Suffolk Downs while allowing the Suffolk lobbyists to promote itself to the state legislature as a proponent of the horse racing industry. Richard Fields has been personally involved in the dispute with the NEHBPA, refusing to share revenue with the horsemen as it has in the past and as it is customarily shared across the United States. The agenda of O’Donnell and Fields is to develop the property as a casino capitalizing on thoroughbred racing as a primary reason the state should give them a casino license.
    2) SUFFOLK FACT: In 2007 and 2008, the owners raised purses (the monies paid to the owners of the horses that run at Suffolk Downs), invested in improvements to the track and the barn area and brought back the Massachusetts Handicap and other big races.
    THE TRUTH: As documented by a posting on the Suffolk Downs website, purses paid in 2008 were more than two hundred thousand dollars lower than 2007 purses. 2009 purses were more than 2.3 million dollars less than purses paid for the 2007 meet, yet Suffolk falsely represents the owners raised purses. The decline was a consequence of the NEHBPA’s decision at that time not to contest (as it is now doing) Suffolk Downs’ refusal to share gross revenue in the same proportions as it had in the preceding years. Based on financial information just released to the NEHBPA by Suffolk Downs, in 2008 the contract with the NEHBPA resulted in approximately 6.56% of the simulcasting handle being paid to purses (which was approximately 41% of the commissions available to be shared). In 2009, Suffolk Downs insisted on a contract that resulted in reducing to approximately 5.45% of the simulcasting handle being paid to purses (approximately 37% of the commissions available to be shared). For 2010, Suffolk Downs REFUSED TO NEGOTIATE a purse contract and then reduced
    purses by an additional one million dollars several months after the meet started, causing it to retain 65.51% of the simulcasting commissions while tracks across the United States share this revenue 50/50 with purses.
    Although Suffolk Downs did make improvements to the track and barn area, it was reimbursed from the Capital Improvement Fund of the Massachusetts State Racing Commission for the cost of many (if not all) of the capital improvements made. In 2008 and 2009 Suffolk Downs spent more than 3. 5 million dollars each year in advancing its gaming agenda and investing in nearby Wonderland Park, presumably to maximize its profits in the likely event the State gives Suffolk Downs a casino license.
    3) SUFFOLK FACT: The owners voluntarily paid more than $3 million in purses over the amounts required by statute and by the contractually agreed amounts that have traditionally supplemented the statutory minimum funding. Over the last four racing seasons, this has benefited local horsemen and promoted higher quality of racing.
    THE TRUTH: By contract with the NEHBPA for years prior to 2010, Suffolk was required to share revenue as agreed from the various revenue sources. It was also required to pay purses based on the type of race in accordance with a schedule set forth in the contract. Based on prior experience, the NEHBPA knew that the requirement to pay purses at the levels set forth in the contract would result in Suffolk paying more in purses than the revenue accumulated from the various sources as set forth in the contract. Furthermore at the time the contracts were negotiated, Suffolk Downs represented it would maintain a mix of races consistent with prior practice and available horses which practice the NEHBPA knew would cause the overpayments which subsequently occurred. The alleged “overpayment of purses by $3.4 million from 2007 through 2010” was in reality a consequence of the contractual obligation to pay purses at the specified level bargained for by the NEHBPA.
    4) SUFFOLK FACT: Suffolk Downs has committed to retain racing if gaming development occurs on the property.
    THE TRUTH: Suffolk Downs has used its involvement in horse racing to advance its legislative agenda to secure a casino license. In the last legislative session, Suffolk Downs successfully advanced an amendment to the Senate bill providing extra credit for those entities that conducted live racing. Its “commitment” to continue racing is probably predicated on legislative conditions requiring it to continue racing. Such conditions appear likely to be attached to any gaming licenses issued to it. One of its principal owners Joseph O’Donnell has always been opposed to continuing live racing at Suffolk Downs. If Suffolk Downs is granted a casino license, the profits that could be realized from developing for gaming use the portion of the Suffolk property presently used for racing will significantly exceed any profits that could be realized from continuing live thoroughbred racing. So the future of thoroughbred racing at Suffolk Downs appears to be clearly conditioned upon legislated conditions being attached to the gaming bill requiring Suffolk to continue thoroughbred racing. In light of the fact that
    Suffolk’s preferred position with respect to getting a casino license has at least in part been predicated on its support of the thoroughbred racing industry, such conditions are clearly appropriate.
    5) SUFFOLK FACT: Despite Suffolk Downs’ commitment, the New England HBPA has consistently advanced its own legislative agenda, at times to the detriment of Suffolk Downs operations.
    THE TRUTH: The legislative agenda advanced by the NEHBPA to the “detriment of Suffolk Downs” was its efforts to increase the minimum of live racing days beyond the present 100 day statutory minimum. The NEHBPA, Massachusetts Breeders Association, and advocates of open space and the Massachusetts farms all lobbied to increase this minimum. The NEHBPA refused the request of Suffolk Downs to support legislation that would reduce the minimum number of racing days below 100 days. The legislature, in the last bill passed by the House and Senate (but amended by the Governor), supported the position of the NEHBPA, Massachusetts Breeders Association, and advocates of open space and the Massachusetts farms, acknowledging that a minimum of 125 days of live racing is necessary to support the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders and Massachusetts farms. In the only purse proposal for 2011 made by Suffolk Downs to the NEHBPA, it offered to race a minimum of 67 days and a maximum of 76 days despite the present state statute requiring it to race at least 100 days in 2011. Suffolk Downs had previously applied for and secured approval from the State Racing Commission to race 100 days in 2011 in compliance with state law. Under state law, Suffolk Downs is required to conduct 100 days of live racing in 2011 in order to conduct simulcasting. So Suffolk Downs represented to the state racing commission it would comply with the statutory requirement of 100 days while at the same time suggesting to the NEHBPA that there should be no live racing in 2011 or that live racing be limited to a much shorter meet. The only 2011 purse contract proposal made by Suffolk Downs required the NEHBPA to support the efforts of Suffolk Downs to change the state law to accommodate its own agenda and reduce the number of racing days.
    6) SUFFOLK FACT: Suffolk Downs’ owners have lost in excess of $40 million over the last four years; the majority of the losses are related to track operations.
    THE TRUTH: The owners of Suffolk Downs invested (or continue to maintain their investment) because they expect to reap a huge profit from gaming. The financial reward to Suffolk Downs owners is likely to be a large multiple of their investment in the likely event the state grants them a casino license. The losses of Suffolk Downs for the past few years include depreciation for prior expenditures and more than 7 million invested in Wonderland and gaming in 2008 and 2009 alone. Suffolk Downs has not released its financials for 2010 to the NEHBPA. A large portion of the Suffolk Downs property remains under utilized and undeveloped, presumably because the owners decided to reserve it for development for gaming purpose. Suffolk Downs has generated little revenue from its property from alternate uses. It has acres of unused land available for parking. The majority of its large grandstand is not required to support racing activities. Suffolk’s losses result at least in part from its business decision not to maximize use of
    the portion of its property not required for racing. It appears to be allocating the expenses of the entire property to racing activities when a considerable portion of the property is not required for such activities. A significant portion of its losses is, in fact. its investment in gaming and in Wonderland Greyhound Park.
    7) SUFFOLK FACT: When gaming legislation failed to pass in Massachusetts in 2010, Suffolk Downs was forced to reduce costs, including expenses, personnel and purses.
    THE TRUTH: When gaming legislation failed to pass in 2010, Suffolk Downs responded to the legislature by cutting jobs and cutting the purses paid to the NEHBPA horsemen. It was able to do this because it refused to negotiate a 2010 contract with the NEHBPA. At the same time Wonderland Park, in which Suffolk Downs has invested millions, was closed. The timing of these actions suggest Suffolk Downs was trying to send a message to the state legislature.
    8) SUFFOLK FACT: Suffolk Downs has the lowest purse levels of any track on the East Coast as most tracks’ purses are augmented by revenue from expanded gaming (see Chart 1).
    THE TRUTH: All of the tracks listed in Chart 1 on the Suffolk Downs website have purse levels considerably higher than Suffolk Downs. A number of them were not supported by gaming in 2010 (as evidenced by the #to be supported by expanded gaming in 2011 designation). The NEHBPA seeks only that a fair share of existing revenue be paid to purses. Since 2007 Suffolk has been reducing the percentage of the simulcasting handle being allocated to purses, taking a position contrary to virtually every other track in the United States which shares such revenue 50/50 with purses. Since 2007 the percentage of the net profit from simulcasting retained by Suffolk Downs has increased while the percentage paid to purses has correspondingly decreased. Suffolk Downs has been effectively retaining for itself gross revenue which equitably belongs to the horsemen. This practice caused additional funds to be available to Suffolk Downs to defray the cost of its investment in Wonderland and gaming consultants.
    9) SUFFOLK FACT: While other jurisdictions are reducing racing days in response to consumer habits and to increase the quality of racing (see Chart 2), current statute requires Suffolk Downs to race 100 days in order to simulcast.
    THE TRUTH: The current 100 day minimum required by state law is significantly less than the number of days previously required by state law when Suffolk raced through the winter months. The NEHBPA refused prior requests from Suffolk Downs to seek changes in Massachusetts law to reduce the minimum number of racing days from the present 100 day minimum. The Massachusetts Legislature determined that at least 125 days of live racing is necessary to protect not only the thoroughbred racing industry but also the Massachusetts breeding and farm industries. Massachusetts farms which board horses or produce grain hay, or straw, are supported by live racing. Thoroughbred horses are used for show, jumping, and equestrian events. Suffolk Downs disagrees with this agenda
    of the legislature and now seeks to race less than the number of days mandated by state law. It has demanded that the NEHBPA as a condition of entering into a purse contract, agree to race less than the minimum number of days required by state law and support the legislative efforts of Suffolk Downs to change the law (contrary to the interests of the NEHBPA and Massachusetts breeding and farm industries).
    10) SUFFOLK FACT: Current statute requires purse funding based on percentages of total wagering regardless of whether the track is profitable. Suffolk Downs projects to generate $7.5 million in purses in 2011 from the statutorily required amounts and the traditional supplements.
    THE TRUTH: The negotiating posture of Suffolk Downs clearly evidences its intent not to conduct live racing in 2011. It refused to even negotiate a purse contract with the NEHBPA until the NEHBPA forced the issue by advising of its intent to exercise the limited rights granted it by state law. Across the United States, purse funding is negotiated as a percentage of gross revenue. The profitability of Suffolk Downs is dependent upon its management and objectives and is impacted by its decision not to maximize alternative use of the portion of its property and facilities not used for racing.
    11) SUFFOLK FACT: The HBPA has indicated it does not believe its members will return to race at Suffolk Downs in 2011 for $75,000 per day in purses ($7.5 million over 100 days). Suffolk Downs offered to pay $100,000 per day in purses over 67-76 days if the statute regarding the minimum number of racing days could be changed.
    THE TRUTH: The projections of Suffolk Downs are based on payment limited to approximately 4% of the simulcast handle to purses, although the statute requires Suffolk Downs to negotiate up to a maximum of 7.5%. Suffolk refuses to negotiate the issue and has made clear it will pay only the statutory minimum. From the inception of the efforts of the NEHBPA to negotiate a purse contract for 2011, Suffolk Downs has adopted the same tactics successfully utilized by it in 2010 to avoid contractual obligations. It first refused to negotiate, advising that it needed to preserve its option not to race live in 2011. Only when the NEHBPA advised of its intent to exercise its right under state law to deny permission to simulcast NYRA (Aqueduct) signals, did Suffolk Downs at least commence discussions. In the negotiations that followed, Suffolk Downs suggested that it was unlikely to attract sufficient horses to conduct a live racing meet in 2011, unless a daily purse distribution of $100,000 was paid. This purse level would still cause Suffolk Downs to have the lowest purses in the northeast (chart 1 of Suffolk Downs), nearly 20% lower than any other track listed on Chart 1. The NEHPBA agreed with this position of Suffolk Downs. Yet Suffolk Downs has publicly stated it intends to race 100 days at a purse level of $75,000 per day after telling the NEHBPA a purse level of $100,000 per day is required to attract a sufficient horse population to conduct live racing.
    12) SUFFOLK FACT: The HBPA has said it will not work with Suffolk Downs to change the statute to reduce the number of live racing days.
    THE TRUTH: The statement is accurate. It is not in the best interests of the NEHBPA and the Massachusetts breeding and farm industries that the number of live racing days be reduced.
    13) SUFFOLK FACT: The HBPA has demanded Suffolk Downs commit to $10,6 million in purses for the 2011 meet, requiring that Suffolk Downs’ owners fund purses well above our statutory obligation and traditional enhancements.
    THE TRUTH: The NEHBPA continues to seek an equitable share of gross revenue, consistent with revenue-sharing practices of virtually every other track in the United States. If gross simulcasting revenue is divided 50-50 as the NEHBPA has proposed, the NEHBPA projects purse funding to be in the range of more than 10 million dollars, sufficient to pay the amounts sought by the NEHBPA.
    14) SUFFOLK FACT: As of January 28th, the HBPA withdrew its consent for the NYRA signal to be sent to MA tracks, including Suffolk Downs, making it more difficult for Suffolk Downs to generate purses.
    THE TRUTH: Suffolk Downs has been allocating not more than 35% of the simulcasting commissions earned from the NYRA signal to purses, so that the revenue impact on purses of the loss of this signal is not likely to be significant.
    Suffolk Downs has been contacting NEHBPA membership by telephone and letter, making statements of alleged facts that actually represent its view of the facts as set forth above. If the simulcasting revenue were shared as now proposed by the NEHBPA, purse funding for 2007 through 2010 would have been 4.2 million higher than the purses actually paid. Revenue sharing consistent with the practice of virtually every other jurisdiction will result in sufficient revenue to pay purses at the level now proposed by the NEHBPA.
    If Suffolk had tried to negotiate a contract for 2010 that provided for purses as it actually paid that year, it probably would not have been able to conduct a meet. NEHBPA membership would have been forced to find other places to race. Simply put the purses paid were not sufficient to pay the costs of caring for the horses and provided absolutely no chance to recover any of the costs of breeding, development or purchase of the thoroughbred.
    When Suffolk advised the NEHBPA in 2010 it would not sign a purse contract, it represented it would pay the same purses as 2009 and published a purse schedule consistent with that representation. It represented it would negotiate with the NEHBPA in the event it later determined that due to decreases in revenue it could not maintain that purse structure. So NEHBPA membership came to Suffolk Downs and raced without a contract relying on these representations. Later in the meet, Suffolk reduced purses significantly when it was too late for many of its members to go elsewhere. Shortly prior to making this unilateral purse reduction, officials of Suffolk Downs enticed horsemen stabled in Virginia to ship to Suffolk Downs to race following the conclusion of the meet at Colonial Downs. The purse cut was then announced by Suffolk Downs, as these horses arrived at Suffolk Downs. None of these horsemen would have shipped to Suffolk Downs, if the intent to cut purses had been
    announced prior to shipping. Suffolk Downs refused the request of the NEHBPA that it compensate these horsemen for the significant shipping costs incurred in reliance upon the purse schedule exhibited to them to induce them to come to Suffolk Downs to race.
    At the last negotiating session, Suffolk Downs for the first time announced it intended to race in 2011 whether or not a purse contract was reached. It indicated it intends to pay purses at the statutory minimum. The NEHBPA believes that in 2010 Suffolk Downs refused to negotiate a purse contract with the intent it would unilaterally cut purses as it subsequently did. Representations made that the 2009 purse level would be maintained were not kept.
    For 2010, the minimum purses required to be paid by statute were less than $5 million and more than $400,000 came from the Massachusetts Purse Pool, a funding source not likely to provide significant finding in 2011. The balance of the “Earned Purses” by Suffolk Downs’s calculations resulted from contractual obligations which will not exist in 2011 in the absence of a purse contract. The NEHBPA believes, in light of the actions of Suffolk Downs to date and its failure to act consistent with its representations relative to 2010 purses, that horsemen cannot rely, in the absence of a signed contract with the NEHBPA, upon Suffolk Downs to pay any particular level of purse funding in excess of statutory minimums. The NEHBPA projects statutory minimums to be no more than $5 million in 2011 so that the purses required by law to be paid by Suffolk Downs will average not more than $50,000 per day. To the extent that Suffolk may initially publicize a higher daily purse distribution, based on its conduct in 2010, a significant reduction in daily purse distribution should be anticipated during the course of the meet.
    When the NEHBPA began discussions with Suffolk regarding 2011, it advised that although it had been granted dates, it wanted to preserve its option not to conduct a live meet by later refusing the dates. It proposed an agreement not to race live in 2011 and accumulate purse revenue towards 2012. When the NEHBPA advised that this issue was nonnegotiable, Suffolk Downs refused to bargain until the NEHBPA threatened to revoke permission for the NYRA signal. When Suffolk Downs finally began bargaining, it offered only proposals which it knew would have to be rejected by the NEHBPA.
    The NEHBPA exercised its legal right to withhold permission for transmission of the NYRA signal only after all other alternatives had been exhausted. It recognizes that this action may not meet with the approval of the betting public but the right was conferred by the Legislature to provide the NEHBPA a remedy intended to force Suffolk Downs to the bargaining table. The lack of good faith bargaining by Suffolk Downs has been evidenced by its refusal to bargain last year, its refusal to negotiate for 2011 until the NEHBPA advised of its intent to act as it has now been forced to do, and the posture adopted by Suffolk Downs
    once it was forced to the table . Despite the requirement to bargain for a division of simulcasting revenue between 4% and 7.5% of the handle, Suffolk has not moved from its 4% minimum position and has recently advised that in the event the NEHBPA does wish to negotiate the percentage, it should be prepared to make a corresponding reduction in the revenue paid to purses from non-statutory sources (so that the total purse value does not increase beyond Suffolk’s present position). Suffolk Downs sought an agreement not to race live in 2011. When the NEHBPA rejected the idea, Suffolk adopted a bargaining position intended to result in an inability to race live in 2011 due to lack of a purse contract and inadequate horse population resulting from its prior failure to keep its representations and its bargaining posture to date. Its refusal to even negotiate last fall has made it more difficult to attract horses, as NEHBPA members presently need to make stall applications at other tracks at this time. The NEHBPA firmly believes that Suffolk Downs wanted to simulcast without racing in 2011 and has consistently acted to achieve that objective. Despite the actions of Suffolk Downs to date, the NEHBPA continues to exert every effort to bring this impasse to a prompt and reasonable resolution

  • ratherrapid

    This appears less wrong as facts than twisted logic. Is it true or untrue that the owners are already paying 100% of the purses and that by exptrapolation 100% simulcast is being applied to either purses or other track expenses? By what tortured logic should HBPA be “entitled” to more? As a trainer and owner I am completely sympathetic with trying to keep the track open, extending days, etc. I’d Q that this is the way, and think it insanity to get into a cat fight with the owners of your own track.

  • Looks like the current horsemen have done it again. Now Suffolk is in deep negotiations to run a harness circuit with Plainridge Racecourse. Read between the lines gents. Chip Tuttle states in more than one publication that “there will be a live meet this year” He never states it will be a thoroughbred meet. Word out of Plainridge is they will pay a fee to use the barns and ship from East Boston instead of shipping from Maine.

  • wayne

    I would like to say that Sheldon Glass hit the NAIL on the head every thing that was writing is the TRUTH

  • It is a shame that this option has been taken away. My 81 year old Father and his 79 year old Brother a Jesuit Priest used this time to get together each saturday to enjoy betting at Gulfstream and other tracks. Now with the simulcast gone, they will no longer be getting together or frequenting Suffolk Downs.
    Its very sad to see one more nail in the coffing for Raceing in Massachusetts. Bill Corcoran

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