Horse racing fans on edge as deadline looms

Thoroughbreds last raced at the Brockton fairgrounds in 2001.
Globe Staff/File
Thoroughbreds last raced at the Brockton fairgrounds in 2001.

With less than a week left before the deadline to save thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts, at least for 2015, nerves are getting frayed as rumors circulate around Suffolk Downs of possible saviors who could step forward.

On Thursday, the fate of horse owners, trainers, and dozens of workers at Suffolk Downs will be up for public discussion at a meeting of the state gambling commission. But as prospects for work next year fade, many in the industry are on edge.

“We’re dealing with a great deal of anxiety,” said Bruce Patten, executive director of the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents more than 900 horse owners and trainers.


“Go out to the backside of the track, and there are a thousand new rumors every day” among the scores of owners and trainers who gather there, he said. “Theoretically, someone could sweep in and buy Suffolk Downs on any day. But all we can do is wait.”

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Anyone who wants to run horses next year must file an official application with the state racing commission by Oct. 1.

One possible venue for continued thoroughbred racing is the Brockton Fair, a 5/8-mile track on a 60-acre parcel near Route 123 in Brockton. It is owned by George Carney, who operates simulcast horse racing, with video feeds of live races from other tracks, at Raynham Park, a former dog-racing track.

Though it has been almost 15 years since horses thundered around the track in Brockton, Chris Carney, George’s son, said he see no obstacles to his plan to “fill the void.”

“Everything is there: the track, the grandstand, the rail,” he said, “It’s just been in mothballs.”


Carney said he plans to file for one racing date by the Oct. 1 deadline, and later amend the application to add as many as 90 days of racing.

The Gaming Commission, which doubles as the state Racing Commission, seemed to seal the horsemen’s fate on Sept. 16, when it voted to award the Greater Boston casino license to Wynn Resorts over its competitor, Mohegan Sun.

Mohegan Sun had promised to maintain thoroughbred racing along with a casino at Suffolk Downs if granted the license. The Wynn proposal calls for a casino in Everett, with no connection to Suffolk Downs.

But in its role as racing commission, the five-member board is struggling to find a way to rescue thoroughbred racing, a once-robust industry that dates back to the 1930s.

The casino law passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Deval Patrick in 2011, besides allowing three casinos statewide and a slot parlor, would support horse racing by directing a percentage of gaming revenue to fund the sport.


The funds are to be split between harness racing, which operates at the Plainridge Racecourse in Plainville (also site of the under-construction slot parlor), and thoroughbred racing.

Suffolk Downs, which plans to shut down racing on Oct. 4, is the only thoroughbred racing in New England.

Asked about the Brockton plan, Patten said he would rather see racing at Suffolk Downs. Still, he said, “We want to keep all options open. Obviously, we need a place to race next year. That’s the bottom line.”

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.