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Suffolk Downs opens first of three racing festivals

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Jockey Kieran Norris and horse Reporter won Saturday's first race at Suffolk Downs in East Boston.Timothy Tai for The Boston Globe

Hockey fans would love Tammi Piermarini.

Just like those tough NHL types, Piermarini, a Newburyport native and the third-winningest female jockey in history, wasn't about to let a little thing like a broken nose stop her from coming home to ride at Suffolk Downs.

The former Suffolk riding champion was scheduled to ride six races on the 11-race card as the track opened its 2016 live racing season Saturday, with thousands of fans and many families crowding the East Boston oval.

Piermarini injured her nose in an accident going into the gate at Finger Lakes Race Track in upstate New York this past week, and sat out for a couple of days while she took matters into her own hands.


"I actually straightened the nose out myself," said Piermarini after winning the $75,000 African Prince Stakes for Massachusetts-breds aboard heavily favored Dr. Blarney ($2.20).

"I've been contemplating a nose job for several years now, and I more or less gave myself a free nose job," said Piermarini, who has won more than 2,400 races and dominated the three Suffolk racing festival dates in 2015.

Lou Raffetto, a longtime racing executive who is coordinating Suffolk's three two-day "racing festivals," said about $1 million in purses and subsidies will be paid to owners by the end of Sunday's racing card.

"I couldn't be happier with the way this card came together," said Raffetto, noting that many of the country's top trainers entered horses Saturday after a positive experience in 2015.

The other festivals on Aug. 6-7 and Sept. 3-4 will also feature free parking and admission. Suffolk has also reached an agreement with New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association for live racing in 2017 with an option for 2018.

The racing was only part of the fun. Oldies band Time and Again greeted fans at the track entrance while a cadre of food trucks dispensed sausages, hot dogs, burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and ethnic delights.


Kids frolicked in a bouncy house and on a jungle gym, had their faces painted, and rode ponies.

Tyler Manning and wife Candace of Belmont watched sons Parker, 3, and Ben, 1, ride a pony under the watchful gaze of Paige Benson of the Indian Rock Stable in Saugus.

"This is our first visit to a racetrack," said Tyler Manning. "We saw this online and decided to come out and we're having a good time."

The festivals are being spaced out to allow owners of Massachusetts-bred horses to compete on all three weekends for the almost $700,000 being offered to Mass.-breds.

"It's keeping me alive and able to stay in the business," said trainer Thomas McCooey Jr. after sending out Dr. Blarney to win the African Prince in a fast time of 1:10.4. McCooey, a former regular at Suffolk and a trainer since 1972, is hoping "something will happen" in restoring a full throughbred meeting in the state.

Some of the best country's best trainers were prominent on Saturday's card. Hall of Famer Bill Mott, whose Cigar won two Massachusetts Handicaps, saddled sixth-race turf sprint winner Summer House ($5) while renowned turf trainer Christophe Clement sent out Tiz Jeweled ($4.40) to win the maiden special weight fifth race on the turf.

The beauty and the cruelty of thoroughbred racing were evident in the first race steeplechase event, when Silver Lime, a 7-year-old gelding owned by Gregory D. Hawkins, was severely injured and had to be euthanized after falling after the ninth and final jump in the grueling 2 1/16-mile race.


Jockey Tom McCarthy, who was aboard, also took a spill in the second race but both he and horse Candy Man Can were unhurt.

The track is using $2.4 million in proceeds from the state's Race Horse Development Fund for purses again this year and will take out 15 percent on all wagers, the lowest takeout in the country and a huge decrease from the usual 19 percent on win, place, and show bets and the 26 percent on multiple wagers such as daily doubles and exactas.

Sunday's 10-race card features two $75,000 Massachusetts-bred stakes: the Isadorable for fillies and mares, featuring the standout Miss Wilby, and the Rise Jim.