The last horse crossed the finish line, and racing at Suffolk Downs came to an end
When Colonial Front’s mud-caked hooves pounded across the finish line, live thoroughbred horse racing ceased to exist in New England.
With Amesbury native Tammi Piermarini riding, Colonial Front finished in last place in the last race of the last day of live racing at Suffolk Downs, officially ending the track’s 84-year run.
“I hope they got a picture of me,” Piermarini said (Editor’s note: see above).
Either way, Piermarini has no shortage of photos at Suffolk Downs. It’s where she learned to gallop. It’s where she won her first race. It’s where she won her 2,000th race.
And now it’s where she closed the chapter on thousands upon thousands of live races.
“It’s a sad day,” Piermarini said. “This is home.”
The end of live racing at Suffolk Downs follows an overall trend of thoroughbred racing dwindling in sports culture. The facility will stay open for year-round simulcasting for the immediate future, but at some point it will be transformed into something else. Plans for a new neighborhood are in the works as HYM Investment Group prepares to develop the 161-acre site.
Although the exact details of the development remain uncertain, one thing is clear: There will be no shortage of memories left behind.
Look no further than those who made up the crowd on Sunday.
. . .
Revere native Rick Capano, 85, rested on the green bench as he waited for the races to start Sunday.
He hoped he might have the same luck he found about 70 years ago when he first came to the track.
“I won the first time, so that’s what got me going,” he said. “That’s what actually got me hooked.”
The amount was not much, Capano said. But the idea that he could win kept him coming back after his brother brought him for the first time as a teenager. The early exposure prompted Capano to attend races as an adult. He would sneak over for a few late races during the week. Then, he showed up most Saturdays and Sundays unless he had something else he needed to get done.
He even began traveling to other tracks on the weekends.
“I hate to see it go,” Capano said. “But there isn’t nothing much you can do about it.”
. . .
Bob Cowan, 81, will never forget the day he walked into Suffolk Downs with a George Washington in his pocket and left with $3,000.
“That was a day, man,” he said.
It happened during one of his many days at Suffolk Downs over the past 27 years, a place where he always enjoyed seeing friends and watching and betting on horse racing.
He liked doing the same in his native Jamaica before he moved to Boston with his wife. He has frequented Suffolk Downs ever since.
“[Going here] is like a little healing for me,” Cowan said. “I’m going to try and remember the good days and the bad days.
“I’m going to miss this place.”
. . .
TD Thornton has always viewed Suffolk Downs as his Fenway Park.
Thornton, the announcer at the track, imagines that the experience of those who work at Fenway to be similar to his whenever they arrive at work — amazed by the majesty of the venue. He described Suffolk Downs as a beautiful green jewel.
It’s why he wanted to do his best to give a proper sendoff to the track he has been involved at since 1992.
“I didn’t want people to come to the track expecting a funeral atmosphere,” Thornton said.
He wanted to leave the track in a joyful fashion. Not in tears.
“Suffolk Downs,” he said, “has been too good to me and my family.”
. . .
Longtime trainer Edward T. Allard has lost track of how many races he’s been involved with at Suffolk Downs.
He has trained on his own since 1970. Even though he is not living in the immediate vicinity of Suffolk Downs right now, he said he would not have missed the chance to be in East Boston on Sunday. When he thinks of Suffolk Downs, he thinks of some of the best days of his life.
“I trained for some really good people,” Allard said. “This was a very special place for me.”
. . .
Michaela Pereira, 26, stood under the awning with her infant son strapped to her torso, waiting for her horses to run.
Devastating was the only word she could produce when she thought about live racing coming to an end at Suffolk Downs, a place she has known since she was born.
She has her late grandfather, George Brown, to thank for much of that. He was the longtime president of the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association. He died last July of cancer.
“His life was all about racehorses,” Pereira said.
It’s why it was fitting that Pereira brought her son to the final race at Suffolk Downs. He got his middle name, George, from his great-grandfather.
But infant Joseph George may never know horse racing like his namesake.
At least not at Suffolk Downs.
More scenes from Suffolk Downs
Because of a reporter’s error, trainer Edward T. Allard’s name was incorrect in earlier versions of this story.