Equine renewal: Year two of Suffolk Downs rebirth starts May 3

BOSTON – Just a few furlongs from where patriotic jockey Paul Revere embarked on his famous midnight ride 233 years ago, Clifford Dooley sat aboard patient pony Bo Cashin underneath the arch outside the Boston Harbor Hotel on a picture-perfect spring day. The odd sight of a thoroughbred on the Boston waterfront caused many passers-by to take note, particularly Aquarium-bound families who obviously weren’t planning on seeing any animals outside the water, let alone outdoors.The presence of a horse and jockey, appropriately attired in blue-and-white Suffolk Downs silks, was meant to call attention not to another full-fledged revolution, but certainly to an ongoing rebirth.Inside the hotel, Suffolk Downs executives enthusiastically trumpeted the upcoming live racing season, which opens on May 3, the same day someone’s Kentucky Derby dream will come true 1,000 miles to the south.Opening day marks the beginning of year two of Suffolk’s new ownership group, headed by majority owner Richard Fields, who in a very short period of time has endeared himself to virtually every racetrack constituency, most notably horsemen and fans.Fields, a successful developer and longtime horseman, brought with him a proven track record and a can-do attitude. He immediately poured a few million dollars into capital improvements and insisted that all employees treat every patron like a Triple Crown champion. He and his team were rewarded with an unprecedented 22-percent increase in daily attendance for the live racing meet (2007 vs. 2006).”A 20-percent increase in attendance at a facility not tied into any other gaming (i.e., slots) is a tremendous accomplishment,” said Fields, who tactfully expressed his disappointment in the failure of the state legislature to approve Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino bill this year.”We’re very disappointed in the outcome of the casino legislation,” Fields said. “It puts Suffolk Downs at a tremendous disadvantage on a competitive level with all of the other racetracks that are tied to gaming facilities. It’s not an even playing field. I hope the debate will continue next year and the outcome will be different.”Suffolk Downs will run a 103-day meet from May to November. Live racing will be conducted on Wednesdays and Saturdays in May, and Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the remainder of the meet. First post will be 12:45, with a 3 p.m. twilight card on Fridays in June, July and August.The 66th Massachusetts Handicap, which was welcomed back last year by a passionate crowd of more than 19,000, will be run on Sept. 20. The MassCap has an added twist this year, with the winner automatically gaining a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.Management has increased purses by five percent and added five $50,000 stakes races, giving the local horsemen a chance to run for more money all around. The track will start a Community Winner’s Circle program in which local individuals and groups will be recognized for their commitment to worthy causes, with the track making a donation to their favorite charity. The 19th annual Hot Dog Safari, which raises money for cystic fibrosis research, and the Greater Boston Walk Now for Autism, which benefits Autism Speaks, will return, on June 1 and Oct. 19, respectively.”We are concentrating on three areas – improve the customer experience, improve the experience for horsemen and continue to be a good neighbor in the community,” said chief operating officer Chip Tuttle (St. John’s Prep ’81).Suffolk Downs chairman William Mulrow concisely and effectively explained why it is important for the 73-year-old track to not only survive, but thrive, citing the 1,800 employees, 500 horse owners in the state who stable horses there, $225 million in purse money distributed in the last 15 years and $25 million in capital improvements over the same period.”Suffolk Downs has a history of job creation and economic impact in the greater Boston area,” Mulrow said.Everyone associated with the track and rooting f

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