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After the finish line, Suffolk helps give horses a happy ending

EAST BOSTON – Suffolk Downs may not lead the country in purse money or graded stakes races, but the racetrack prides itself on being an industry leader in providing for the lifetime care of thoroughbreds once their careers end.For the last several years, Suffolk has been at the forefront of both anti-slaughter and Thoroughbred retirement efforts, working on the latter with the Communication Alliance to Network Ex-Racehorses (CANTER) and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF).The track made national news in 2008 when it became the first in the country to institute a strict anti-slaughter policy for owners and trainers with horses on the grounds. Since then, virtually every other major track has adopted a similar policy.Simply put, if a horse from the Suffolk Downs barn area ends up at a slaughter facility, the owner and/or trainer is no longer welcome at the track.”We wanted to make sure horses that raced at Suffolk met a better fate at the end of their racing careers,” said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk’s COO. “Richard Fields made this a priority when he bought the track in 2007.”Sam Elliott, vice president of racing has bought back horses at auction that were headed to slaughter facilities.In addition to being a pioneer in the anti-slaughter movement, Suffolk Downs has also played a leading role in Thoroughbred retirement efforts. In 2009, the track, in conjunction with the TRF and with the support of the Fields Family Foundation, established a home for retired racehorses at the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Farm in Plymouth. Inmates from the Plymouth County Correctional Facility care for the horses as part of the jail’s vocational program.Suffolk is also a staunch supporter of CANTER, which provides a vehicle for the public to preview horses that, with their careers coming to an end, are available for purchase at a very reasonable price.”Suffolk Downs has had a significant impact around the country with the no-tolerance policy for slaughter,” said Ellen o’Brien, CANTER New England executive director. “These horses deserve a good retirement, but it takes resources.”In addition to receiving financial support from Suffolk, CANTER annually holds a showcase on the backstretch in which horses that are going to be retired at the end of the racing meet in early November are paraded for prospective new owners. O’Brien said that as many as 50 horses find a new home within a few weeks after the event.This year’s CANTER New England Suffolk Showcase will be held on Oct. 23 from 9 a.m. to noon.Suffolk management and staff have also put their money where their mouth is when it comes to finding homes for retired racehorses. Fields has adopted several horses and retired them to his family’s ranch. This past July, Tuttle purchased I Testify, an 11-year-old gelding who had made 126 starts at more than a dozen tracks, including 60 at Suffolk Downs. The horse has been retrained and now happily resides at Pine Tree Equestrian Center in Beverly, where Tuttle’s daughter, Annie, has ridden him under saddle.Jessica Paquette, racing analyst at Suffolk Downs, has a similar story. From the first time she saw What a Trippi run at Suffolk in 2007, Paquette decided she must have him when he was retired. She made her intentions known to the trainer, George Saccardo, but he lost the horse to a claim at Aqueduct in 2009.Undaunted, Paquette contacted the new trainer, Mike Lecesse, who subsequently ran the horse primarily at Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Every time the horse ran, Paquette would e-mail Lecesse to remind him she wanted him when his career was over. On closing day at Suffolk Downs last year, Paquette received the text message she had been waiting for: What a Trippi was all hers.What a Trippi is living out his retirement at a farm in Maine owned by Paquette’s best friend. She visits him at least bi-weekly. And why was she so determined to own this horse?”That’s usually how it goes with the one you fall in love with,” she said.

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