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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Former Harness Racing Venue Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts is Closing

by Pete Lawrence

Former harness racing venue Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts apparently is closing up shop for good, says this report.

Better-known as a thoroughbred track dating back to the 1930s, Suffolk, located in the Boston area, played host to such running-horse stars as Seabiscuit, Whirlaway, Stymie, Riva Ridge, Dixieland Band, Skip Trial, Waquoit, Lost Code, Private Terms, Cigar and Skip Away, and jockeys like Eddie Arcaro, Jean Cruget, Eddie Maple, Ron Turcotte, Don MacBeth, Chris McCarron, Angel Cordero, Jacinto Vasquez, Jean-Luc Samyn, Craig Perret, Kent Desormeaux, Jerry Baily, John Velazquez, Gary Stevens and Edgar Prado.

Most of these luminaries appeared at Suffolk by way of its marquee race, the Massachusetts Handicap, which, by harness standards, was a free-for-all, a big one, during most of its existence.

Suffolk Downs also hosted harness racing from 1959-70, though I know a great deal less about the standardbred era there. Seems to me I do recall that Ted Wing, Jim Doherty and Bill O'Donnell - as well as the usual New England regulars like John Hogan, Art Nason, Bert Beckwith and Ken Heeney - raced there.

Joe O'Brien raced in New England when he first ventured down to the United States from his native Canada - as did Doherty and O'Donnell later - but that may have occurred before 1959. Seems to me Joe raced at Foxboro (aka, Bay State Raceway), another defunct Massachusetts harness track.

The Beatles played a concert at Suffolk Downs, as did Elvis Costello, Aerosmith and others.

Bill Veeck, the well-known (you might call him legendary) sports entrepreneur, was Suffolk Downs' president in 1969-70. By my math, that means he ran the place for at least one harness meet,. Those years were before my time in the sport, though not by much.

Veeck wrote a book about that experience - which I read a long time ago, though I don't remember much of what was in it - called "Thirty Tons a Day." It did stick with me that the title referred to the amount of horse manure which had to be removed every day from the barn area.

(That's probably one small reason - or maybe not so small - why fewer and fewer racetracks have stable areas anymore.)

Anyway, if this report is accurate, and Suffolk does cease to exist, you can add its name to the long list of former harness tracks I won't enumerate here, but the latest members of which include Windsor Raceway and Hollywood Park.

If I've misstated or missed anything important here - or if anyone wants to add any remembrances of Suffolk Downs - feel free to do so.

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