Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission announced that the historic racetrack Suffolk Downs will not be awarded the Boston-area casino license. (It will instead be awarded to a proposed Wynn casino in Everett.) As a result, the track’s owners and manager announced that it will be closing at the end of this season.
This news is nothing short of tragic. There truly is nowhere like Suffolk Downs, a fact that is apparent from the moment you pull into the parking lot and catch a glimpse of the track through the chain link fence. Once inside, you can take in the races from the glassed-in grandstand, the cavernous space beneath it (lined with betting windows on one side and silks of famous horses hanging from the ceiling), the more compact clubhouse, or the outdoor benches and picnic tables. There is something magical about being around horses, whether they are loading in the starting gate, racing down the track, exhaustedly coming to a stop afterwards, or whether they are just lead ponies casually trotting around. My first time at Suffolk Downs, I was surprised at how close-up visitors can get to the thoroughbreds. Anyone can go right up to the paddock fence to watch their favorites be saddled up and walked in circles by grooms pre-race. This is also the place where jockeys return to the locker room after races, chatting and joking with each other, congratulating each other after a good result, complaining or shrugging it off after a bad one. Some fans even yell out to their favorite jockeys, who acknowledge them with a smile and wave. Suffolk Downs is truly a blue-collar place, a type of place that is increasingly rare in this day and age but which the world desperately needs more of. I will miss the sight of gruff old racing fans poring over the Daily Racing Form, packing the benches in the clubhouse, swarming to the betting windows, and moving to the rail to urge on their favorite horses. I’ll miss hearing them yelling and swearing with Boston accents at the TVs showing simulcast races. I’ll miss the vaguely uneven cement floors covered in shreds of ripped-up losing tickets, and I’ll even miss the clouds of tobacco smoke in the air.
The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association is attempting to possibly lease the track and keep it alive. I hope against hope that they will succeed. If they do not, the land may be become a mixed-use development or possibly a new stadium for the New England Revolution. No matter what happens, this land, to me, is meant to be a horse track. If Suffolk Downs closes, Massachusetts will forever be an emptier place.
I visited Suffolk Downs this past Saturday, which could be one of its last ever days of racing. Below are some of the photos I took. If you have not had the privilege of visiting Suffolk Downs in person, I hope that these pictures are able to capture a fraction of what it’s like to experience this unique place.