Live racing could return to Massachusetts in 2023

Live racing could return to Massachusetts in 2023

After enduring years of crushing disappointment seeing as many as 10 proposals to build a new racetrack in Massachusetts fall apart, equestrians across the state are confident that live Thoroughbred racing will finally be restored.

“We are working on the application for live race dates in 2023 and will submit it to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in about 10-12 days. We are very excited. Riders are excited. Breeders are excited. Everyone is “We are now developing a five-year race plan for the commission,” said Richard Fields, the former owner of the late Suffolk Downs and director of the Commonwealth Equine and Agricultural Center with longtime breeder and owner Armand Janjigian. and his wife, Robin Kalaidjian.

“Here’s the good news. We’re planning on racing next fall and it’s pretty exciting. It’s going to be awesome,” Fields said.

The five-member gaming commission said at a September 15 meeting that it looks forward to receiving the request. Ironically, it was in September 2014 that the MGC, which then consisted of five different members, chose to award the Boston area’s single casino license to Wynn Resorts instead of Suffolk Downs and its partner. At that time, Fields and its partners determined that it was not economically feasible to continue to hold full live fixtures at the existing track.

“It’s been one disappointment after another. Everyone deserves to have held on, maybe their fingertips. There have been a lot of disappointments. This project is now underway and that’s what matters . You have to stay with those things. You can ‘You have to keep moving away and eventually all the stars are aligning. I think they are now,” Fields said.

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Fields and his partners are in the process of purchasing the bucolic 360-acre Great Meadow Farm, which has been a working farm for generations in the town of Hardwick, central Massachusetts, and is protected farm property by the law. Fields said the purchase price can’t be disclosed at this time and the new track doesn’t even have a name yet, but the project is gaining momentum daily.

The last full Thoroughbred meeting at Suffolk Downs was in 2014 and from 2015 to 2019 the track was only the site of Festival Racing for a few days a year. In late July, the state legislature passed a sports betting bill, which reserves a mobile and retail license for a new thoroughbred racetrack, and that made all the difference.

“We are rejuvenating racing and breeding in the Commonwealth with the passage of the Sports Betting Bill,” Fields said. “All of this is only possible because the Commonwealth has embraced sports betting and the revenue that will come from this project will help fund it. That’s an important part of it.”

Most of the other racetrack development proposals that never came to fruition over the years were largely due to resistance from local townspeople. Fields and Kalaidjian attended a meeting of Hardwick’s planning board and councilors on September 13 and came away heartened by the warm welcome they received.

“I found the meeting wonderful. The city is beautiful. The people are wonderful and they are very supportive. They asked good questions and there seems to be a general feeling of goodwill and support in the community,” said Fields said. “We spent time there. What I love about this community is that it’s a right-to-farm community and I feel like it’s my home. It’s a perfect location for us as it is both an agricultural and equine project.. It fits in perfectly with the community.I am so thrilled and couldn’t be happier.

Plans are for all turf racing over a one-mile course and to start, with four days of live festival racing in September 2023 taking place over two weekends. Initially, the scholarships are expected to average $750,000 per day and will be funded by the state’s $25 million Race Horse Development Fund escrow from the MGC. Since, by state law, the RHDF is funded by a percentage of revenue from the state’s gaming industry, that $25 million total will increase even further next year.

The town of Hardwick should also benefit.

Photo: Chip Bott

Richard Fields

“There’s a substantial amount of money that’s going to go to the city that we think will probably equal about 8% of the city’s annual budget. That’s a big chunk,” Fields explained.

In addition, there are new jobs to be created. Although there are only live races during these few days, the equine aspects of the project include training, breeding and a retirement home for Thoroughbreds. Later, a bed and breakfast and a farm-to-table restaurant with all local products will be added.

“It’s the full cycle of the equine world. But it’s not just a racetrack. There’s a big agricultural component. It’s an agricultural, culinary, and equine project,” Fields said. “It’s great for the city and it fits into the environment of the city. It’s going to create 25 to 50 full-time jobs right away and when we have the festivals there will be over 100 full-time jobs. There will also be many ancillary jobs spread across the Commonwealth, as well as income from the city. Festivals will come and go, but the rest of the operation proper will remain.

Longtime racing executive Lou Raffetto will serve as general manager of the racing side of the business. Fields said the $25 million plus from the Race Horse Development Fund will allow Raffetto to create cards that will be competitive across the industry. The New England HBPA has already signed a scholarship agreement with the directors.

“With legislation, selecting the right community, having the right plan and the right team in place, I think this is a new era and we’re all looking forward to it,” Fields said.

What is also cause for optimism is that with all its components, this project is unlike any other racetrack.

“It’s going to be a spectacular project. You’re looking at something holistic and unique. It’s not just about coming to a race. It’s about coming to a very special place and enjoying that spectacular setting. “It’s not just a racetrack. It’s an equine experience. There’s no way to describe how special this place is. I fell in love with this place. It’s heaven on earth” , Fields said.

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