Saturday, September 27, 2014

Suffolk Downs, 1935 - 2014

Res Publica
Suffolk Downs, 1935 - 2014
By David Trumbull, September 19, 2014

"We are extraordinarily disappointed as this action is likely to cost the Commonwealth thousands of jobs, small business and family farms. We will be meeting with employees and horsemen over the next several days to talk about how we wind down racing operations as a 79-year legacy of thoroughbred racing in Massachusetts will be coming to an end, resulting in unemployment and uncertainty for many hard-working people." -- Chip Tuttle, Chief Operating Officer, Suffolk Downs.

Mary and I are so sad, remembering fun times at the track on Saturday afternoons. Friends would join us. Mary's father loved going to the track with us. On Kentucky Derby Day we'd dress in our finest -- with Mary taking special care to pick out a fabulous hat -- and bring along sugar and fresh mint to mix with the Bourbon we bought at the track -- voilà, hand-crafted mint juleps!

In the early 2000s I attended a small Anglican church that met in Cambridge in the Swedenborgian chapel across from Harvard Yard. Our priest, Bowen Woodruff, was also an unpaid chaplain to the jockeys at Suffolk Downs. The jockey's job is demanding and dangerous. Jockeys can be injured, even killed, in a race. Many are not locals, in fact many are natives of South America. They are engaged in a difficult occupation, thousands of miles from home and family. They move from track to track, following the racing season and seeking to advance their careers. They have little opportunity to attend regular church services. They truly appreciated having Fr. Woodruff hold a Bible study with them on Wednesdays at the track. On Saturdays several of us from the church would go to the track, accompanied by Fr. Woodruff in his clerical "dog collar." The arrangement was that he would bless our bets, with the understanding that we would tithe on the winnings. He never bet himself as he feared that people might mistake his familiarity with the jockeys for some sort of "inside information."

The closing of Suffolk is not just about the people who work at the track -- the jockeys, the workers at the restaurants and concession stands, and others. There are the trainers, and all the people who work at the farms -- often family farms -- where the horses are raised, and all the vendors who supply those farms and the track. If, as I hope, the voters of the Commonwealth approve casino gambling this November, some of those jobs will be retained at a new casino in Everett. But we will have lost one of the things that made Boston a wonderful city to live in. No longer can I, for the cost of a short Blue Line trip, sit outside on a perfect summer day, enjoy a hotdog and cold beer, while watching magnificent horses, loving cared for and trained, compete in one of the most thrilling sporting exhibitions.