“And down the stretch they come!”
So go the five most famous words in thoroughbred racing.
When Suffolk Downs first opened their gates in East Boston in 1935, horse racing was known as the “King of Sports.” Along with baseball and boxing it produced the most characters (and most revenue) of any sport in America.
Over its colorful 84-year history many of the finest thoroughbreds to ever grace a track galloped over its cinder course.
The great Sea Biscuit won multiple races at Suffolk. War Admiral, Whirlaway, John Henry, Riva Ridge, Cigar, Skip Away, and Funny Cide -among many others- all famously competed there as well.
Although racing was always its core,the park also meant so much more to so many different people.
On August 8, 1942 Suffolk Downs donated $625,000 to the National WarFund. This contribution was America’s single largest donation to the war effort during WWII by any sports venue.
On August 18, 1966, The Beatles made the seventh stop of their final concert tour at Suffolk; playing before 25,000 screaming fans on the track’s infield.
At its peak, Suffolk Downs was one of the leading employment providers in the state of Massachusetts providing steady income for many Boston based families for many years.
The track would have its ups and downs. It twice closed and re-opened with hopes that it could turn the corner and bring back the glories of yesteryear.
The final Massachusetts Handicap, Suffolk Downs signature Stakes race (and a qualifier for the Breeder’s Cup Classic), was run in 2008. After that-although talks of casino partnerships and other revitalization projects persisted- you could sense the end was near.
And with that on June 30th, 2019 the historic race track opened its gates to the public for live racing one final afternoon.
I grew up playing the ponies. Some of my earliest memories are of accompanying my father to the track, being in awe of these magnificent athletes. On June 30th, my father, my brother and I added one more to the memory bank as went to bid farewell to Suffolk.
It was an afternoon of male bonding, typical of so many others that have happened at this great track over the last century between fathers and their sons.
We dissected our programs, placed our bets, and just missed on our “Pick Fours” and “Pick Six’s” for the day.
“You know we had five out of six on that ticket,”my father would say.
In the fifth race, I hit a big winner. The three of us watched the race from the rail along the finish line. As the horses crossed, I high fived my brother: “Got it!”
Moments later, Suffolk Downs VP of Marketing Jessica Paquette (a brilliant handicapper in her own right) invited us into the winners circle to take a picture.
As we left the Paddock to cash my ticket, we heard there was a jockey inquiry. My horse had just been taken down for a minor infraction. The symbolism was surreal: 84 years of highs and lows at Suffolk Downs signified in 84 seconds for me.
At roughly 6pm that evening thoroughbred horses would come thundering down the backstretch at Suffolk Downs one last time bringing closure to this historic Boston track and historic venue of the once mighty “King of Sports.”
For Suffolk Downs, the stretch run may now be over but the history and the memories made there will live on forever.
Matt Ribaudo is the Publisher and Owner of BostonMan Magazine. When he was just TWO DAYS young their was a horse named Favorite Son wearing #1 -and breaking from the FIRST post position- that ran on the FIRST race at old CharlesTown Race Track. Being the first son and child to his parents, Matt’s Uncle and Father knew this was an omen. Favorite Son won easily that day, and thoroughbred racing has been part of Matt and his father’s bond together ever since.