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O’Donnell Reflects On Suffolk Downs

Published: October 7, 2014 3:18 pm ET

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Unless something changes in the near future, New England’s historic Suffolk Downs has held its last live horse race.

The great Seabiscuit thundered to victory over Suffolk’s racecourse. The raceway, which opened in 1935, also saw The Beatles perform in front of 25,000 fans. Although it was generally known as a Thoroughbred raceway, Suffolk also hosted meets of live Standardbred racing years ago, some of which are fondly remembered by ‘The Magic Man’ Bill O’Donnell.

"It was a very good meet,” O’Donnell has told Trot Insider. “Back in those days they always had a good crowd and strong betting. Once Foxboro was done, we'd move there in the fall."

O’Donnell explained that Standardbreds raced on the track’s one-mile course at one point, but a half-mile course was introduced later. "They raced on the mile track and then they built the half-mile for harness racing,” said O’Donnell. “We'd still use the stretch of the Thoroughbred track."

"We had lots of good racing,” O’Donnell added. “Guys like Buddy Gilmour, Benoit Cote, Duncan MacTavish and Herve Filion would all go down there to race.”

Suffolk Downs’ operator has announced that the track will cease to host any more live horse racing due to not landing a casino gambling license, which has been awarded to Wynn Resorts.

In a special piece for The Boston Globe, journalist Michael Gee attended what may be the last program of live racing at Suffolk Downs. He took the trip to the track with his 29-year-old son and one of his lad’s friends.

Cornelius, a Bruins fan of note, was the third member of our party. He’s roughly my son’s age. He had never been to a horse race. He didn’t know how to read a program or the Daily Racing Form, at first anyway. But before the nine-race card was half over, Cornelius cashed a big ticket, hitting an exacta that paid $97.20 for a two dollar bet. And he was hooked. By the seventh race, Cornelius had hit another exacta, was deep into exotic wagering, and observed, “maybe it’s a good thing for me this place is closing. I can see how this could get serious.”

Gee went on to write that ‘Young adults with steady jobs and disposable income are the Holy Grail of American marketing. Last Saturday afternoon demonstrated that horse racing can indeed be sold to them. The trick, which Suffolk never mastered, is how to get them in the door.’

Gee went on to state that new, young patrons to Suffolk ‘typify both the dilemma and opportunity of the horse racing business. Racing is neither wholly a sport nor wholly a form of gambling. It’s both at once, each of which can be enjoyed for its own sake or together as one experience.’

(With files from The Boston Globe)

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