Struggling East Boston racetrack Suffolk Downs, which announced Tuesday it would shutter its doors forever after losing its bid for a business-sustaining casino license, has offered to assist horse charity CANTER New England members with “whatever they need” to help 100 Thoroughbreds find new homes.
This includes opening up the backside Sept. 27 so that CANTER may hold an Open House for prospective horse buyers, helping to make it “as easy as possible” for people to leave with a horse, says CANTER board member Dawn Carey Kirlin. (More information on the Open House is expected to be released later today).
Meantime, both Kirlin and Rigolini, expressed deep regret that Suffolk Downs lost its bid for a casino license, and will close after more than 70 years. Both acknowledged the years of successful work re-homing Thoroughbreds would not have been possible without the track’s support of CANTER. “They were the first track in the country to have a no-slaughter policy,” Kirlin says, noting that the track was a pioneer in making that decision.
And that commitment did not end in the face of the dire news this week.
Suffolk Downs Vice President of Racing Sam Elliott pledged to Kim Rigolini of CANTER New England Tuesday night that finding homes or good situations for the horses would be a priority for the track, Rigolini says.
“Sam Elliott is on board to do whatever it is we need to do to make sure the horses end up in the right place,” Rigolini says. And, fellow CANTER board member Dawn Carey Kirlin echoed her statement.
Says Kirlin, “This is not a panic situation. The horses are not all of a sudden going to get dumped somewhere. These trainers are good trainers.”
Though there is no need to panic, the permanent closure of the historic sports venue does add intensity to the efforts to find new homes and foster barns, says Rigolini.
The full board of CANTER New England held a conference call last night to discuss options, and brainstorm. The date for the second Open House was established on Sept. 27 and other incentives to horse buyers, and plans were also made, Kirlin says.
“Our goal right now is to find a home for every single one of these horses on the backside,” Rigolini says. “And I have to add that in all the years I’ve been doing this, the listings I’ve taken are the best we’ve ever taken. We have some really good, quality Thoroughbreds for sale who just didn’t want to be racehorses.”
Dover Saddlery quickly stepped up and is putting together gift kits for people who purchase a horse from Suffolk Downs, she says, adding that support of this nature is greatly appreciated.
Sales stemming from the Sept. 7 Suffolk Showcase, which offered 58 ex-racehorses, have been good, Kirlin says. Horses who found new homes right away include License to Cary, Yankee Swap, Bugsy Lotsy, Think Tank, Everyotherdayhero, Johnny Fields, Uncle Eli and Last Lord. Rigolini adds that some 60 horses have sold, but that 100 others are offered on the CANTER New England Trainer Listing Site.
“That number could change by the week. Because of the decision to close, local trainers may want to cut strings” from a horse they would normally layup in the wintertime in preparation for spring racing, she says.
Lorita Lindeman, a longtime trainer and Thoroughbred advocate, adds that Michael Blowen of Old Friends Kentucky has already worked out an agreement with one trainer to make room for horses needing retirement, and is “doing as much as he can” to help.
Lindeman began working at Suffolk Downs after high school. Though she has worked in recent years at Belmont Park, she says Suffolk is home to many horsemen who have brought up their families in Massachusetts, and tended their horse farms here.
“Some of them own homes and don’t have the option to pick up and move,” she says.
So now horsemen will concentrate on helping their horses move on to a better situation. Says Kirlin,”We have a solid plan in place to continue to work to help these trainers transition their horses as quickly and effectively as possible.”