Boston's storied horse track, and a way of life, enter final stretch

Sat Oct 4, 2014 8:08am EDT
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By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - Since high school, Lorita Lindemann has lived to the rhythm of horse racing - rising before dawn to tend her thoroughbred charges, cheering as they thunder down the track and working into the night to prepare them to compete again.

As Boston's 79-year-old Suffolk Downs prepares to close on Saturday, a victim of declining attendance and online gambling, Lindemann and hundreds of trainers, grooms and jockeys face losing not just their jobs but also a way of life.

"The horses need you 365 days a year. No holidays, no vacations," Lindemann, 40, said. "The horses keep you single."

Many of her friends who make their living in the cluster of stables around the one-mile (1.6-km) Depression-era track, where Seabiscuit made his debut in 1935, cling to hopes that the track can be saved.

An independent group, the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, on Wednesday made a last-gasp pitch to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to run Suffolk Downs next year. If the state rules in its favor by Nov. 15, the track could reopen.

Suffolk Downs' decline underscores the decades-long waning of interest in horse racing in the United States. With attendance at the track in decline since the 1990s, officials have cut the racing calendar by more than half, to 65 dates a year from about 150.

A few big tracks, such as Kentucky's Churchill Downs and New York's Belmont Park and Saratoga, attract the bulk of the fans and the bets.

Across the United States, betting from the ground at thoroughbred race tracks has dropped by more than half, to $1.19 billion in 2013, down from $2.94 billion in 1996, according to data from the Jockey Club, which collects racing statistics.   Continued...

Trainer Lorita Lindemann pats Palmer's Approach, a race horse, in a stable at Suffolk Downs horse racing track in Boston, Massachusetts  October 2, 2014.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder