Goodbye Suffolk Downs

Suffolk Downs (at least this version of it) is closing tomorrow. There’s still some hope that another version of it will come along in the future. But for now, it’s closing, and the future is uncertain.

It’s still hard to wrap my mind around it, really. I still have all the feelings about it, and I still can’t put most of them into words. I wanted to write about the loss of history, of how I hate to see people near and dear to me lose their livelihoods, about how I feel like my loss is minimal compared to what so many people are dealing with, about how angry I am for so many reasons, about all of the complicated things that got it to this point—because there are many.

But maybe it’s just better to say goodbye. I came to the backstretch of Suffolk Downs in the spring of 2007 as a volunteer helping race horses find new homes. I had moved to Boston from New Jersey in 2006 to work at Harvard Medical School, and in that transition gave up the horse I was basically free leasing—it was the first time since I started riding horses in 1988 that I was away from them. I was eager—no, I had—to be around horses again, and if I could do that while helping them retire then it was a win-win in my eyes.

Luckily for me, I found much more than just an opportunity to be around and help horses. I missed more than my life with horses—I missed where I grew up, a community of people with shared experiences and general view on life that you lose when you move to a city. I missed the characters, people with funny nicknames and crazy (often inappropriate) stories to tell. I didn’t expect it, but entering that backstretch was like a breath of fresh air for someone who grew up in a commercial fishing town and had spent a year in the rarefied world of a higher ed development office. Here were people who worked hard for a living, people like the people I grew up with. Here was a little town with all its drama, living a way of life that wasn’t typical or even understood by all the people I worked with at HMS. I found a piece of what felt familiar, a piece of home in Boston, and because of that I fell head over heels for the place.

Suffolk Downs helped renew my love of horse racing. Suffolk Downs exposed me to a cause and a movement that is so important to me—Thoroughbred retirement. Being at Suffolk Downs led me to seek out more information about the industry, to become part of an awesome, crazy community of racing fans and writers and trainers and everything in between.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make an impact on the industry in a meaningful way, but I’m proud to be able to say that if I ever do, it will be largely because Suffolk Downs opened up the doors to me caring about it so much—more than I ever had before.

Because of Suffolk Downs I have some of the dearest friendships of my life. Because of Suffolk Downs I have a horse again. I literally can’t imagine the past seven years in this city or what my life would look like now if it hadn’t been a part of my Boston experience. So most of all, when I say goodbye, I say thank you to the place and the people and the horses. Thank you for welcoming me and accepting me as part of the family. Thank you for everything.

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