Thursday, October 23, 2008

Suffolk Downs

Given the state of the economy, one of the safest investment choices might be to put your hard-earned money into the ponies. If you want to take your chances at the racetrack and put a few sawbucks down on the horses, head to Suffolk Downs. And even if you're not a gambler, Boston sports fans will be hard-pressed to beat the $2 admission price for a day at the races.
Suffolk Downs first opened its doors in 1935, right in the midst of the Great Depression. Horse racing was hugely popular back then, but these days the track is more sparsely populated. (Although if attendance trends at the track are inversely related to the Dow Jones average, get ready for an equine renaissance.) Horse racing may still be the sport of kings, but the crowd at Suffolk Downs is decidedly proletariat. The dress code is certainly not on par with Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs; you'll find more windbreakers than fancy hats. 

If you do want to bet on the races, buy a track program to get all the information you need (split times, prior results, handicapper picks, etc.) to make an educated bet or, just go ahead and bet on that horse with the name you like and use the program as a prop to slap on your thigh as you urge on your steed as he lumbers down the stretch to a last-place finish. You can also tear out a list of entries and starting odds from the morning paper and bring it with you if you don't want to spring for the program. (Bring a pair of binoculars to so you can watch the horses on the back stretch.)

You can place your bets at any of the betting windows or you can use one of the self-service betting machines. Under state law, there are no ATMs inside Suffolk Downs, so it's kind of a change to be able to put your money into a machine but not be able to take any money out of one.  

Inside the grandstand of Suffolk Downs, banners with racing silks of famous horses hang like retired numbers from the rafters. It's a neat historical touch, and outside of the clubhouse entrance is a small monument to Seabiscuit, that famous racer from the 1930s who was discovered by trainer Tom Smith at Suffolk Downs in 1936. Next to the monument is a statue of Seabiscuit's jockey Red Pollard that looks like one of those old lawn jockeys. 
Suffolk Downs has an enclosed, indoor grandstand and plenty of benches and picnic tables outside as well. If you have kids, there is a small playground outside (which remarkably doesn't have any toy ponies to ride) that is well away from the standing area where many of the cigar- and cigarette-smoking patrons come out to watch the races. If you're hungry, there are concession stands on the first floor, and there is a sports bar on the second floor along with the Terrace restaurant, which has seats that sort of look like the Green Monster seats with their tiers of rows looking out on the track. The Terrace serves entrees, sandwiches, burgers. 

Suffolk Downs has simulcast racing so you can bet on the action on other tracks throughout the country. There is a teletheater on the second floor that has a bank of big-screen televisions and there are small televisions at each seat. Most seats are filled with an older men, their rumpled hats, crumpled newspapers, and worn racing forms spread on the tabletops around their elbows. 

The 2008 racing season is heading down the stretch and concludes November 8. 

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