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Will Suffolk Downs host horse racing again?

A snow-covered Suffolk Downs.Nicolaus Czarnecki/Boston

Horse racing at Suffolk Downs this summer?

It could happen, according to both a representative of the historic track and a vice president of the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Jay Bernardini confirmed to the Metro that his organization had reached a letter of intent with Suffolk Downs and are currently negotiating with the track to lease the property, which was confirmed by a representative of Suffolk Downs, who added that if and when an agreement is reached, the track will not be commenting on the matter.

“This is a last ditch effort to get us a couple more years racing while Suffolk Downs decide what to do long term,” said Bernardini, a local horse trainer.

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The news comes months after what was widely considered to be a death knell for the historic 79-year-old track that straddles East Boston and Revere. Mohegan Sun had been pushing to have a resort casino at the location, but last fall the state Gaming Commission chose to award a license to Wynn Resorts’ Everett proposal.

The track had been bleeding revenue -- $47 million in losses between 2007 and 2014, according to State House News Service. Without a casino, the track operators indicated it was not financially viable. Conversations turned to how the 161-acre site could be developed for uses other than horse racing.

Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said at the time of the decision that it would mark the end of horsetrack racing in New England, adding that his team would be looking at ways to wind down the operation. He blasted the commission's decision as a job-killer.

But Lou Raffetto, the president of the New England Horsemen’s Agricultural and Racing Corporation – the entity that would run the races at the track – said both sides had been working on an agreement for several weeks that would see races return to Suffolk Downs for the next two years. He indicated the agreement would allow the track to be open without Suffolk Downs suffering losses.

Raffetto said the state’s Legislature would have to pass a bill that would allow Suffolk to simulcast races for a minimum of one day and a maximum of 50 per year. The proposal would also allow track-generated purse money – money that’s paid to horse owners -- to be used to fund administrative uses and operations.

Right now, state regulations prevent that from happening, he said. If Beacon Hill passes such a measure, it would be up to the Gaming Commission to determine how much money would be allotted for the purses and how much would be allotted for other uses.

Raffetto said this idea was only “ a stop gap measure.”

“The long term goal is to find another location in the state to put a boutique racetrack,” he said.

If everything goes perfectly for his group, Raffetto said there could be races at Suffolk Downs around the time of the Kentucky Derby, which runs in early May.

“We’re optimistic,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Gaming Commission did not return a call before deadline.

 
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