Scarborough Downs to halt dwell horse racing, ending 70-year run

Scarborough Downs to halt live horse racing, ending 70-year run

Trotters heat up earlier than time trials at Scarborough Downs in Could 1988. The racetrack, which opened in 1950, will finish dwell racing by the top of this month.  Press Herald File Photograph/John Patriquin

Scarborough Downs will maintain its final dwell harness racing occasion on Nov. 28, ending 70 years of horse racing at a struggling racetrack that had its heyday within the Seventies and ’80s.

Mike Sweeney, the observe’s publicist and race announcer, confirmed on Thursday the top of dwell racing on the observe. Scarborough Downs, which has been struggling monetary losses for almost 15 years, had confronted a tenuous future because the facility was offered in 2018 to a bunch of builders who’ve constructed across the observe for the final two years.

“It’s a mixture of issues,” Sweeney stated. “The overriding sense inside the business is that harness racing wants one thing totally different, one thing that Scarborough Downs can’t provide.”

Sweeney stated Scarborough Downs will proceed to supply simulcast betting via the remainder of the yr and can apply for a 2021 off-track betting license earlier than the Maine Harness Racing Fee on Friday. The simulcast operation will happen within the Clubhouse Constructing, which might be leased from the builders, the Risbara Brothers. In 2018, simulcast wagering accounted for 91 p.c of all cash wagered on the observe.

“We’ll be closing the season in per week,” Sweeney stated. “Truly, we’ll be closing out the 70-year historical past of Scarborough Downs. I’m happy with what we’ve been capable of accomplish this yr (in mild of the COVID-19 security protocols). Everybody needs it might have been a neater yr. However we did what we would have liked to do and can march out with our heads up excessive.”

Denise Terry, the vice chairman of finance at Scarborough Downs, declined to be interviewed for this story, Sweeney stated.

Scarborough Downs opened in 1950 with thoroughbred racing. Harness racing was launched within the Seventies, and the observe reached its heights within the Seventies and ’80s, when the 6,500-seat grandstand was packed on a nightly foundation. On June 29, 1980, a crowd of 9,133 confirmed as much as see actor Lou Ferrigno, who was available to signal autographs.

However attendance dwindled and the observe stopped charging admission within the Nineteen Nineties. After Scarborough Downs stopped evening racing in 2007 as a result of the sunshine posts needed to be eliminated after the hub rail was eliminated for security causes, the crowds thinned much more. The grandstand fell into disrepair and was ultimately closed to followers and your entire facility had a rundown look.

Its barns, which as soon as housed 300 horses, have been closed after which eliminated in 2016 after the U.S. Environmental Safety Company decided that seepage from horse manure had contaminated native groundwater.

The sphere rounds the ultimate flip in a race on April 13, 2019, at Scarborough Downs, which is able to maintain its final races this month. Scarborough Downs will proceed to supply simulcast betting via the remainder of the yr, and can apply for a 2021 off-track betting license. Ben McCanna/Workers Photographer

The dwell racing deal with suffered and the prize cash acquired smaller, forcing some Maine drivers to exit of state for greater purses.

After Scarborough Downs and the five hundred acres surrounding it have been offered to Crossroads Holdings LLC for almost $7 million in 2018, nobody was certain what would occur to the observe. However the builders leased the observe again to Terry and harness racing continued. And in 2018, Scarborough Downs reversed a pattern that noticed declining income every year from 2006 to 2017, bettering its 2018 revenues 8.5 p.c to simply below $2.3 million, with the rise fueled by simulcast betting.

Rocco “Roccy” Risbara of Crossroads Holdings didn’t return a telephone name searching for an interview for this story.

In line with studies from the Maine Harness Racing Fee, the amount of cash wagered on dwell racing from 2017 to 2019 at Scarborough Downs was comparatively steady. The overall deal with for dwell racing was $816,782 in 2017 over 82 days of racing and $810,254 in 2019 over 72 days of racing.

A a lot bigger sum of cash was wagered on simulcast races on the observe, through 363 days of off-track betting per yr, averaging almost $7.8 million {dollars} per yr, with a excessive of $8.46 million in 2018.

Nonetheless, the event persevering with across the racetrack made it clear that the venue was on borrowed time.

Within the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties, Scarborough Downs routinely had bustling crowds. Patrons are proven within the decrease grandstand space in June 1971. Press Herald file picture

“We simply appreciated the truth that the brand new house owners allow us to have us of facility so long as doable to make sure the business might get on safe footing, the place we will go on from right here,” stated Mike Cushing, director of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Affiliation. “For that we’re grateful.”

Members of the harness racing neighborhood stated the closing of Scarborough Downs might result in a brighter future for the harness racing business, mentioning that an unspecified group has begun plans to construct a harness racing facility elsewhere in southern Maine, an necessary a part of the state for harness racing due to its inhabitants base.

“I believe this implies a brand new starting for harness racing in Maine,” Cushing stated.

Henry Jennings, director of the Maine Harness Racing Fee, added {that a} new facility might carry new blood to an business that has an growing old fan base.

“This implies we have to adapt and give you a brand new path going ahead,” Jennings stated. “You want a contemporary facility. (Scarborough Downs) was a bit outdated. And I believe a contemporary facility that has upscale meals and beverage service and upscale lodging could be big. We’re fairly enthusiastic about that prospect, however we’ve acquired to ensure it occurs.

“We want to have the ability to enchantment to a youthful demographic and I believe we will with a extra fashionable facility.”

The dilapidated grandstand at Scarborough Downs, seen on Sept. 20, 2018. Within the Seventies and ’80s, the 6,500-seat grandstand was packed on a nightly foundation. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Workers Photographer

The place or when a brand new facility could be constructed is unclear. That’s why the Maine Harness Racing Fee is delaying awarding dates for the 2021 season, Jennings stated. If a brand new observe may be obtainable, its house owners might apply for dates. In any other case, Jennings stated, the fee has already spoken to officers at Bangor Raceway – the state’s solely different harness racing observe – about taking over extra dates in 2021.

Sweeney stated Scarborough Downs did remarkably effectively this yr contemplating the restrictions introduced on by the pandemic. As soon as the observe was capable of permit followers again in for dwell racing, individuals have been usually ready to get in due to gathering restrictions set by the state, Sweeney stated.

“There was a fantastic demand for our product,” he stated. “Loads of it needed to do with individuals searching for one thing to do exterior. ”

The closing of Scarborough Downs will go away solely two harness racing tracks in New England: Bangor and Plainridge Park in southeastern Massachusetts.

Rick Simonds says curiosity in horse racing usually and harness racing specifically has been declining throughout the nation.

Higher often known as the previous males’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s School and a member of the Maine Basketball Corridor of Fame, Simonds has had a lifelong love affair with harness racing, from his time going to the observe together with his father to working at Scarborough Downs in lots of roles, together with mucking out stalls and proudly owning 9 race horses over a number of years. Not a horse proprietor, Simonds has an intensive stash of harness racing memorabilia and wrote columns and have tales for harness racing magazines.

Owen Woods of Portland watches a financial institution of televisions at Scarborough Downs simulcasting horse races from across the nation in April 2019. In 2018, simulcast wagering accounted for 91 p.c of all cash wagered on the observe.  Ben McCanna/Workers Photographer

“On two totally different events the state of Maine was one of many premier harness racing places on the planet, within the early 1900s after which again within the Nineteen Forties when the perfect horses on the planet raced on the kite (formed) observe at Outdated Orchard Seaside,” Simonds stated. “Is it declining? The numbers say that. No query when it comes to wagering and race dates and other people concerned, however to these individuals concerned, boy, it’s important.”

Simonds stated he had heard that this could be Scarborough Downs’ last session.

“I hate to see it,” he stated. “No query about it, it’s a tragic day. It’s robust as a result of it introduced a lot happiness and so many reminiscences to so many individuals.”

Workers Author Steve Craig contributed to this story.

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