JC / Railbird

Suffolk Scene

Winter weekdays don’t draw crowds to Suffolk Downs. A stalwart gang of regulars mill around the first floor clubhouse. The solitary and serious settle upstairs where the air has the heavy, warm stillness of a reading room and conversations in the terrace dining room seem murmured, words swallowed by the emptiness of the open grandstand.

If the loss of popular simulcasting signals from New York and Florida dented attendance at the track this afternoon, it wasn’t immediately obvious. But there was something missing, a lack of energy, the usual rise and fall of excited chatter as races went off. “Why isn’t there racing from Gulfstream?” asked a frustrated fan, standing in front of TVs that showed Laurel, Freehold, and Monticello, the three tracks then available for betting.

A mutuel clerk leaned against a counter before which no customers were lined up. She said to no one, “Isn’t it going to get busy here?”

After the finish was made official in the third from Laurel, a man standing next to me said, “I had the tri!” He showed the ticket, the 4-5 favorite keyed on top, for a payoff of $51.20. “That’s the first time I played Laurel,” said the man, who told me his name was Danny. I asked him what he usually bet. “I like Aqueduct. I like Tampa. But I can’t play them today, can I?” I asked him what he knew of the dispute between Suffolk Downs and the horsemen. “Listen, I don’t pay any attention to that stuff. It takes two to fight, right?”

I asked the same question to another fellow, who declined to give his name, saying that he had owned horses in partnership at Suffolk and wanted to do so again. “It’s the HBPA, it’s part of negotiating,” he said. I asked if he agreed with the tactic of blocking signals. “No,” he replied angrily. “This leadership was never elected,” he said, referring to the NEHBPA board elections canceled last November. “They don’t speak for most of the owners and trainers.”

While watching a harness race from Monticello, I talked to a man named Bill. “I’m a thoroughbred guy,” he said. “But I’m here for half an hour, and this is what’s on, so I’m betting it.” The horses came in 3-2-4. Bill had lost the race. “I think I’ll go to Rockingham on Saturday,” he said.