Learn things about Suffolk Downs that you won't read anywhere else. Various racing personalities, including jockeys, trainers, track handicappers and others contribute on a regular basis.

Breeders' Cup 2014 - Saturday

October 30, 2014 | Jessica Paquette

From top to bottom, this year’s Breeders' Cup is a super card. There is some real value to be had, particularly on Saturday, and handicapping these races has been an interesting, challenging task. Read on for my selections for Saturday’s star-studded card.

Juvenile Fillies

This may be one of my most lukewarm opinions of the day. Angela Renee seems logical – she has a win over this track and at this distance. She has not been the most consistent, nor has she been all that impressive in her recent workouts, however. I was impressed by Cristina’s Journey in her most recent workout at Santa Anita. (TVG's The Works is a must-watch leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, by the way.) She finished very strongly and seemed to get over the track extremely well. I’m also using Feathered and Conquest Eclipse as I think both fillies can move forward off of their last races,

Filly and Mare Turf

I like Dank (GB), I really do. I do not, however, think she is the same horse that won this race last year. She has taken a completely different path this year and after last year’s route worked so well, why change it? No question, she caught a remarkable field in the Prince of Wales (G1) last time out – The Fugue, Treve, Magician – but she did not really hold her own and has been on the shelf since June. It is asking a lot and I am leaving her off my tickets. Emollient is a horse who may offer some value. She does seem to really like Santa Anita’s hard, fast turf course and the blinkers on made a huge difference last time out. She is not consistent, but at 12-1 she is a contender. I’m also using the in-form Just the Judge and longshot Abaco who should get some pace to run into.

Filly and Mare Sprint

This is another race where my opinion has been swayed by getting the opportunity to watch some final workouts. Stonetastic looked like a monster in her October 25 bullet at Santa Anita. She has been keeping good company all year, is relatively consistent and interesting at somewhat of a price. Leigh Court could very well be the final horse in the Melnyk silks we see in the Breeders’ Cup and it would be fitting for them to go out with a victory. She showed a new dimension last time out and that versatility makes her very dangerous. I also think Judy the Beauty , the runner-up last year, looks very formidable.

Turf Sprint

Before the draw and the odds came out, I really liked No Nay Never . With the outside draw, a short price and the fact he is unproven over Santa Anita’s downhill course, I am looking elsewhere though I do still think he is a contender . Reneesgotzip has been second and third in the last two editions of this race and while she has never won on the turf, she has proven she can be competitive and seems to be in solid form this year. I’m intrigued by Bobby’s Kitten cutting back to a sprint. He held his own against top class older horses going a mile last time out and is extremely talented. I’m hoping Za Approval draws in but it is not looking likely.


The Great War is looking like a big longshot but I think he is a really interesting horse here. He was purchased for $1 million as a yearling and with his heavily dirt-influenced pedigree, there is a chance he moves up significantly on the surface switch. He has been very competitive overseas and could surprise here, like Vale of York several years back. I also loved Carpe Diem in his win at Keeneland and think this colt has all the makings of a legitimate Kentucky Derby horse. For me, those are my two top horses in this race and will throw in Lucky Player to round out my trifecta.


The scratch of Magician has made this race a significantly more wide open race. While, as always, the European contingent should be respected, I am giving my edge to the United States representative, Main Sequence . Though the gelding has not won by big margins, he is a perfect three for three since coming stateside and has been able to significantly improve off of his international form. He has a sharp turn of foot has shown himself to be a resilient, game competitor. Flintshire (GB), was second to the brilliant Treve in the Arc last time out. The Arc to Breeders’ Cup turnaround is extremely demanding and with the travel, it is a lot to ask. If he fires, however, he should be tough. Telescope (IRE) is interesting but the question will be with him whether or not he takes to the very firm Santa Anita turf.


I cannot stress enough how much I loved Fast Anna in his final workout. It was remarkably fast but what was most impressive was how easily he did it. No question he handles Santa Anita’s main track. This colt is seriously talented and for those of you looking for a local connection, he is trained by Kathy Ritvo. Working five furlongs in :57 flat is very fast and the only question is whether or not that took too much out of him. I don’t think it did – I’m all in on him. Watching Indianapolis work with his stablemate Secret Circle served in doing two things – it made me like Indianapolis and confirmed my thoughts that Secret Circle has lost a step this year. I also really like Rich Tapestry who looked very, very strong on the track and has the running style to really work well here. 


Without two-time champion Wise Dan, the Mile has become a very different race. Toronado (IRE) looms as a very legitimate favorite and has been in excellent form against top international company. The only question for me with him is whether he is at his best on a truly firm turf course or not. Anodin (IRE) has some big horse shoes to fill. He is the little brother of three-time Mile champion Goldikova. Though at this point he does not appear to be the horse his sister was, he is a legitimate contender in his own right. I wanted to like Seek Again but for a horse with known issues racing outside of horses, the twelve post is not ideal. That being said, he still is a serious talent and maybe the strongest of the stateside based contenders.


Since I saw him in person at Saratoga this summer, I have maintained that Cigar Street is the Classic winner. Though he has been plagued by injuries throughout his brief career, this horse is the real-deal talent wise. There is a lot to like about him – he is making his third start off of an extended layoff and should be poised for a peak effort. Also, Bill Mott. Mott is not the kind of trainer to run a horse solely for the sake of having a horse in a big race – if the horse is in the starting gate, they have a chance. My strongest pick of the Breeders’ Cup. My other selection here is more of a longshot - Footbridge . I’ve been high on this colt since his maiden win and while he has not quite liven up to the potential, his recent races have been encouraging and he is proven at Santa Anita. He doesn’t seem to like to win but could certainly get a piece of the action. Rounding out my exotics with Tonalist and California Chrome .

Good luck!

Breeders' Cup 2014 - Friday

October 29, 2014 | Jessica Paquette, Racing Analyst

The Breeders’ Cup is the equivalent of Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Without question, it is my favorite racing event of the year and this year is no exception. Even with some pretty major defections (Wise Dan, Beholder, American Pharaoh, the entire older male division), the races have shaped up to be extremely competitive and there is some real value to be had. Let’s take a loon at Friday’s races.

Juvenile Turf

Hootenanny figures to be the favorite here and it is difficult to knock his impressive record. He has competed in three separate countries, four different racetracks and run well on turf, dirt and synthetics. The only thing he has not done is win going two-turns and may have some distance limitations. In a race that has been dominated by international horses, I am looking to Juddmonte’s homebred Commemorative (GB) . With his running style, if he breaks well and takes to the firm turf, he may be a big gate to wire threat. The hard-knocking and experienced War Envoy seems like a logical contender for Aiden O’Brien and while he has never won a stakes race, he has been keeping top company. Imperia is exceptionally well-bred and is out of multiple Grade 1 winner and Chilean Horse of the Year Cocoa Beach. He broke his maiden pretty impressively in the Pilgrim (G3) and the only concern is a mile may actually be too short for him.

Dirt Mile

While the Breeders’ Cup is a great place to find some big longshots, there are certain races where the favorite just looks too formidable. This is one of them. If I’m playing a multi-race wager, Goldencents is a strong single for me. He was narrowly defeated by Rich Tapestry (who I think is a top threat in the Sprint on Saturday) last time out and has been training sharply. In addition, he draws the rail and just looks too tough here. I like the hard-knocking veterans Pants on Fire and Golden Ticket in the exotics but don’t think the reigning winner is getting dethroned here.

Juvenile Fillies Turf

It is a good thing I am using Goldencents as a single because this is a race where I like several longshots and may have to go a little bit deeper into a multi-race wager ticket. I’m fascinated by Sivoliere (IRE) who is making her stateside debut for Chad Brown. More notably, she will have Gary Stevens aboard after a rapid comeback from knee surgery. It is the Stevens angle I really like here – there is no one better on a big day and her international form is good enough to make her interesting. I also like Lady Zuzu because really, what would the Breeders’ Cup be without D. Wayne Lukas winning a two-year-old race? If you overlook the Spinaway (G1) where she clearly did not belong, her form is pretty good and she is a ridiculously well-bred half-sister to Optimizer. Sunset Glow looms as the favorite and rightfully so after winning on turf and synthetics. I also like Raihna Da Bateria after an impressive win in the Jessamine Stakes (G3) at Keeneland.


Close Hatches is tabbed as the second choice in the morning line and could really offer some value if Untapable gets all of the attention. While her race in the Spinster (G1) was disappointing, everyone is allowed a bad day and her overall body of work is way too good. She has been a powerhouse all year and if her recent bullet at Belmont is any indication, she is ready to run big. Untapable is a horse that for some reason, I just don’t like. She has been very dominant against three-year-old fillies this year but has yet to prove she can run against older horses. At a short price, I’m looking elsewhere. Tiz Midnight I do think is an interesting potential longshot. She was a good second to Beholder in her first try against graded stakes competition and while she will have some pressure out front, she could surprise.

Good luck everyone! 

Introducing Roimes Chirinos

June 2, 2014 | Dino DiFronzo

Roimes Chirinos may be new to Suffolk Downs this season, but he is no stranger to being one of the world's most promising jockeys.

Chirinos, a 31 year old Venezualan native, has been riding for fourteen years and has a very impressive track record in that time. Riding in his home country of Venezuaela, he won the Venezuelan Triple Crown not once, not twice, but three times! He has also proven himself greatly in the United States. In one of the most impressive jockey performances in recent memory, Chirinos won an astonishing six races in one day riding at Retama Park in Texas!

Sincle riding at Suffolk Downs the last few weeks Chirinos continues to be dominant. He has an impressive record and has won a perfect 4 out of 4 for trainer Juan Pablo Silva. Keep your eyes open for Roimes Chirinos!    

Kentucky Derby

May 2, 2014 | Jessica Paquette

Kentucky Derby Day has arrived and with it, we will start our 2014 live racing season. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my favorite horses in the entries for the opening day feature – Glowing Promise. The best part of the racing season starting up again is seeing so many familiar faces, both human and equine. I’m looking forward to the start of a great season.

Now, on to the Kentucky Derby.

It is tough to get past California Chrome . Though I am an unabashed East Coast elitist and am hard wired to bet against West Coast-based horses, I think this colt is the real deal. As one by one the top Derby contenders fell to the wayside with injury, he has emerged as the most consistent of the bunch and has passed every test with flying colors.

His greatest test is going to be whether or not he can be effective over Churchill Downs, away from his home track out west. The surface has proved particularly difficult for some and has been the one blemish on the otherwise impressive careers of some of racing’s start. His other issue may be coming out of the gate – he has a tendency to break poorly and cannot afford that kind of costly mistake here.

Samraat has won me over. The gutsy New York bred may have lost the Wood Memorial but it was a game performance and he may be able to move forward after passing the gut check.

While he may have some distance limitations and is not helped by his resistance to switch leads in the stretch. He will need to run the race of his life to win here but has proven he is as tough as anyone here and will put in an honest effort.

If you’re looking for consistency, Ride on Curlin could offer some value. Though he has never won a stakes race nor has he won going past six furlongs, he is bred to handle the distance and has been routinely holding his own against respectable company.

He may not be the type of horse who actually wants to win, but he seems like a very logical horse to use in exotics and will certainly be picking up the pieces at the end.

Todd Pletcher, as always, will send out an arsenal in pursuit of his second Kentucky Derby victory. The strongest of the four may be Intense Holiday . Though his runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby was ugly – he cross fired throughout the stretch and nearly crashed into the rail – he is no doubt talented and if he can run professionally he should be a contender.

Good luck everyone and enjoy the Run for the Roses!

Kentucky Oaks

April 29, 2014 | Jessica Paquette

After a long, cold winter, the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby are finally here to bring spring – and the start of our live racing season – with them. Live racing begins on Saturday along with Boston’s Biggest and Best Kentucky Derby Party and I cannot think of a better way to spend Derby Day.

Before we turn our attention to the Run for the Roses, the fillies will take center stage on Friday in the Kentucky Oaks.

Untappable is the obvious top contender. The Steve Asmussen-trained filly is a perfect two-for-two on the year and has one major advantage – she is also undefeated from two starts at Churchill Downs. Her lone real career blemish came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in what was her only start without Lasix. 

One filly who could potentially offer more value than the heavy favorite Utapable is Unbridled Forever . Though her dam, Lemons Forever, was not a model of consistency, she did win the one that mattered – the Kentucky Oaks. This filly will try to follow in her mother’s hoofsteps. She did get dusted by Untapable in the Fair Grounds Oaks in her final prep, but she does handle Churchill well and could have upset potential.

My Miss Sophia may lack experience with only three career starts under her belt. However, she has flashed some real talent and passed the class with flying colors in the Gazelle Stakes. Though Todd Pletcher's Derby arsenal may not be the strongest (though it is the largest), he looks like he as always has a major chance to sweep the Oaks/Derby Double.

Unbridled Forever
My Miss Sophia

Entries for our opening day will be drawn on Wednesday so stay tuned for that and for a complete analysis of the Kentucky Derby!  

OTTB of the Month - Southoftheborder

January 27, 2014 | Jessica Paquette


When New England champion Massachusetts-bred Southoftheborder made her final start this summer, I assumed the multiple local stakes winner was off to the breeding shed for owner and breeder Lloyd Lockhart.

That was in fact, not the case. Southoftheborder was not quite ready to hang up her horseshoes and completely retire. Laurine Barreira, Lloyd’s granddaughter, has taken over the management of the family’s Cedar Lock Farm in Florida and saw potential in the big, good-looking mare for a second career off the racetrack.

“She was so athletic, talented, willing to please and fun to work with throughout her career. Watching her in the field with Petesamassbred made me realize she just wasn't ready to be a broodmare retired from working,” said Barreira. “It was evident that she still wanted to strut her stuff; so I decided I would retrain her as a hunter/jumper for myself.”

The eleven-year-old daughter of Senor Conquistador has always been a favorite of New England Hall of Fame owner and breeder Lockhart. “Grampa always called her his pet, and that's exactly how she acts. She is just so loving and sweet, and always alert and waiting for my next instruction.”

One common misconception is that an older Thoroughbred is more difficult to retrain. Often the more experienced war-horses are passed by as show prospects in favor of something that is more of a blank slate. I have found that while an empty canvas can be nice, you know with a seasoned racehorse that they already have the fire and competitive spirit to excel in the show ring. “I have retrained many OTTB's over the years, and I have to say that it all has to do with the horse and their personality,” said Barreira. “South is definitely one of the easiest I've had in a long time. It’s safe to say I'm absolutely smitten.”

An advocate for off-the-track Thoroughbreds, Barreira has become an advocate for OTTBs and has successfully sent many of the family’s homebreds off to successful careers as show horses and pleasure mounts.

Across the country, more and more Thoroughbred exclusive shows have been popping up as a way to promote the OTTB in their second careers. Barreira has created one of her own and it could be an exciting addition to the competitive Florida Show circuit this spring.

“The all-new "Run for the Ribbons" Horse Show Series will be an exclusive Hunter/Jumper horse show series for all tattooed, registered, and identifiable Thoroughbreds. Our mission is to create a meaningful competitive environment, raise the demand for Thoroughbreds, and to help owners in expanding second career options for OTTB's (Off-Track Thoroughbreds). We envision the Run for the Ribbons as a great way to showcase the talents and abilities of Thoroughbred horses in the second stage of their careers in the world of Hunter/Jumper competition. We will also have in-hand classes for thoroughbreds that are no longer able to compete under saddle. This will encourage and reward those who have taken on the responsibility of caring for those horses. This exciting and meaningful show will provide prospective horse buyers with a fresh look at the OTTB as the potential source of their next horse, rather than selecting other more conventional breeds. We also believe that this show will encourage trainers and owners of current racehorses to retire their horses in sound condition, knowing that there is a market by way of this new exclusive Thoroughbred show series. We envision this series as an opportunity to remove the dark cloud hanging over the horse racing industry, providing for the wellbeing of OTTB’s and opening the door to new opportunities for them and their owners. Caring for our beloved Thoroughbreds after their lives in racing has become the driving force behind this series and its success. This new life “after racing” will also go far in generating substantially greater positive public opinion about racing. We recognize the hardships faced by retiring Thoroughbred racehorses, and have created this show series exclusively for the purpose of honoring this elegant and competitive breed, giving them a new lease on life, and providing greater home opportunities for them after they cross the “finish line” for the last time. This show also allows us to further the industry’s current conscientious efforts to enhance thoroughbred retirements.”

More information about Cedar Lock Farm and the Run for the Ribbons show series can be found here: 



November 18, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

Tammi Piermarini is Boston Strong. Even though she ranks as the all-time third winningest female jockey in North America and just enhanced her stellar status by capturing her fourth straight leading rider title and fifth overall at the recently concluded Suffolk Downs 2013 live meet, she remains loyal to her roots.

“New England is my home and I love riding at Suffolk,” said the 46-year-old Amesbury, MA native who began riding racehorses almost 30 years ago after a career in the show ring. “I have been asked to move to California and ride for a couple of different owners and I also have an offer to go to New York, but I’m staying here. You bet I’m Boston Strong.”

The purses and the spotlight are much bigger and far brighter on the major Southern California and New York circuits, and the rivalry in the riders’ room is more intense. Despite being the top dog in these environs, the highly-competitive Piermarini, who has won races at 15 different tracks over her 30-year career, was still concerned about holding her own at Suffolk when the season began.

“I’m very happy to have won the title again, but I was very nervous at the beginning of the year,” she explained. “(Trainer) Marcus (Vitali) didn’t come back this year and I had been riding first call for him, so I didn’t think I could win the title. But I hadn’t gone anyplace else to ride over the winter because I stayed home to take care of my (seriously ill) father-in-law. So I was the first one here when everybody shipped in and I got a jump start. I was getting on a lot of horses in the mornings for a lot of different trainers and I was really fit.”

The trainers noticed and responded positively so the phone of John Piermarini, Tammi’s agent and husband, never stopped ringing. By the end of the 80-day meet, she had won 101 races and her mounts bankrolled $1.1 million in purses.

“When the trainers who never rode me before because of Marcus found out that I was now eligible to ride for anybody, they gave me their business,” she said. “I’m very lucky and I’m grateful to have had everybody back me and give me the keys to their Mercedes out there (on the track) this year.”

While it is indisputable that only two other women, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame inductee Julie Krone (3,704 wins) and Rosemary Homeister, Jr. (2,627 wins as of Nov. 17) have made more trips to the winner’s circle than Piermarini, the exact number of her victories is a mystery.

That’s because prior to her marriage she rode under her maiden name as Tammi Marie Campbell and her records were not accurately merged afterward.

“I know I’m pretty darn close to 2,300 wins,” said Piermarini, who now has a combined 2,293 under both surnames according to Equibase statistics. “Even with the combined stats, I know I’m missing some. They were lost because of my name change.”

The misses notwithstanding, her 15,732 mounts have earned just shy of $20 million in purses. All of her stats are impressive, and must be considered even more so because she missed a lot of time in the saddle over a period of 10 years and then had three children, Izabella, Johnny and Sophia, now aged 12 to 3.

“I’m really proud of my longevity,” she said. “I’ve been blessed, knock on wood. I’m not complaining, but this business is especially tough for girls. Jill (Jellison, her sister Suffolk rider) and I have been around for a long time. I was really sick during that 10 year span and I’ve still been able to produce those numbers. No other woman has been this successful coming back after three separate years of pregnancy.”

Piermarini, who famously returned to the saddle against her doctor’s orders shortly after undergoing a Caesarian section, has no thoughts of quitting any time soon. She, John and the children are soon heading to Arizona so she may join the jockey colony at Turf Paradise for the winter months, but she plans to be back in the Spring.

“I want to get to 3,000 wins and I hope to make it into the New England Turf Writers Association Hall of Fame before my father-in-law passes. I want my father to be able to see that, too. I wish my mom were still alive and could maybe see that happen one day,” she said. “I also have the goal to make it into the national Hall of Fame.”

Those goals are in reach because she is riding as well as ever.

“It’s all about the horse and getting on the right ones in the right spots. This is not jockey racing, it’s horse racing,” said. “And it’s what I absolutely love doing.”

In other end-of-meet honors, John Rigattieri was Suffolk’s leading trainer for the 10th consecutive year with 57 wins from 199 starters, and Frank Bertolino’s Monarch Stable captured the leading owner trophy for the third consecutive year with 31 victories.

OTTB of the Month - Wheel Base Bill

November 15, 2013 | Jessica Paquette

The moment Tammy Hicock walks into the barn, Wheel Base Bill or "William" as he is called now, immediately lights up. The tall, elegant dark bay gelding begins to nicker excitedly, ready to go to work.

Bred by Michael Benson and raised at Indian Rock Farm in Saugus, William learned the basics trail riding through the picturesque Lynn Woods before beginning his career at the racetrack.  Though his career as a racehorse was not noteworthy, Hicock saw "something special" in him when she came to Suffolk Downs in the Fall of 2011 horse shopping for someone else.

"He stuck his head out of the stall and just said "Pick me, pick me!", said Hicock. "I felt like we were kindred spirits."

Wheel Base Bill moved to Twisdenwood Farm in Georgetown, MA and began to learn his second career. With over 30 years of professional experience and a passion for bringing along horses off-the-track, the pair bonded quickly. Known as the class clown around the barn, William is always into something.

"He has more personality than any horse I've ever worked with," said Hicock as William was showing off his impressive flexibility while maneuvering himself in the cross ties. 

With his natural athleticism and good looks, William looks well on his way to success in the hunter ring. But, Hicock always lets the horse dictate which career path they ultimately wind up taking.

"We will do whatever William wants to do. I'm letting William set his path with whatever talents he shows me. 

And for now, the pair are celebrating each milestone. Patience is the name of the game when retraining horses off the racetrack and Hicock's patience and understanding have been tireless with her big gelding.

"He's mine forever. I so enjoy every little step with him - I'm proud of every accomplishment he makes."

The Future of Racing

November 15, 2013 | Chip Tuttle

It has always been our plan and our intention to preserve and enhance racing here if we are successful in earning a license to develop a world-class destination resort.  We have no plans to move the racetrack itself and will continue to pursue options that allow us to preserve our 78-year legacy of Thoroughbred racing here.  Opponents have suggested that we would have to close the track to accommodate a gaming facility on the Revere portion of the property.  This, like many other of their distortions, is simply not true.

With the new circumstances of having to site the resort entirely on the Revere portion of our property, we are looking at alternative sites for the current barn area. In our prior proposal, the gaming and racing facilities were integrated.  Now, they must be separate.  I met with representatives of the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders Association this past week to brief them on this very topic.

Make no mistake about it, the "no" vote in East Boston puts the future of racing here very much in doubt.  In addition to the 350 jobs at Suffolk Downs during the racing season, there are hundreds of decent, hard-working people who make their living in some way taking care of the horses that are stabled here from April to November, along with hundreds more whose businesses are supported by racing.  Owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, stable hands, blacksmiths, feed and tack suppliers, veterinarians -- these people depend on racing to put food on their tables.

A report by Christiansen Capital Advisors that we commissioned as part of our application process estimates 1,486 jobs supported by the Thoroughbred industry in the Commonwealth and that number could more than double if we are successful in earning a gaming license -- that does not include the thousands of good jobs that would be created at the gaming facility itself.Our commitment to Thoroughbred racing and the people whose livelihoods depend on it has not wavered and we are continuing to work to keep Suffolk Downs -- the last remaining Thoroughbred racetrack in New England -- going.

Local employees write: It's about people

October 31, 2013 | Christian Teja

A letter to the editor from a group of employees at Suffolk Downs who live in East Boston appears in this week's East Boston Times-Free Press.  Here is what they wrote:

To the Editor:

As residents of East Boston and employees of Suffolk Downs, next Tuesday’s referendum is of exceptional importance to us and our fellow co-workers, many of whom also reside in East Boston, whose livelihoods and means of supporting our families are likely hanging in the balance.

Suffolk Downs has been a steady source of employment for each of us.  It has provided us with opportunities to buy a house, pay our rent, support our children and receive medical benefits.  At this difficult economic time, we are fortunate to have these jobs.  We all know family members or friends in our community who have been looking for work.

We have all seen the signs that say “It’s About Jobs” and it most certainly is.  But it is also about people.  Real people like us who live in this community, have kids in local schools, dine at local restaurants and run errands at local businesses.  And about the people who are currently out of work for whom a casino at Suffolk Downs would offer good-paying jobs with benefits, regardless of their level of education.

Without a casino, the future of Suffolk Downs is very much in jeopardy.  We try not to think about the possibility of the track closing, but it is something we as employees need to face up to in the event it does close and we and about 300 other people are left to find another way to support ourselves and our families.

On the flip side, we are potentially on the verge of a life-changing situation in a positive direction and we are doing our best to remain optimistic.  A resort casino at Suffolk Downs would provide not only job security for us and our co-workers, but also opportunities to pursue additional career paths and advance within the company.  With so many uncertainties in life, having a reliable source of income can ease a lot of stress. Of course, a casino would go way beyond helping the current workforce, but it would also create thousands of new jobs, many of which would go to East Boston residents.

Voting yes for Suffolk Downs is voting yes for neighbors like us.  We can’t imagine the idea of voting against something that could put neighbors out of work.  We urge all residents of East Boston to consider the livelihood of people like us and our families when you cast your ballot next Tuesday.

Vote YES for Suffolk Downs!


Lou Ristaino

Dawn Lepore

Miriam Sanchez

Breeders' Cup 2013

October 30, 2013 | Jessica Paquette

I look forward to the Breeders’ Cup the way a little kid looks forward to Christmas. This year’s two-day event did not disappoint and both cards are loaded top to bottom with the best horses and jockeys in the world.

The only bittersweet part of the Breeders’ Cup is that is the final day of our live racing season as well. Thank you to all of the fans who joined in the conversation on Twitter this year (@jmpaquette) and helped make this such a fun meet.

Here is a rundown of each race. Enjoy and good luck!


This race has been one that I have had the winner in nearly every year but this year’s installment does lack some star power. EVER RIDER will try to replicate the incredible performance from Calidoscopio and bring home another Breeders’ Cup victory to Argentina. This horse is not quite as accomplished as his predecessor but does have one major advantage – Gary Stevens. I think Stevens is going to have a spectacular two days and he could kick it off here.  He is also one of only two horses in the field proven at the distance. BLUESKIESNRAINBOWS has been very successful at Santa Anita and his tactical speed makes him a major front-running threat. In these long races, a front-runner can steal the show if they can coast uncontested on the lead.  It is tough to exclude the European invader LONDON BRIDGE who will get big-money rider Mike Smith aboard and Lasix for the first time. He should have no issue whatsoever with the distance and his biggest question mark will be conventional dirt.


BOBBY’S KITTEN may be one of my stronger opinions on the card. This colt has gotten better with each start and is yet another offspring of the red-hot stallion Kitten’s Joy who will be represented at the Breeders’ Cup. This colt is named after Bobby Frankel and while he has a long way to go before he is thought of like the other horse who had that honor, European superhorse Frankel, he seems incredibly talented.  OUTSTRIP has been looked the part on track this week and this colt has some serious pedigree. His dam was a G1 winner on synthetics and his form should translate here.  The Euros are always dangerous in the turf races.  It is also difficult to leave out either Aiden O’Brien horse, WILSHIRE BOULEVARD or GIOVANNI BOLDINI as O’Brien has won this race the past two years.


The defection of Graydar this week changed everything. I did not like Goldencents during the Triple Crown and still don’t, so I do think he is a beatable likely favorite here. BRUJO DE OLLEROS ran a dynamite race to finish second to Graydar in the Kelso and if you were impressed by Graydar, this potential longshot has appeal, too. He is likely still rounding into form off of a layoff and proved last time he can run with top company. Also coming out of that race is HYMN BOOK who may not be quite good enough to win here but will get a pretty honest pace set up and should have every opportunity to be effective. He is winless this year and his most recent win came last fall against ungraded stakes company, so he will need to run a big race.  VERRAZANO is capable of being completely brilliant. He is also capable of being completely disappointing. He has two major blemishes on his otherwise flawless record. If the Verrazano that won the Haskell shows up, everyone else is running for second.


The Juvenile Turf races are the perfect opportunities to find some big longshots. Dancing House broke her maiden on the main track at Saratoga but did run well against stakes company on the turf in the Miss Grillo. Her form is not what is intriguing, her pedigree is. She is out of West Coast turf sensation Tout Charmant and if she is at all her mother’s daughter, she could have longshot potential here. The buzz filly has been My Conquestadory who showed professionalism beyond her two races to win at Keeneland last time out. She made her career debut against male rivals in the Summer Stakes and won handily, cementing herself as a potential star on the rise. How good is she really? We will find out on Friday but she is battle tested and apparently a very tough filly. Testa Rossi was flying late to win the Miss Grillo in her stateside debut last time out and gave a terrific impression. Her French form was competitive and having had a race to get acclimated in the U.S. may give her an edge over several talented European rivals


This race essentially boils down to being a showdown between the princess and the queen. Two-time Distaff champion Royal Delta will try to avenge her loss to the up and coming star Princess of Sylmar in the Beldame Stakes last time out. Though the Princess has been nothing short of exceptional this season, the decision to go to the Distaff was somewhat of a last minute one and she has had a long, demanding campaign that had been originally planned with the Beldame as the final stop of the year. Did she peak then? All year the Distaff (or at one point, the Classic) has been the end game for Royal Delta and she will try to join Goldikova in the exclusive company of three-time Breeders’ Cup winners. She has been training sharply for the final start of her remarkable career and will try to go out a champion. Do not overlook the West Coast sensation, Beholder . She has true home track advantage and the reigning Juvenile Fillies winner has matured into a formidable three-year-old.



Though she is likely a big longshot, Scandalous Act could have upset potential for New England Hall of Fame owner and breeder Gilbert Campbell. This filly has dominated at Calder and took the Florida Stallion Series impressively. How good is she? That remains to be seen and she will get a stiff test on Saturday. Artemis Agrotera seems like the logical top contender and will put her undefeated streak on the line after a game effort in the Frizette. She has done everything right so far. The well-bred Secret Compass may have home track advantage and showed significant improvement once she switched to conventional dirt from synthetics. She proved that she can prevail in a battle and showed a lot of tenacity for a young horse.


Romantica may be one of my favorite longshots of the day. This filly is out of Banks Hill who won this race in 2001 and was second in 2002. Her half sister, Intercontinental won the event in 2005. This filly has been holding her own against solid European company and while her last effort behind the brilliant Treve was poor, she is not facing quite the likes of that rival here. Marketing Mix will try to avenge her loss in this race from last year and could give Gary Stevens one of possibly several wins on the card. No one is riding better than him right now and he may be the extra edge this filly needs to win against the top Europeans. Throw Alterite into the exotics off of a sharp win in the QEII last time out. This filly looks like she is getting really good at exactly the right time.


Is Groupie Doll the same horse as she was last year? She got a well deserved break after that hard fought defeat in the Cigar Mile and sometimes when mares go to the farm for a refresher, they never come back quite as sharp. She could be a vulnerable favorite here. Sweet Lulu cuts back to a sprint here after a game effort to the highly regarded Close Hatches in their last start. She had been undefeated prior to that and the cut back in distance should help her here. No denying this filly is talented and fast. Book Review should benefit from a sharp pace and is well proven at Santa Anita.


Caracortado will try to win a Breeders’ Cup race in only his second start off of an extended layoff. Though a major feat, it is not an impossible one. (Da Hoss, anyone?) This gelding turned in an encouraging effort in his first start since January of 2012 and obviously needed a race. Second start back, over a track he likes, he may be poised for a huge effort. Mizdirection is taking on the boys to defend her title and though she is making her first start since a fifth place finish at Belmont, she is proven off of similar layoffs and perfect at Santa Anita. That race in New York can be excused as she would not be the first California-based horse to not be successful shipping east. This is her race to win or lose. Reneesgotzip has a ton of speed and may try to be a gate to wire threat. She held her own against male rivals in this race last year as a three-year-old and is two for two on the year.


What did we learn from the Triple Crown season this year? Never, ever count out D. Wayne Lukas. Though Strong Mandate was a big disappointment in the Champagne Stakes, he was generating quite a bit of buzz before that race and should not have had any issue with the distance. He is bred to excel around two turns and could surprise here. It is tough to argue with Havana and his perfect two for two record but like Shanghai Bobby last year, he just has not done anything to “wow” me. He has done everything right up until this point and defeated the horse I regard as my Derby horse for 2014, Honor Code, so will get his chance to impress here. New Year’s Day has been training sharply for his first try against stakes company and appeared to defeat a quality field in that maiden win including Bond Holder, who won a G1 at next asking. Bob Baffert is always a big player in these races and this colt could have minor upset potential.


Point of Entry may be up against it here making his comeback race off of an injury that sidelined him for half of the season. He was the best of the American turf horses last year and has proven that he can translate his very strong East Coast form to Santa Anita. With most horses, I would immediately toss them out in this spot off of that sort of injury and layoff. But Shug McGaughey is not most trainers. If this conservative horseman thinks this horse is up to the task, then I am willing to buy into it. The Fugue will take on male rivals here and has been beating the boys for much of the year overseas. She was a bad trip away from winning the Filly and Mare Turf last year and may appreciate the additional quarter mile here. All summer at Saratoga, there were signs hanging to “Keep Calm and Buy a Kitten’s Joy”. Big Blue Kitten represented his stellar sire well this summer and may be the strongest of the United States turf horses this year. He is battle tested and seems to run his race on any surface.


Sprinters have never been my specialty but Secret Circle looks like he might be awfully tough here. He returned off of an extended layoff and dominated an allowance/optional claimer field with an impressive 104 Beyer. Since then, he has been lighting up the worktab and may be even sharper second off of the layoff. The question is whether or not he bounces off of that big effort and this group is a little tougher than what he faced last time. Trinniberg will try to defend his title after pulling the upset in last year’s Sprint. To call his form average this year would be an understatement, but his recent workouts have been an encouraging return to the brilliant speedball of last year. At his best, he is fast enough and he will have to bring his best here. I will be a little sentimental with my longshot selection here and go with Majestic Stride . This gelding returned off of a significant layoff this year and has had back to back wins against much softer. He is relatively unproven against graded stakes company but his worktab has been very sharp and he could be a potential upset contender. I know one thing, my off-the-track Thoroughbred What a Trippi will be rooting for him.


Wise Dan can not be too criticized for his last race. It was just such a bizarre race with the apocalyptic weather and the racing coming off the turf in a last minute decision. His record this year has just been too dominant and too powerful to overlook. He defeated a much tougher field last year including Kentucky Derby winner and eventual Dubai World Cup champion Animal Kingdom and this field is not nearly as tough. While his campaign has been knocked for lacking ambition, that is not his fault and he is still something special to watch. Za Approval has been in the shadow of the big horses on either coast all season. He has steadily and quietly improved and could have upset potential. He just needs to prove here that he can win against the top tier horses, not just hold his own. Olympic Glory has been a legitimate Group 1 horse in Europe all year and that form always makes a horse a top contender here. The biggest question mark with him will be whether he takes to Santa Anita’s hard, fast turf course – many of his better efforts have come over much softer surfaces.


It is very tough to argue with Game on Dude's record and in a year where Horse of the Year is still up for grabs, he has a lot riding on this race. He does seem stronger and more dominant than last year and seems to have benefited from skipping the trip to Dubai. However, Moreno may not be quick enough to be a contender at the end but he is just fast enough to make sure the Dude has to work for the lead. This is a much deeper group than he has been facing in California and cannot have any excuses. Mucho Macho Man has one major advantage in this race – jockey Gary Stevens. In all of his accomplishments including numerous victories in Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup triumphs, he does not have a Classic win. And you can be the uber competitive Hall of Fame rider wants to add that one to his trophy case. Will Take Charge will try to prove that this group of three-year-olds is legitimate. This colt is a physical powerhouse and because he is a later foal, he is likely still developing and growing into his towering frame. He seems to have hit his best stride the second half of the year and will be making his bid for the sophomore Eclipse. Though he will need to run the race of his life, it is impossible not to root for Paynter. After winning the battle with colitis and laminitis, he has nothing else to prove but a win in the Classic would cap off his fairy-tale comeback.



October 10, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

Most senior citizens of his advanced age prefer spending their golden years in a lush paddock where they can simply graze on the green grass and soak up the sun’s rays, but former New England campaigner Welfare Line will have none of that.  “Welfie”, at the age of 28, can still be found at Suffolk Downs, where he relishes his job as a pony for trainer John Pimental.

“Welfie is an iron horse, that’s for sure. We even call him ‘The Old War Horse’ sometimes. Knock on wood, he’s doing great and he’s sound. He’s always been sound,” said Pimental, who has been a trainer for 24 years as well as a pony person for 30 years. “He’s an excellent pony, too, because of his great disposition and his work ethic. He loves the work.”

With 30 being the average lifespan of a Thoroughbred, it is remarkable that Welfie, who was foaled on February 1, 1985,  is still going strong, let alone able to perform the duties required of his role.

“He really loves it. John has four ponies and if he goes out on another one, Welfie gets jealous. He’ll start running around the stall and he lets John know,” said jockey agent Diana Pimental, who celebrates her 40th anniversary with John this month. ‘He’s really something.”

Welfare Line, a Canadian-bred, raced 116 times in his career and had 15 wins, 11 seconds, and 17 thirds while earning $54,860.  Although he made his first start at Gulfstream Park in February of 1988, all but three of his efforts were either at Suffolk Downs or Rockingham Park.  Welfare Line competed for the late owner/trainer Lou Hasbany and John Pimental was his exercise rider.

“He was a run-off when he was a racehorse,” said Diana. “John was the only one who could handle him. John was told that when Welfie was done with racing, he was his.”

When Welfie was 9, his days as a racehorse were through and his second career with John Piemental was about to begin.

“He’s my favorite now, but he wasn’t back then because he was so tough to handle,” said John. “Even at this age he can still be tough sometimes. If they (any racehorses he’s leading to post) try to get ahead of him, he’ll pin his ears back and let that horse know he’s not allowed to do that.”

Welfie even recognizes when the last race of the day arrives. Diana said that all John has to do is sit in the saddle and the beloved old warrior goes right back to the barn on his own.

“I believe I gave $1,100 for him when I got him,” John recalled. “He’s made that and more back for me many, many times over. I take him to Florida with me every winter and he works at Tampa Bay Downs, too. He’s a sweetheart, and he’s attached to me just like I am to him. Maybe we’ll retire together, who knows?”

But for now, retirement to that lush paddock is not in Welfare Line’s immediate future.

“It’s amazing that a horse of that age can still do the job, and do it with no complaints,” said John. “He really is pretty special.”


October 1, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

Ask anyone involved in New England racing about apprentice rider Janelle Campbell, and the answer is always the same.


“Everybody loves Janelle,” said longtime jockey agent Diane Pimental. “She grew up on the racetrack and we’ve all known her since she was young. There isn’t one person who would have anything bad to say about her. She’s a great girl.”


Even better, the 29-year-old is now getting known for her ability as well as her sunny personality. After winning four races in September, all aboard longshots, to add to her total of five (through September 27) for the current meet at Suffolk Downs, she has been honored with the September Jockey of the Month Award.


“I had a great month,” she said with her trademark bright smile. “The trainers are starting to notice me and give me a shot to ride their horses.”


Campbell has the bloodlines to be a successful jockey. Her father, Robert, is the brother of leading rider Tammi Piermarini, who ranks as the third leading female rider in Thoroughbred history even though the record keepers are not exactly sure how many wins she has overall. That’s because she rode as Tammi Campbell before her marriage to agent John Piermarini.


“My grandmother didn’t want me to be a jockey because she knew how hard this life is and how much my aunt had to go through to get where she is in the business,” Tammi’s niece said. “My father also knew what I was getting into, but he’s so supportive. He only wants me to do what I want to do and what will make me happy. Being a jockey makes me happy. It’s what I love.”


Despite her family connections, nobody on the backside cut her any breaks when she first came on the track nine years ago. After Piermarini taught her to gallop at Rockingham Park when she was taking a break from the saddle and training horses, Campbell got a job as an exercise rider for trainer Marcus Vitali. Then she became a groom for Billy Longorio and also worked as a pony person.


“When I wanted to be a jockey, he put me on my first horse. Three of the five races I’ve won have been for Billy,” she said.


Still, it took a while for Campbell to get rolling. She started her career in 2012 at Suffolk and went 0-for-20 while learning the ropes. This year she came back and had her first winner on the second Saturday of the meet. From her first 78 mounts she had two fives and 15 thirds to go along with her five victories.


“It took her a long time to learn her craft, but she learned it from the ground up. She knows every aspect of this business,” said agent Jeri Vieira . “The mark of a good rider is being one who is willing to learn and that’s Janelle. She’s always asking question. When she makes a mistake, she asks how she can be better next time.”


Campbell, who is a natural lightweight at 99 pounds and doesn’t have to struggle to make the lower imposts apprentice riders are allowed, has an expert and fabulous role model right in her family. But Piermarini isn’t her only tutor.

The biggest asset I have is that I grew up on the racetrack and know so many people who are willing to help me. My boyfriend is Luis Garcia (a member of the Suffolk jockey colony) and other veterans like Jorge (Vargas), David (Amiss), and Jill (Jellison) are so helpful whenever I ask,” she said.


The other riders must be giving Campbell the right answers and the willing student of the game can’t get enough.


“I’m having a ball. I love being a jockey” she said. “There is no feeling like winning. Every time I watch the replay of my first in, I get the same chills all over again. I want more.”


Jay Bernardini, who was voted the 2012 Outstanding Trainer by the New England Turf Writers Association, is Suffolk’s September Trainer of the Month.


He is no stranger to the winner’s circle or the leader board so it’s no surprise that his horses ran well all month long. With 35 victories through September 27, he ranked second in the standings and enjoyed a three-win day on September 17 to go along with his other multiple win days during the meet.


Paul Cudworth, who cares for horses in the barn of owner and trainer John Pimental, is the September Groom of the Month. Cudworth’s dedication to the horses in his care is evident and he has groomed prominent New England champions including National Hero.


What a Trippi - August's Off-Track Thoroughbred of the Month

September 10, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

Even though he wasn’t tall, dark and handsome, it was love at first sight.

From that moment on, Jessica Paquette knew that somehow, someday, What a Trippi would be hers.

“I don’t know why, but it hit me the first time I saw him at Suffolk Downs,” she said “He wasn’t even my type, which is tall and black, long and athletic, the way a horse like (former Suffolk runner) Riversrunrylee looks. I’d never felt that way about a racehorse before and I’ve never felt it since.”

In her position as Suffolk’s racing analyst and publicist, Paquette sees a myriad of Thoroughbreds on a daily basis. But this small, bay Florida-bred son of multiple graded stakes winner Trippi and Avert Your Eye’s, who stands a mere 15.2 hands, was the bad boy who stole her heart.

“He was known around the track for being…difficult,” she said. 

What a Trippi was trained by George Saccardo at the time and Paquette loyally followed the horse’s career. When he was entered for a $7,500 tag at Aqueduct in March 2009, Michael LeCesse haltered him. So Paquette did some detective work and tracked down LeCesse’s contact information to let him know that the horse could have a home with her when it was time to take his racing shoes off for the last time.

She and LeCesse stayed in touch while What a Trippi ran 16 more times, 15 of which were at Finger Lakes. One day, she finally got the call she had dreamed of – LeCesse offered her the horse at a very reasonable price, knowing that Trippi would be in good hands.

But making the purchase was the easy part.

“It took a village of New England horsemen to get him from upstate New York back here,” Paquette said. “Karl Grusmark pitched in and vanned him to Belmont, where Joe Signore kept him in his barn for a couple of days. Then Pat Vassallo brought him up here to me. Then I needed a place to keep him, so my friend Jess Creighton came from Maine and took him to her farm.”

It was there that What a Trippi, who had raced 42 times and won nine times for total earnings of $111,228, was given ample time to wind down so he could be a horse again.

“Off the track Thoroughbreds really need a lot of patience. People need to understand that and give them more of it,” she said.

When Trippi was ready, it was time for Paquette to get in the saddle as he transitioned into his new career as a show horse. She recently brought him to Tammy Hicock’s facility in Georgetown, MA to be closer to where she lives while they continue their lessons.

“I’m there twice a day, every day. It is a lot of work, but it has really allowed us to bond,” said Paquette. “He can still be difficult and quirky, but I am amazed by how smart he is. He has that great Thoroughbred work ethic. He loves his job and he loves understanding what that job is. He went from being a wild man in a field all the way toward having a show career.”

Suffolk jockeys Tammi Piermarini and David Amiss rode the horse when he raced at Suffolk. They continue to be a wealth of information when Paquette needs to better understand her horse and how the pair can continue to progress.

“This is a tremendously rewarding experience and What a Trippi is really worth it,” Paquette said.  “It’s a happily ever after love story.”

Rigattieri and Panell Receive August Trainer and Jockey Honors

August 31, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

Dyn Panell won a lot of races in the month of August for trainer John Rigattieri, but that was hardly earth-shattering news. After all, this dynamic duo has racked up scores of victories together since Panell first showed up as an apprentice jockey at Suffolk Downs 15 years ago.

“I don’t know what the number is. I don’t keep count, but it’s a lot,” said Panell, who leaped up the leader board into second place with his strong showing this month and had won 37 races through August 29.

Panell literally blew into town as an unknown and untested young jockey after a tropical hurricane swept across his native Puerto Rico.

“The hurricane destroyed my island and I was looking for someplace to go. Some friends called and said they needed bug riders up in New England so I came here,” he said.

Panell, who spoke little English when he arrived on the old New England circuit, quickly impressed horsemen at Rockingham Park and Suffolk. Rigattieri, who has a sharp eye when it comes to claiming horses, was also a good evaluator of the young rider’s talent. It wasn’t long before Panell was riding first call for him.

At the current meet, the pair is enjoying status as the top ranked trainer-jockey combination with 21 wins, 18 seconds and nine thirds from 75 starts through August 29. Their win percentage together is a lofty 28%.

“Thanks to God and to John Rigattieri,” said Panell who won his first race in the United States at Suffolk on October 11, 1998. “It’s been 14 years and in all of that time, it’s been a wonderful partnership. We’ve won a lot of races along the way and had a lot of success together.”

August 20 was a day indicative of what they can do together. Horses trained by Rigattieri and ridden by Panell won all three legs of the early Pick 3. Just one day later, together they won the afternoon’s featured race with Monarch Stables’ Frankie Rules. Monarch’s Frank Bertolino has been the principal Rigattieri client for a number of years.

Rigattieri, who is ably assisted by stable foreman Juan “Moses” Sanchez, had won 29 races to this point in the meet and sat atop the trainer’s standings. He won his first race at Hialeah Park on January 9, 1976 and over the years had amassed 2,471 victories, 45 of them in stakes, while his horses have bankrolled more than $25 million.

Race Caller Mark Johnson Visits Suffolk Downs

August 21, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

As T.D. Thornton and Mark Johnson were traversing the back roads of New England while on their way to Fryeburg, Maine five years ago, Johnson got a phone call from Churchill Downs that would ultimately alter his life. But Thornton knew it would never change his friend and fellow track announcer.

“There we were, in the car on our way to the Fryeburg Fair to go to a harness race on the same day that he was notified that he was one of the (five) finalists for the announcer’s job at Churchill Downs. His phone was ringing off the hook with people congratulating him, but what was almost as exciting for him was that he was going to see a new racetrack way out of the way in Maine,” Thornton, the Suffolk Downs announcer, recalled. “He shares the same infectious enthusiasm for calling racing at even the smallest nook and cranny track as he does for the big tracks.”

Johnson, a native of Great Britain, won the competition and became Churchill’s new announcer in 2009. He brought his trademark style and that unbridled passion to Suffolk last week and Thornton graciously handed him the microphone and binoculars to call a few races over several days. Even before Johnson was the on-track voice of the Kentucky Derby, he was a regular in the booth at the East Boston oval.

“I’ve been coming here for 12 or 15 years. Suffolk was the second track in North America I ever called, with Calder (in Miami) the first. “(British racing journalists) Mary and Chris Pitt said you really ought to come over to Boston, you’ll love the place. Boston was always a place I wanted to visit because of the history. They introduced me to Larry (Collmus, who preceded Thornton in the booth and is now NBC’s voice of the Triple Crown) and T.D. was here as well so I got to know them and call races here.”

Suffolk has not been the energetic Johnson’s only point of call, literally and figuratively, since Churchill’s spring meet ended six weeks ago. Suffolk is the 20th track he has called, including 18 in mainland Britain and one on the little island of Jersey in the Channel Islands. After he and his significant other, Rachel, vacationed in Boston, he was headed back to call again at Jersey before returning for Churchill’s inaugural Homecoming Meet in September and then jetting to Paris for the prestigious Arc de Triomphe on October 6. After that, he will call the Eastern European equivalent of the Grand National when the horses go over the jumps in the Czech Republic.

“I don’t know where I get my energy, but I never get tired of it. It’s what I love and what I live for. I adore announcing,” said Johnson, who has called 59 of the 60 professional tracks in Britain and works in his native land when Churchill isn’t racing live. “I’m never really happier than when I’m with a field of horses about to spring from the gate and with a pair of binoculars and a microphone. I would hope nobody could ever fault me for my enthusiasm.”

His legion of intercontinental fans, many of whom cast ballots for him in the Churchill competition decided by popular vote, certainly would not. No matter the venue, the value, or the importance of the race, the quality of the call remains the same.

“Calling a race at Suffolk can be very different from calling the Kentucky Derby on one hand but on the other, it’s exactly the same,” he explained. “It’s the same for a jockey, the starter, or anyone else. When the nerves start to get to you, remember it is simply another horse race.”

Nevertheless, each track and every race can present particular challenges. At Suffolk, it’s the landscape.

“There are s few trees in the middle so you get a little blind by the six furlong point, more in the turn than when they go in the chute,” said Johnson, who knew by age 3 that this was his life’s calling. “It’s a really lovely, lovely track to call and they’ve got a really lovely booth that would put most booths in Great Britain to shame. Suffolk is a charming track and what you see on the feed doesn’t do it justice. And you do get the sense it’s a proper, old school racetrack. You get the feel there is history here.”

Johnson, who considers 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame his favorite horse and 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird’s victory his favorite- as well as career-making- call, has met members of the British royal family.

“We know that Her Majesty (Queen Elizabeth II) watches racing quite regularly on the two race channels that we have. I was lucky enough to be introduced to the Queen Mother (Elizabeth) a couple of times when she was alive at Sandown Park. She was a wonderful lady,” he said. “In fact, I called the Queen Mother’s last ever winner before she died (in March 2002). The horse’s name was First Love. He started his career running in Her Majesty’s colors on the flat and then went on to run in the Queen Mum’s colors over jumps. I’m quite proud of calling her last winner.

“You watch a film like The King’s Speech and you see what she went through. And on several occasions she held the royal family together through the second World War, through an abdication (of King Edward VIII) so she therefore became the queen, effectively, and then through the rise of the Third Reich, and later on through all of the controversy with what went on with Princess Diana. Let us also not forget that she was the best ambassador for horse racing that Britain has probably ever had. It was great to meet her.”

Unlike in America, in Britain there is a small and finite number of professional race callers who are individually assigned to the most important events. Johnson was elated to learn recently he has been selected as the announcer for the prestigious Grade 1 King George at Kempton Race Course during the Christmas season and the steeplechase event will be another gold star on his impressive and growing resume. Yet he has no desire to call more tracks and big races across North America.

“At the moment, although I would never say no, I am in the most enviable position that any professional, not just a track announcer, or anyone in any walk of life, can have,” he said. “I am in that pleasant position where I have my cake and I can eat it. I have no idea how long this ride will last. Now I’m calling really big races in Britain. I do things like the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. I’ve done 12 St. Ledgers, which is the final leg of the Triple Crown. Now the Homecoming Meet at Churchill automatically draws me out of the St. Ledger, but that was bound to clash. But really, I absolutely adore my top class jump racing.”

He and Rachel, who is American and employed by Churchill Downs, could not be happier with the way everything is coming together.

“I’m just very lucky. I absolutely adore it here and Rachel absolutely adores Britain, so we’re both very happy and we enjoy a wonderful lifestyle at the moment,” he said.

Mr. Meso – July's Off-Track Thoroughbred of the Month

August 10, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

Just call him the Amazing Mr. Meso.

Even though he won his first two stakes at age 2, his last pair of added money events as a 10-year-old and raced at tracks in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas,Minnesota, Kentucky and Delaware in 68 starts, it is the handsome bay gelding’s second career that makes him extra special at Suffolk Downs.

After being retired from racing at age 11 in 2011, he let trainer Matthew Clarke know that he wasn’t ready for the equine version of the rocking chair. So Mr. Meso became a pony, escorting other horses to the starting gate instead of breaking from it himself.

"He's very smart, he's extremely smart," said Clarke, whose son, Dylan, works in concert with Mr. Meso in the afternoons. Mr. Meso, who won 24 races and earned almost $500,000 in his career, is so intelligent that he learned his new job in only two hours. It can take other horses months to adapt to the role.

"He went out and galloped as a racehorse on one day, and then the next day, we put pony tack on him and Dylan just rode him around the backside," Matthew Clarke said. "They went out to the track, stood, stood with the outrider and just watched while the horses ran, and they came back to the barn. Then Dylan took the horse out straightaway."

"He was bred by Lloyd Lockhart back in the day and he ran here as a two-year-old and a three-year-old. He won the Massachusetts Derby at three. And he won the Rise Jim and the Last Dance when he was 10," said Clarke. "I had an owner who was looking to claim a Mass-bred in the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010. I researched every Mass-bred that had been born in the last ten years, and tried to find out where they were, if any of them were still running, and if they were going to be any good. And I came up with Mr. Meso."

But at the time the horse had been away from the races for about six months and had fallen off the radar, out of the blue his name showed up on the work tab at Delaware Park and in May 2010, he was entered in a $5,000 claiming race.

"That was when we claimed him," Clarke reminisced. "But then he couldn't run for sixty days here because he'd been claimed at Delaware. But on the sixty-first day after he was claimed, I ran him in the Rise Jim (Stakes) and he won. And then three weeks later he ran in the Last Dance, and he won that stake, too."

Mr. Meso got some time off to winter at the farm, and came back to the track the next year. But his two efforts were lackluster, so Clarke knew it was time to stop on him.

"He took to being a pony straightaway. He loves his job. He's out there every afternoon," said Clarke, who treated the horse to a retirement ceremony in 2011.

"What's unique about him, and I've seen other horses who have had the same ability, he takes it to another degree. He has the unique ability to be able to determine the ability of the rider on his back. If you put Dylan on him, he's quite spirited and a bit spunky. On the other hand, I can put my sixyear-old on him and he walks around like an old pony and takes little baby steps. It’s quite incredible."

Mr. Meso, who raced for nine years yet was as sound as a silver dollar at the end of his career, does not like being on the farm as he becomes bored quickly. He's happiest when he’s working at the track, where he occupies a place of honor in the first stall in Clarke’s barn.

"He's a remarkable, wonderful horse, yes he is," said Clarke. "He'll have a home with me for the rest of his life."

Bill Sienkewicz and Tammi Piermarini Light Up the Toteboard in July

August 2, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

When Mister Dixie won his fourth race of the season with a dominating 15 1/4 lengths win under Tammi Piermarini on July 10, it put an exclamation point on the kind of month trainer William Sienkewicz and racing's third all-time winningest female jockey enjoyed at Suffolk Downs.

A regular fixture in the winner's circle, Sienkewicz vaulted up the trainers' standings and by the end of July he ranked third in earnings and first in the number of wins (18). Piermarini, well on the way to her fifth overall Suffolk riding title, posted multiple win days throughout the month to extend her commanding lead in the standings. She notched four-win days on July 15, 27 and 30 and posed for winner’s circle photos three times July 10. By month's end, she had 44 victories, more than twice as many as her nearest competitor.

"Things are all going pretty good right now," said Sienkewicz, who has 21 horses in his barn and has been training for about seven years after taking care of lay-ups on the farm he previously owned in Fall River, Mass. "My horses are running great. I pinch myself every day and am very thankful."

Sienkewicz used to take care of top quality horses for New England Turf Writers Association Hall of Fame inductees Bill Perry, Ned Allard, and Ron Dandy, among others, when their horses needed some rest and relaxation. Then his good friend and former client Jim Fahey convinced him to take a string of his own to the track. "I also take care of all of Allard’s horses when he sends them up here. Three years ago, we won 32 races between the two of us," he said.

Having his charges ready to run is only half the battle. Sienkewicz, currently posting an impressive win percentage of 39, also has to place them in the most advantageous spots on each day's card, and then be adept at playing the claiming game.

"I believe in only running my horses in the right places. The condition book has been my best friend so far," he explained. "You also have to know which horses to claim and which ones to drop down the ladder."

Three of the most successful horses at Suffolk Downs so far this season, Ventura Bar, Mister Dixie, and K Girl's Dream, are in his stable. Sienkewicz elected to give them the entire winter off and they each spent the months just being a horse at his Fall Brook Farm in Middleboro, Mass.

"When you start with a fresh horse, it really makes such a big difference," he said.

Piermarini, who is going after her fourth consecutive riding title and fifth overall, is riding as well as ever at 46.

"It’s all about the horse. This isn't jockey racing, it's horse racing" said Piermarini, who rides almost every race on each card. "But the older you get and the more experience you have can only help. People think I'm under a lot of pressure, but I don't feel it. Either I win or I lose. All I can do is come out and do my best in every race."

But she does have pressure away from the track as a wife, mother of three young children, and primary caretaker for a seriously ill father-in-law who lives with the family.

"I have a lot of jobs; nurse, mother, wife, and jockey," she said. "My schedule never changes."

Nor does the high esteem in which she is held by horsemen and fans alike.

"I love Tammi. She is so smart and has such a keen understanding of all aspects of this business. She is outstanding," said Sienkewicz. "I also use Dyn Panell and Gary Wales and they are both great, too. They are very confident and capable riders and easy to get along with. All three of them are great people, too. I'm pretty good about staying with riders."

He's also good about sticking with his help, and gave special recognition to grooms Alfredo Reyes and Joaquin Villaneuva.

"They have both been with me for the entire seven years and have never missed a single day of work," he said. "All of my help are such a big part of the barn's success. I couldn't even come close (to the number of wins) without my help. They all work very hard and do a great job every day."

Monthly Honors - Catalano and Wales off to Fast Start

July 11, 2013 | Lynne Snierson

One is a local guy and the other hails from across the pond, but what they have in common is a knack for finding the winner’s circle at Suffolk Downs.

Michael Catalano, Jr. and Gary Wales, the first recipients of the Trainer of the Month and Jockey of the Month Awards, respectively, added to their collection of win photos with stellar performances throughout the month of June.

Moreover, Catalano was flawless. He shipped in with just five runners in his stable and all five horses he saddled crossed under the wire first in their races. Amazingly, this was not the first time he’s had the Midas touch with every horse he’s led over to the paddock.

“One year at Rockingham (Park), which was my last year there in 2000, I went real deep like this. I won with the first eight or nine horses I sent out,” said the third generation horseman who was born and raised around the corner in Everett, MA. “It’s always great to start a meet like this.”

“It is very important to get off to a good start,” said 27-year-old Scottish native Wales, who took four of nine races on the June 17 card. “I’m going to keep working hard and I’d like to keep doing well. I was the fourth leading rider at Parx and I’d like to be the leading rider here, but it’s going to be tough.”

Wales, currently third in the standings, came to America as a 22-year-old apprentice after riding 30 races in England and is in his third season as a member of the Suffolk jockey colony. In June he won 15 races, almost half of his total for all of 2012, and had 13 seconds and 13 thirds from 81 mounts, turning a lot of heads in the process.

“Business is really picking up and I’ve got more trainers backing me now. It’s very gratifying,” said Wales, who works a lot of horses in the mornings to increase his chances of getting the mount in the afternoons. One trainer who Wales won’t have to convince to leg him up is his wife, Katie. She got her license last year and currently is the owner/trainer for her one-horse stable.

“When the horse is ready to run, I’m sure I’ll get to ride him,” said Wales with a broad smile.

Catalano also has a big smile on his face these days after spending the last dozen or so years stabled at tracks up and down the East Coast from Pennsylvania to Florida.

“I love Suffolk Downs and I am one of the happiest people to be here,” said the trainer, who through July 4 has won 602 races from 3,817 starts. “Gulfstream, Calder, Philly (Parx), Penn National, Laurel, Pimlico, you name it, I raced there. I left New England because I grew up here and was always thinking I’d like to go someplace else. But my dad (Michael Catalano) told me that someday I would want to go home and he was right. Last year at Christmas time I made the decision to come back here and I’m so glad I did. It was the right choice.”

Catalano, 45, started training when he was 20 and now decades later he still has most of the same clients, who include Suffolk longtime employee Julie Firicano, Roland Hopkins and Sonny Stable among others.

“The sport is really great here because it’s so local and it’s not like that anywhere else,” he said. “At Suffolk, you see the same people supporting the game and the industry year in and year out. They’ve made the commitment. A big reason I came back is because of the people here.”

Of the original five horses Catalano brought to the track, he lost one through the claim box but then added a horse haltered in Kentucky to keep the stable at five. “I think I can go ten for ten,” he said. “With a little luck, with a little luck...”

The Groom of the Month is Everton Hebert, affectionately known as “Tweety.” Working for trainer Kevin McCarthy, Tweety is extremely dedicated to his barn and his horses are always well turned out when he leads them into the paddock.

Preakness Stakes Day

May 16, 2013 | Jessica Paquette

With the Preakness Stakes right around the corner, as far as I am concerned all roads lead to Orb . I have completely given in to the hype surrounding this horse and want him to be as special as he is hinting that he might be. Really, how often have you ever heard Shug say a horse gives him chills?

Though Orb will be the favorite, that is not to say there is not value to be had handicapping the Preakness.

Orb did draw the inside post and for a horse that has been somewhat difficult at the gate, that is not the ideal draw. However, he would have had every excuse to fall apart behind the gate at the Kentucky Derby with the exuberant crowds and he kept himself well composed. This colt is maturing with each start and really coming into his own. The inside post should not be an issue. Jockey Joel Rosario should be able to drop back after the break and let the pace unfold in front of him before launching their bid.

The interesting new shooter is the well-bred Departing who pointed specifically for this race. I find it endlessly entertaining that he and Orb were paddock mates as babies at Claiborne Farm and now the two childhood playmates get to race for real. Departing at this point has defeated suspect competition in his victories and his best effort may have come in his loss in the Louisiana Derby. He showed there he can run with the big boys and by all accounts Revolutionary is a legitimate racehorse. I think he is Orb's biggest threat but I do not think he can beat him.

Will Take Charge has one of my favorite things going for him here. He is making his second start off of a layoff. I liked him somewhat in the Derby but a seven week gap is a lot to ask, particularly for a colt his size. He is a big, awkward 17 hands and seems like the type that needs a tightening sort of race to be at peak condition. We will find out Saturday if that is true. He is impeccably bred and for a brief moment in the Derby was able to match Orb stride for stride.

And that leaves me with Govenor Charlie . For the life of me I still cannot figure out what to do with this colt. He either is a complete freak and wins easily, or he is nowhere to be seen. His effort at Sunland was not flattered when Midnight Lucky ran so flatly in the Kentucky Oaks (their races were quite comparable) and he needs to prove he can really run with top competition in a stakes race. Interestingly, in his debut he caught an absolute monster in Let Em Shine, a West Coast sprinter who will be a big name by the end of summer.

The stretch of time between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is an exciting one. At this point, the hope of a Triple Crown is a live and well. After Saturday, I think it will still be.

Kentucky Derby 2013

May 1, 2013 | Jessica Paquette, Racing Analyst

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most iconic sporting events in American history and each year, when the gates open, there is that moment of hope and promise. Maybe this will be the year we have a Triple Crown winner. Whether the eventual Derby champion can go all the way will remain to be seen, but one thing is certain – this should be a very exciting race.

The new and much-debated points system is not without its flaws, but it was an interesting way to watch all of the prep races this year. The last couple of days have been a game of musical starting gate with defections and surprise additions to the field. As if this year’s complex Derby hasn’t been hard enough to figure out, now there is a chance of an off track thrown into the mix!

Regardless of who is in and who is out, my top selection has remained the same since I watched him unleash a sharp closing kick to win the Fountain of Youth. This is not the year where I am trying to be clever and pick some obscure longshot. Orb is one of the only horses in this crop to actually be a total package. And, as a bonus, he has one of the strongest off-track pedigrees of the group.

I will shamelessly admit that I am a bit of a McGaughey/Phipps/Janney fangirl. I wanted to like Orb from the beginning, but he has really earned my respect over the course of the early season. McGaughey is known for his conservative approach with horses and while Orb did win the Florida Derby, he was likely nowhere near peaked for that race. Though he is a closer, he has proven he can be slightly more involved early and that new dimension he showed in the Florida Derby was encouraging. In a field of twenty, sometimes the serious deep closers are just left with too much work to do and too many tired horses to weave through.

While it was not a vote of confidence that jockey John Velazquez chose the undefeated Verrazano over Orb, there are more factors that go into decisions like that than simply which horse is better. It is a business and he has an incredibly long, successful history being Todd Pletcher’s go-to man. Orb will be reunited with Joel Rosario who was aboard for his first two career victories. Can you really think of a jockey who is having a better 2013 so far than Rosario? He won the Dubai World Cup aboard Animal Kingdom and now regained a top Derby contender.

A horse that may offer slightly more generous odds is Oxbow . If you just glance down at the jockey and trainer, you may think you time traveled to the 1990s but D. Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens are back for a last hurrah. Oxbow has been a frustrating horse throughout the preps this year as he has had more excuses than he has actually had victories. Poorly timed rides, unlucky post positions and bad trips have compromised his chances but Lukas has remained confident and sometimes that is enough to make me stick with him. Unlike several rivals who may have serious distance (or surface) limitations, he is bred to just keep on going. Even if he does have some traffic issues here, he might just have enough left to pick up the pieces and be a real contender. While his inside post draw is continuing his streak of bad luck, if anyone can overcome that it is Gary Stevens.

Revolutionary has gained appeal as the week has gone on. Though I maintain that I think he is the sort of horse that finds trouble, you have to like how battle tested he is going into this race. There is no doubt with this colt that he can persevere and overcome a rough race and still find the winner’s circle. This colt is another instance of a jockey jumping ship for a different mount (Javier Castellano opted to ride Normandy Invasion) but Calvin Borel is no stranger to Churchill Downs and his fearless riding style should fit this colt’s bold running style perfectly. It would not surprise me in the slightest if these two stole the show.

To round out my superfecta, I will throw in Palace Malice even though he breaks one of my cardinal rules handicapping the Derby. I really try to avoid horses that are still eligible for NW2L here. He has proven he can compete with the big horses and has run mostly very well, but he has not yet proven he can beat anything other than maidens. He has however been competitive enough to use in exotics and has the stamina to be there at the end.

I will be the first to admit I just do not know what to do with Verrazano . For an undefeated horse, he is as unheralded as I can remember and everyone seems to be trying to find flaw with him. I do have several key issues that are likely strong enough to make me leave him off my ticket. He has been extremely professional and done everything asked of him so far, but there is a big difference between what he has faced in his preps and a 20 horse field. He has never been bumped around or had to overcome any real adversity and that is where experience (or lack thereof) becomes an issue. My other fault with him is his lack of stamina in his pedigree. I was willing to overlook it until I saw him in person at the Wood Memorial and was just not blown away by how he finished. Maybe his dial wasn’t cranked all the way up and he is a freak and will win by 30 lengths. But maybe not, and at a short price I’m willing to look elsewhere. It is worth noting that Todd Pletcher visibly breathed a sigh of relief when Verrazano drew the 14 hole.

My selections:

1. Orb
2. Oxbow
3. Revolutionary
4. Palace Malice

There you have it. Enjoy the big race and be sure to come celebrate Boston’s Biggest and Best Kentucky Derby Party with us at Suffolk Downs! See you there!

Kentucky Oaks 2013

April 30, 2013 | Jessica Paquette, Racing Analyst

The Kentucky Oaks is one of my favorite racing days of the year. I remember when I was a little kid, I would convince my mother to let me stay home from school on that Friday so I could watch all of the coverage. Some of my fondest, earliest memories of being a racing fan involved walking to my local convenience store that morning to pick up my Daily Racing Form (remember, these were pre-internet days! There weren't PDFs of past performances easily available to download) and soaking up any bit of information I could find.

To this day, I have a soft spot for the Kentucky Oaks and this field has shaped up to be a very deep, exciting one. With a field of eleven sophomore fillies slated to go to post, there are quite a few fillies with very legitimate chances.

I had the opportunity to go to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial and while I was not particularly impressed by any of the three-year-old boys I saw in person that day, Close Hatches actually made me take notice in the undercard. This filly will face a more accomplished group here than she did in the Gazelle but seems like a filly with serious talent for the masterful Bill Mott. She may offer some minor upset potential here.

Though Bob Baffert’s Derby dreams came crashing down, he has a chance to soften that blow with the brilliant Midnight Lucky . She turned in an effortless performance in track record time in the Sunland Park Oaks. Take nothing away from that victory, but it was a lightning fast track against dubious competition. With only two starts, it looks like we haven’t come close to seeing the bottom of this filly and Baffert has been successful going from Sunland to Churchill in the past with Plum Pretty.

Beholder and Dreaming of Julia will get a rematch after Beholder defeated the Todd Pletcher-trained filly in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall. Both of these fillies have serious talent and the most exciting part about both of them is that they appear to be even stronger as three-year-olds than they were as babies.

Beholder has gotten sharper with each start this season and made it look easy in the Santa Anita Oaks last time out. The biggest question mark with her is going to be the 1 1/8 distance against tougher company than she faced in California. Though she looked like she finished well, she had everything her own way and may have to work a little harder on the front end against the likes of Midnight Lucky.

After a flat, somewhat disappointing sophomore debut, Dreaming of Julia turned in one of the most buzz-worthy performances of the year and annihilated a very respectable field in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She does have the ability to rate which makes her appealing in a speed filled race and if the pending forecast of rain is accurate? With her pedigree she should be almost unstoppable over an off track.

My selections:

1. Close Hatches
2. Dreaming of Julia
3. Midnight Lucky
4. Beholder

March 1, 2013

March 1, 2013 | Jessica Paquette

Since the racing season ended, I made a big change and began a new adventure with my off the track Thoroughbred and former New England champion, What a Trippi. I moved him close to home after keeping him at a friend's farm in Maine since I got him in November of 2011.

For him, the best thing right off of the racetrack was to go hang out in a field and learn to just be a horse again. But, after his extended vacation I thought it was time that we really got to bond and that he was ready to go back to work again. I have opted to rough board him, which means that I am there twice a day, every day and in charge of his full care. This has been a great experience, though I may have said otherwise when it was 3 degrees and even the hoses were frozen solid!

The first thing I did once I moved him home was to enlist the help of a professional. I think there is a major difference between being a good rider and being a good trainer and, having never trained a horse myself, I wanted to make sure he had every opportunity to succeed learning his second career. We began working with Tammy Hickock , a trainer with plenty of experience with OTTBs.

For the first two months, she worked with him five days a week, teaching him both on the ground and in the saddle. It was wonderful to watch him blossom – he seemed so happy to have a job again and was quick to catch on to what was being asked of him. Did he have some bad days? Oh absolutely, but that is part of the process and I kept reminding myself of that when I would leave feeling like a complete failure.

Right as his full training was coming to an end and I was going to assume more of the responsibility for his riding and work, we had our first major hurdle. He had an accident in the paddock. The phone call every horse owner dreads is when someone at the barn calls you and tells you that you better call your vet and get back to the barn immediately. He had gotten bitten in the eye by his turnout companion and it was an ugly injury. Luckily, Dr. Sheehan was close by and he did a tremendous job stitching him back together. It was a rough couple of days initially as at first Trippi was not the most cooperative patient but we got through it. I think years from now I will look back on that accident as a huge turning point for T and I. We bonded in a way that we hadn't yet done as we treated his injury and he really began to trust me.

Luckily, there turned out to be no permanent vision damage and two weeks later the stitches came out and we were back to work.

The first couple of rides I will admit were a little rocky for both of us. We took our time figuring out each other’s buttons and gears. I made a point to keep our sessions short and positive – nothing good would come from either of us getting frustrated or not understanding what the other one was trying to communicate. Little by little, he and I grew more and more confident.

Every ride gets better and better. He is continuing to get a couple of pro rides from Tammy each week and in addition, he and I are taking lessons. Having eyes on the ground to me is the most valuable tool and each week we are taking away homework to practice until our next session.

I am amazed every time I ride him by how smart he is and by his willingness to please. I think the greatest thing about an OTTB is their work ethic – from an early age, they have a job and that translates into their second career as well. I feel like I hit the lottery with this horse. I have never in all my years riding felt as comfortable or trusting on a horse than I do with him.

He makes me a better rider, a better horsewoman and a better person. Are OTTBs easy? No, but they are absolutely worth it.