MassCap News

Bud Morton/CB Photo


Suffolk Downs will not conduct the Massachusetts Handicap in 2009 due to current economic conditions, track officials announced today.

"It's a difficult decision because it means so much to the loyal racing fans of New England and to everyone at the track, but our partnership does not think we can responsibly incur the expense of the MassCap when we are fighting to save jobs and maintain current purse levels for the horsemen who are here every day," said Richard Fields, Suffolk Downs' principal shareholder. "Like so many businesses and families in the Boston area and throughout the country that are tightening their belts to weather the current economic storm, we have also been forced to make some difficult choices. We hope this is a temporary setback and that the local fans will continue to support our efforts to enhance racing in Massachusetts."

"We are disappointed that there will be no MassCap this year but Suffolk Downs' ownership raised purse levels in 2007 and has been working hard to maintain them and to support our horsemen and local farms despite tough economic conditions," said Al Balestra, president of the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

The MassCap was run every year from the track's inaugural season in 1935 until it closed in 1989. After the track re-opened in 1992, the MassCap did not return until the 1995 season. It was suspended in 2003, 2005 and 2006.


The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association has presented its listing of U.S. Graded Stakes for 2009, the results of its annual grading session conducted November 24 in Lexington, KY.

The Committee reviewed 746 unrestricted U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000, and assigned graded status to 488 of them, seven more than were graded in 2008. A total of 13 graded races were upgraded, including six new Grade I races and seven new Grade II races; 10 new Grade III races were identified. Two races which carried Grade III status in 2008 are no longer eligible for grading.

Six races were upgraded to Grade I status for 2009: the Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and TVG Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the Jamaica H. at Belmont Park, Pat O’Brien H. at Del Mar, Clement L. Hirsch H. at Del Mar and Vinery Madison S. at Keeneland.

One race was downgraded from Grade I to Grade II for 2009: the Suburban H. at Belmont Park.

Seven races were upgraded to Grade II status for 2009: the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, Nashua S. at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile S. at Churchill Downs, Colonial Turf Cup S. at Colonial Downs, Fayette S. and Thoroughbred Club of America S. at Keeneland and West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park.

No races were downgraded from Grade II to Grade III in 2009.

Ten races were upgraded to Grade III status for 2009: the Fall Highweight H. at Aqueduct, Derby Trial S. at Churchill Downs, Round Table H. at Hollywood Park, Woodford S. at Keeneland, Presque Isle Downs Masters S. at Presque Isle Downs, Thunder Road H. and Daytona H. at Santa Anita Park, With Anticipation S. at Saratoga, Massachusetts H. at Suffolk Downs and Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa Bay Downs.

Four races were downgraded from Grade III to Ungraded status for 2009: the Gravesend H. at Aqueduct, Bay Meadows Sprint H. at Bay Meadows, Bill Hartack Memorial H. at Hawthorne Race Course and Kentucky Cup Juvenile S. at Turfway Park. The Memorial Day H. at Calder Race Course and Deputy Minister H. at Gulfstream Park were not eligible for grading in 2009.

Edited press release from the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association


Commentator and jockey John Velazquez sat patiently in second position before taking the lead entering the far turn and driving home to a record-setting 14-length victory in the 66th running of the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs on Saturday, September 20, 2008 before an exuberant crowd of 17,712.

Commentator, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito for owner Tracy Farmer, was sent off at odds of 1-to-10, joining Cigar (1996) as the heaviest-favorite in the history of the race. The seven-year-old gelded son of Distorted Humor covered the mile-and-an-eighth in 1:48.97 and returned $2.20 across the board. Won Awesome Dude (4.60 and 3.00) was second, a length ahead of Cuba (2.80).

"It's a wonderful blessing for me to have a horse like this," said Zito, who added his first MassCap victory to his illustrious resume. "He ranks up there with all the other great ones I've had. We have a horse at the top of his game. You'd have to say that Curlin, Big Brown and Commentator are the top three."

This year's MassCap is one of five races in the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" Classic Division, with the winner automatically qualifying for the Breeders' Cup Classic to be held October 25 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in Arcadia, CA. Commentator had already qualified for the Classic by virtue of his win in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on July 26.

"If he goes to the Breeders' Cup, it would be the Classic," said Farmer. "I would enjoy seeing Big Brown and Curlin take him on. We'll have to see what Nick says."

Commentator's 14-length margin of victory easily surpassed the MassCap record set in 1938 by Menow, who won by eight lengths over a field that included the heavily-favored War Admiral, who finished fourth.

"He relaxed very well," said Velazquez, who won his second MassCap. "I really didn't want to be in a speed duel, so I was very content with the way we were going up the backside. I eased him away and he moved very confidently."

Riversrunrylee and jockey Pedro Gonzalez set fast fractions of 23.04 for the first quarter and 46.11 for the half mile before relinquishing the lead to Commentator and fading to the back of the pack.

Dr. Pleasure, third in last year's MassCap and the second choice this year, was fourth.


Commentator, the 3-to-5 morning line favorite for Saturday's MassCap, arrived in East Boston from Saratoga on Friday afternoon. Won Awesome Dude shipped in from Delaware, arriving Friday as well.


Dr. Pleasure and Cuba both arrived at the stakes barn on Thursday. Dr. Pleasure, third in last year's MassCap, shipped from Kentucky for trainer John Ward. Cuba made the shorter trip from New Jersey for trainer Bobby Dibona.

Commentator is scheduled to arrive late Friday afternoon.


Commentator, a two-time Grade I winner for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, leads a field of seven for this Saturday's $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs.

Commentator, the morning-line favorite at 3-to-5, is coming off of an impressive gate-to-wire score in the Whitney Handicap (Grade I) at Saratoga. He won the Whitney in 2005 as well. Overall this year, the seven-year-old gelded son of Distorted Humor has three wins from four starts, including a dominant victory in the Richter Scale Handicap (Grade II) at Gulfstream Park, which he won by over 13 lengths. Commentator starts from post two and will be ridden by John Velazquez for owner Tracy Farmer.

"He's been training spectacular," said Farmer. "I've had a great number of horses in my life and he has a bit of Seabiscuit in him. He understands what he is supposed to do. He's just a special horse. It's almost like he's my child. He's someone that keeps coming back and running."

Dr. Pleasure, third in last year's MassCap, returns as the 7-2 second choice for owner John Oxley and trainer John Ward. The five-year-old son of Thunder Gulch out of the champion mare Beautiful Pleasure returned from nearly a five-month layoff due to a breathing problem to post an impressive 8 1/4 length win in an optional claiming race at Saratoga on August 10. Dr. Pleasure placed third in the Travers Stakes (Grade I) at age three. Cornelio Velasquez is named to ride. Dr. Pleasure will break from the six post.

"The breathing problem was an entrapped epiglottis," said Ward, who conditioned 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. "I think it affected his two races previous to the one at Saratoga. It was odd to find this type of problem on a five-year-old horse. He had the procedure and he came back very well. He seems to have found himself a new level to compete."

Cuba is the third choice at odds of 6-1. Since being claimed for $18,000 earlier this year, trainer Bobby Dibona has saddled the seven-year-old for five victories. He finished a close fifth in his most recent start in the Iselin Handicap (Grade III) at Monmouth Park.

"It made sense to take him but never really thought he'd develop like he has," said Dibona, who grew up in Weymouth, MA. "I have a lot of confidence in him but he will have to step up his game to take on Commentator."

Won Awesome Dude, winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park in his last start, is the 8-1 fourth choice. Rounding out the field are Riversrunrylee (15-1), Beck and Call (20-1) and Volcanic Force (20-1).

The 66th running of the MassCap is one of five Classic Division races in this year's Breeders' Cup Challenge, a series of automatic qualifiers for the Breeders' Cup World Championships. In the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" format, the winner of the MassCap will automatically qualify for entry in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run October 25 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA.

Entries for the $100,000 James B. Moseley Sprint Handicap were also drawn. Suave Jazz is the 3-1 favorite in the nine-horse field.

The MassCap is race 10 on Saturday's special 11-race program. First post time is 12:45 p.m. The card will feature an all stakes Pick Four consisting of the MassCap, the Moseley Sprint and a pair of $50,000 stakes races, the inaugural Robert M. O'Malley and the Drumtop.

$500,000 Guaranteed
1 & 1/8 Miles
Saturday, September 20
Approximate Post Time: 5:45 p.m.

Post - Horse, Jockey, Morning Line

1 - Beck and Call, Tammi Piermarini, 20-1
2 - Commentator, John Velazquez, 3-5
3 - Won Awesome Dude, Casey Lambert, 8-1
4 - Cuba, Pedro Cotto Jr., 6-1
5 - Volcanic Force, Clifford Dooley, 20-1
6 - Dr. Pleasure, Cornelio Velasquez, 7-2
7 - Riversrunrylee, Pedro Gonzalez, 15-1

$100,000 James B. Moseley Sprint Handicap
6 Furlongs

Post Position - Horse, Jockey, Odds

1 - Suave Jazz, Cornelio Velasquez, 3-1
2 - Southern Rainbow, Yamil Rosario, 8-1
3 - Real Estate, John Velazquez, 4-1
4 - Gold and Roses, Pedro Cotto Jr., 6-1
5 - Cavallo Pazzo, Cornelio Velasquez, 4-1
6 - Fairly Crafty, No Rider, 20-1
7 - Joey Carson, No Rider, 5-1
8 - Connections, No Rider, 6-1
9 - My Privileged, Alfredo Clemente, 15-1


First Post Time: 12:45 p.m. (11-race program)

MassCap Post Time: Approximately 5:45 p.m. (live on TVG)

All-Stakes Pick Four:
Race 7: $50,000 Robert M. O'Malley Stakes
Race 8: $50,000 Drumtop Stakes
Race 9: $100,000 James B. Moseley Sprint Handicap
Race 10: $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap

Admission: Get a commemorative MassCap hat FREE with paid admission ($5), while supplies last. Season passes may be presented for admission only. To receive a hat, you must pay the admission fee.

Valet - $10
Preferred - $5
General - Free

Reserved Seating:
Clubhouse Box seats - $20 per seat (must purchase an entire box)
Individual Grandstand seats - $5 each
Cash only. Price of admission not included.

Dining Reservations: Call (617) 568-3230. The Terrace will be offering a price-fixed menu, which includes choices of appetizer, entree and dessert. $65.95 per person (excluding tax and gratuity).

Entertainment: Dixieland band, All-Star Buglers, "MassCap Monkey"

Fan Photo Experience: Get your picture taken with a racehorse and jockey at the Clubhouse entrance starting at 11 a.m.


Commentator and Student Council, both multiple Grade I winners, are among 13 graded-stakes winners on the list of 33 nominees for the $500,000 Massachusetts Handicap to be run on Saturday, September 20 at Suffolk Downs.

The 66th running of the MassCap will carry a guaranteed purse of $500,000, with $300,000 to the winner. The MassCap is one of five Classic Division races in this year's Breeders' Cup Challenge, a series of automatic qualifiers for the Breeders' Cup World Championships. In the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" format, the winner of the MassCap will automatically qualify for entry in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which will be run on October 25 at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA.

Commentator, two-time winner of the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, hails from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito. In addition to his win in the Whitney on July 26, Commentator also won this year's Richter Scale Handicap (Grade II) at Gulfstream Park.

Student Council is one of four nominees for trainer Steve Asmussen. Student Council's two Grade I wins came in this year's Pimlico Special and last year's Pacific Classic. The other Asmussen-trained nominees are Magna Graduate, Pyro and Zanjero.

Mambo in Seattle, second in this year's thrilling Travers Stakes (Grade I), has been nominated by trainer Neil Howard, who also nominated last year's Travers' runner-up Grasshopper.

Fairbanks, second to Brass Hat in the 2007 MassCap, is one of three nominees for trainer Todd Pletcher. The five-year-old recently won the Duke of Magenta Stakes at Saratoga over fellow nominees Angliana and Magna Graduate. Pletcher has also nominated A.P. Arrow and Sam P.

In addition to Zito, Asmussen, Howard and Pletcher, high profile trainers Gary Contessa, Eoin Harty, Larry Jones, Kiaran McLaughlin, Ken McPeek and John Ward have all nominated horses to the race.

Grade II winner Adore the Gold, trained by Michael Gorham, is among the 21 nominees for the $100,000 James B. Moseley Sprint Handicap on the MassCap Day undercard.

Weight assignments for both races will be announced by Suffolk Downs racing secretary Tom Creel on Saturday, September 13. Final entries will be drawn at the MassCap post position draw and press conference luncheon on Wednesday, September 17.

The complete lists of MassCap and Moseley nominees follow.

The Massachusetts Handicap
$500,000 Guaranteed
3 & Up
1 & 1/8
Horse, Trainer

A.P. Arrow, Todd Pletcher
Angliana, Gary Contessa
Aquino (URU), Kiaran McLaughlin
Barcola, Mark Hennig
Beck and Call, James Taglianetti
Commentator, Nick Zito
Cuba, Bobby Dibona
Dr. Pleasure, John Ward, Jr.
Evening Attire, Patrick Kelly
Fairbanks, Todd Pletcher
Grasshopper, Neil Howard
Judiths Wild Rush, Julian Canet
Loose Leaf, Kenneth McPeek
Magna Graduate, Steve Asmussen
Mambo in Seattle, Neil Howard
My Privileged, Rafael Ramos
Nijinsky Bullet, Rafael Ramos
O'Malley, Christopher Pitrone
Palladio, Roger Attfield
Past the Point, Eoin Harty
Private Scandal, Peter Bazeos
Pyro, Steve Asmussen
Riversrunrylee, Juan Camilo
Rome is Burning, John Botty
Sam P., Todd Pletcher
Solar Flare (ARG), Larry Jones
Student Council, Steve Asmussen
Sweetnorthernsaint, Leo Azpurua, Jr.
Timber Reserve, John Kimmel
True Resurgence, John Terranova, II
Volcanic Force, Osvaldo Rivera
Won Awesome Dude, Michael Mareina
Zanjero, Steve Asmussen

The James B. Moseley Sprint Handicap
$100,000 Guaranteed
3 & Up
6 Furlongs
Horse, Trainer

Adore the Gold, Michael Gorham
Aquino (URU), Kiaran McLaughlin
Cavallo Pazzo, Anthony Dutrow
Connections, Brenda McCarthy
Fairly Crafty, Florence Gemma Siravo
Fearless Vision, Patrick Reynolds
Gold and Roses, Richard Schosberg
Hold on Smokey, Donald Kielty
Joey Carson, Mark Shuman
Joey P., Benjamin Perkins, Jr.
Maddy's Lion, Gregory Sacco
My Privileged, Rafael Ramos
Place Your Bet, Scott Lake
Programed a Star, Florence Gemma Siravo
Ravalo, Donald Barr
Real Estate, Bruce Levine
Roman Candles, Lynne Scace
Southern Missile, David Jacobson
Southern Rainbow, Charles Assimakopoulos
Starforaday, Gary Contessa
Suave Jazz, Anthony Dutrow