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Plainridge gears up for $250K Spirit of Mass. Trot

June 19, 2017
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During its 18-year history, Plainridge Park had been considered mostly a "B" track, hosting horses that may have been overmatched at other venues. However as a direct result of the Race Horse Development Fund, expanded gaming in Massachusetts and the persistent hard work of all the horsemen and horsewomen in the state, Plainridge Park has now positioned itself as one of the more competitive tracks in the northeast.
 
Over the last three years the track has been going through a very swift renaissance. Since opening in 1999, the track filled the void left in Massachusetts harness racing when Foxboro Park closed in 1997 after 50 years in operation.
 
Evidence of this rebirth since 2014 is 45 more racing dates, purses which in some cases have doubled, a $10 million increase in live handle and another $3 million increase from simulcast. These numbers clearly indicate that Plainridge Park is a vital racing jurisdiction.

The main goal of management moving forward was to make sure the local horsemen who supported the track in the lean years had the opportunity to benefit now. But they also wanted to put Massachusetts harness racing back on the map nationally and the best way to do that was with a Grand Circuit event.

Track management looked at the racing calendar for a spot they could host a signature race during the summer where it wouldn't clash with another stake and allow them to draw the best horses to Plainridge for it. They identified an opening for aged trotters in late July leading up to Cashman Memorial and the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot was born.

The inaugural edition of the $250,000 Spirit of Massachusetts Trot will be presented on Friday, July 28.

The purse is by far the largest ever offered for a Standardbred race in the state, more than tripling the $81,000 Colonial trot held at Foxboro Park in 1995 and the $75,000 Beckwith Memorial held at Plainridge in 2009. And it will bring the best horses and drivers in the sport to Massachusetts for an event unparalleled in New England harness racing history.

Steve O'Toole is the general manager and director of live racing at Plainridge Park. He has been associated with the track for many years and is pleased they are able to host such a prestigious race.

"The success of Plainridge Park Casino, Massachusetts first expanded gaming facility, is the catalyst for this event. Racing is an important part of the operation at Plainridge Park and it is an important industry in Massachusetts and New England. The Spirit of Massachusetts Trot seemed to fit well with the effort to keep harness racing viable in the Commonwealth," said O'Toole.

"The day-in, day-out racing program at Plainridge Park has been solidified over the past couple of years and we wanted to take the next step and create an event to let the industry know harness racing in Massachusetts is back on the map. Also by offering this race, we hope to boost the local fan base as well as strengthen the relationship with our simulcast customers."

Horsemen have taken notice of the race as the connections of 38 eligibles have made the final sustaining payment in May and those eligibles include the very best Open trotters in the U.S. and Canada, including five millionaires among the plethora of stake winners.

"Pretty much every track that is successful today has some type of signature race; it's a chance to sell our sport to the fans. The Spirit of Massachusetts will do just that. We will be hosting the best aged trotters inNorth Americathe week prior to Hambletonian Day so you would have to think there will be a lot of eyes on Plainridge Park that Friday afternoon," said Paul Verrette, race secretary at Plainridge Park.

"Hosting a race like this is an honor and quite an accomplishment when you think about where this track was less than four years ago. The fact that this event is taking place is a testament to so much hard work by so many people in Massachusetts both inside and outside of the harness racing industry."

And those people are on both sides of the fence. The horsemen partnered with track management to work on the growth at the facility and as a result, everyone is now reaping the fruits of their labor in a successful and professional atmosphere.

"As we get closer to the big race, our members are excited to showcase an industry which has experienced significant growth and renewal over the past few years. The buzz is palpable; our owners and trainers are excited to participate on a card hosting such a significant event as the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot," said Bob McHugh, president of the Harness Horse Association of New England.

"There has been a realization that this race will let the public know that harness racing is back in Massachusetts. And since there is talk about the state taking some money from the Race Horse Development Fund for other purposes, this race sends a message to the legislature that our industry is alive and well."

Besides the signature event, plans for the rest of the July 28 card are to showcase the best local horsemen and horses that have been supporting and racing at the track for years.

"The most important thing to me is that the other races that day are exclusively for regular Plainridge participants. We will have a handful of special races as we try to involve organizations such as the New England Amateur Drivers Club, the Massachusetts Breeders and the U.S.T.A, but it will be built around the Plainridge regulars," said Verrette.

Harness racing in Massachusetts has been making history for well over 100 years. In 1903 the Readville Trotting Park was the site of the first 2:00 trotting mile when the little red mare, Lou Dillon became the queen of the turf. And Readville was also the first track to offer a $50,000 purse for a special American Handicap trot in 1908, the largest money ever offered in North American harness racing at that time.

Now just 25 miles down I-95 from that historic site, Massachusetts harness racing looks to make history once again at Plainridge Park.

A complete list of all 38 eligibles to the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot can be found by clicking here.

A landing page for the Spirit of Massachusetts Trot has been created and will be updated with news and information as race day approaches. You can visit that by clicking here. (Owners Association of Mass.)

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