J and I had barely arrived at Suffolk Downs in East Boston today when a grizzled regular approached us as we stood snapping pictures of the horses parading to post. “Who do you like?” he asked, and J and I shrugged. “This is our first time here,” J explained, and I added that we don’t really know anything about horse-racing, not having the heart to mention that we hadn’t even picked up a racing program.
“Well, who’d you bet on,” the grizzled regular asked, not ready to give up on us that easily. “Uh, no one,” J explained with a chuckle, and the old-timer sighed, clearly disappointed in the newbies who’d come to the track just to watch and take pictures of the fast, pretty horses. “Number Six is who I like,” the regular called out as he walked away, and we wished him luck, overhearing him throughout the race cheering on his choice: “C’mon, Number Six!”
Number Six came in third-to-last: although I don’t know much about picking (or betting on) winning horses, I know that third-to-last doesn’t pay anything. But since J and I didn’t put any money on any of the races we watched, we were free to admire all the horses whether they won or lost. In all the years J and I have lived in the Boston area, before today we’d never been to Suffolk Downs, which is rather remarkable considering how easy and cheap a day-trip it is: T-accessible and with free admission, just a stone’s throw from Belle Isle Marsh.
My dad is a huge harness-racing fan and a long-time regular at Scioto Downs in Columbus, Ohio. Unlike the Thoroughbreds that run at Suffolk Downs and in well-known races such as the Kentucky Derby, harness horses are Standardbreds who are trained to run in a trotting or pacing (not galloping) gait while pulling a driver in a lightweight buggy called a sulky. When I was a kid, I sometimes went to the track with my dad, watching the races as only a horse-crazy city kid could. While my dad and his friend put their money on the “ponies,” I watched slack-jawed and in awe of a place that was all about horses.
Going to Suffolk Downs today felt a bit like traveling back to my childhood…albeit with Thoroughbreds that gallop with tiny jockeys on their backs rather than Standardbreds pulling men in sulkies. Just like those trips to the track with my dad, I didn’t really care which horse won or which bet paid big: with no money on the line, I was free (then and today) to admire the beautiful, fleet-footed creatures that filled my childhood daydreams.
Click here for more pictures from Suffolk Downs. Enjoy!