Suffolk Downs was the first horse track in the nation to have its public transit authority build a trolley station in record time - three days, so that the trolleys from Maverick Square (signed Gladstone at first, then Suffolk Downs) could take bettors to place their bets before the race.
In its heyday, well before the Internet, state lotteries, and casinos took away its luster, horse racing has always been called the Queen of Sports (with boxing as the King). Suffolk Downs was no different. It had its share of colorful personalities, bettors with a "sure thing," bettors with their own accounts, and the occasional bettor who could never seem to win because their favorite got beaten by a nose.
I went there occasionally. I could never figure out Daily Racing Form, so most of the time I went on hunches. I didn't spend that much - maybe on a good day I spent $20 over two or three races - but the horses running like mad to the finish line offered plenty of excitement (and copious amounts of obscenities if the horse you selected didn't win). I didn't win that much either, but here or there a win over $50 was considered a good day.
Six years ago, voters went to the polls to ban greyhound racing. In a vote in 2012, the residents of East Boston voted no on their side of Suffolk Downs; the Revere side voted yes. This week, only three people were deemed necessary and sufficient to approve a casino in Everett. The voters already said no; the three on the gambling panel assured its demise.
Suffolk Downs will end its live racing for good on September 29; it will end simulcasting on December 31. Thousands of people - not just the jockeys, but horse groomers, bet takers, and stable owners - will be out of jobs. When I passed Wonderland Greyhound Track this summer on the Commuter Rail train, the once-grand track was rusting and choked with weeds. Suffolk may suffer the same fate, but only if developers are discouraged from building there.
Imagine people walking out of the new Suffolk Downs Mall, anchored by a SuperWalmart on the Revere side and a Market Basket on the East Boston side, doing a bigger and better business than Suffolk Downs the racetrack ever could. A developer could put up true low-cost apartments that everyone can live in, not just those who can afford $3,000 a month or more. Even putting up a new MBTA bus garage with a transit museum that would rival that of Seashore in Kennebunkport, ME would improve the area.
All of those are possibilities for the old Suffolk Downs grounds, and whoever purchases the Suffolk Downs land will convert it into something the NIMBYs despise even more than a casino, but can do nothing about because the concept is so successful. That they cannot complain because doing so would make them sour, rent-seeking do-nothings would be delicious irony.
Suffolk Downs may have its best races and handles yet thanks to well-wishers and bettors trying to get in one last bet and one last hurrah. That's what happened when the Hilltop Steak House closed last year; people who never stepped foot into the restaurant were there just to feel the aura of a more genteel era gone by.
I may yet hear my last "You [expletive deleted] nag, you cost me a $900 trifecta" from a frustrated bettor before I leave. That phrase won't be from me, though.