Fate of the New Massachusetts Racetrack up to the voters

Whether live thoroughbred racing will be restored in New England and the breeding industry revived is now up to voters in the town of Hardwick, Mass., where directors of the Commonwealth Equine and Agricultural Center are proposing a new racetrack to be developed.

In the latest development in the on-again-off-again saga over the last two months, when the Hardwick Board of Selectmen reversed themselves by initially voting unanimously in favor of the plan, the track at the 360-acre Meadowbrook Farm erect, but then later, nullified, approved, the three-man board decided 2-1 on the evening of November 21 that voters should be the ultimate arbiters.

The latest board vote calls for a special election in the city on Jan. 7, 2023.

Letting Hardwick voters decide is the latest development on whether Thoroughbreds will race on an all-grass course for a proposed brief two-day boutique meeting in September 2023.

To review the changing tides in the town, at a board meeting in Hardwick on October 25 and amid growing opposition to the project, the panel of three voted to move a vote up or down to allow local communities to have more could input. Just two days later, on October 27, the board changed course and voted 3-0 to reject the project. Then, on November 9, the board reversed again and voted 2-1 to approve.

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During the months-long process, petitions signed by community members in both support and opposition to the new racecourse, which will also be a breeding center and racehorse pension facility, were submitted to the town clerk.

Essentially, the board’s 2-1 vote on Monday was not to reconsider its last 2-1 vote of Nov. 9 and move on to the special election.

At the same meeting, the board decided that a committee would now be assembled to gather more information on the proposal to develop the farm into a racecourse and horse center and to present the full results to voters ahead of the January 7 special election.

“In the next 45 days, the riders will prove to us that this project is not only good for the investor, but also for the riders, the breeders, the city and for all related jobs, which will even be created with a two-day meeting too beginning. We’re going to present the facts so there’s no misunderstanding or misunderstanding,” said Paul Umbrello, executive director of the New England affiliate of the Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association. “We fight to keep racing and breeding alive.”

Fields and its partners at the Commonwealth Equine and Agricultural Center have entered into a purchase and sale agreement for the Meadowbrook Farm property, but that deal has an end date of February 2023.

Meanwhile, Richard Fields, one of the owners of Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, which operated Suffolk Downs when that track held live meetings, and his various partners at CEAC submitted an application to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a 2023 live thoroughbred racing license a deadline October 1st.

The MGC was mandated by state law to rule on the motion by November 15, but the commissioners suspended that session during an emergency session on November 14 before voting on the motion. It will be held in limbo until local Hardwick townsfolk have their say.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse sold the property at Suffolk Downs to a property developer in May 2017. The last New England live meeting was hosted by the New England HBPA at Suffolk Downs and ended on June 30, 2019. Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire Another of the 17 defunct Thoroughbred tracks that once defined the New England region last held a live meeting in 2002 and the property was sold in 2016 for a mixed-use real estate development.