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Ghost Tracks X: Bay State Raceway
Tuesday, August 26, 2014 - by Tim Bojarski

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I was on vacation in the Boston area last week and had the opportunity to visit Gillette Stadium for a pre-season game between the Philadelphia Eagles and that team that beats Buffalo twice a year.

 
Images courtesy of the author
Bay State Raceway, Schaffer Stadium and the nascent Gillette Stadium can be seen in the satellite images above.

 

My desire to go to that location was not solely for the purpose of watching meaningless August football, it was driven far more by my desire to visit yet another ghost track location: Bay State Raceway.

 

This track has a very interesting story because it was defunct several times before becoming an official ghost track. Oddly enough the generosity of its then owner sealed the track’s fate 27 years before it closed when he gave away 15 acres of land to develop Schaffer Stadium in 1970.

 

But before we look at it demise, let’s explore its birth.

 

A.M. Loew of Loew’s Theatre fame was the senior partner of the original group that constructed Bay State Raceway. Along with Paul Bowser and Ed Keller, a track of “modern appointments and perfect lighting for night racing” was built on a site on Route 1 and situated exactly 22-½ miles from both Boston and Providence. 

 

A partially finished plant opened as Bay State Raceway at 8:15 p.m. on Sept. 1, 1947, for their inaugural 30-day meet. The racing was better than expected and the purses grew each night along with the handle. After that initial meet ended, construction on the remaining barns and buildings that were not completed for the grand opening continued into the winter in order to be ready for the 1948 meet.

 

Bay State was a major stop on the eastern seaboard circuit for many years and all the stars of the sport made visits there. Plus many of the local horsemen made the transition to the Grand Circuit and became stars in their own right like Jim Doherty, Ted Wing and Bucky Day.

 

Many people might remember the big neon billboard on Rt. 1 outside the track that had the horse’s legs moving and the sulky wheels turning and the drivers arm moving the whip. It was there for years to greet the fans that often times numbered well over 10,000 a night.

 

The all-time handle at the facility was $737,838 in 1969 and a record crowd of 16,006 gathered there in 1970. These may have been the golden years for the track because it seemed like it was all downhill from there.

 

When the Boston Patriots of the old AFL were struggling financially and looking for a new home field, the site in Foxborough, Mass., was selected for the new stadium when Loew donated a piece of land for the new stadium in 1970 that would keep the team in Boston. The area was built in only 11 months at a cost of $6 million and opened in 1971 as Schaffer Stadium.

 

 
The two New England football stadiums with just a peek of the former Foxboro Raceway in the foreground.

Five years later the track was sold by Loew to Ed Andleman and Ed Keelan in 1976 and its name was changed to the New England Harness Raceway, probably to mirror the football team’s name change for regional marketing purposes. The new owners had immediate problems with the stadium owners and during a property survey found that part of the football stadium was on track property.

 

Through a series of legal challenges and public campaigning, then Patriots owner Billy Sullivan took over the lease of the track. That settled his problem with the track, but the track’s problems with him were just beginning.

 

At that time, the team and stadium losses were mounting. Poor gate revenue and even poorer outside investments reportedly made by the Sullivans saw them fall into serious debt and soon the track went into bankruptcy in 1986 and was closed in 1987.

 

Also as a result of the growing fiscal troubles for Sullivan, in 1988 Robert Kraft worked out a lease deal with the bankruptcy court to take over the lease of Schaffer Stadium and changed the name to Foxboro Stadium in 1989.

 

Three years later, Charles Sarkis (who owned a dog track in Revere, Mass.) got a license to reopen the track near the stadium again. The venue once again followed the football name game and Foxboro Park Raceway was born.

 

The first horses to tour the oval were Thoroughbreds, but that meet ended prematurely, completing only 35 of a planned 72-day meet. The trotters took over again in September 1992 for what would be the final bow of this grand old track.

 

In 1994 Kraft purchased the football team and decided to build a new stadium. And the racetrack was apparently in the way of the plans. Plus there were undertones of a possible gaming license coming available to the track operator, so it made it an even more desirable property to be had if that came to pass.

 

Kraft initiated a lawsuit against Sarkis for failure to pay rent on his lease in an effort to take over the property. In a July 9, 1997, article from HTA, it is reported that Sarkis was giving up his legal battle and would hand over the track as Kraft had won decisively in court. The meet ended two months later and on Aug. 18, 1997, the last race ever was run at Bay State-New England Harness-Foxboro Raceway; a ghost track times three.

 
Nothing remains of Foxboro Raceway in the photo above.

 

The track stood derelict for almost three years until work on the stadium began on March 24, 2000.

 

There are absolutely no remnants of the old track either visible or preserved and the only feature “old timers” can use for reference is where the backstretch would have run concurrently with the railroad tracks at the back of the property.

 

On a brighter note I can report that the Red Wing restaurant, once the preeminent hangout for all the top horsemen to ever race at that track, is still alive and well and serving some of the best seafood you will find in the area.


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