Day At The Track

Scarborough Downs to close its doors

09:27 AM 21 Nov 2020 NZDT
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Scarborough Downs, harness racing
Scarborough Downs in Maine is closing down
Michael Newman photo

Beset by financial hardship in recent years, Scarborough Downs will bring down the curtain on 70 years of horse racing later this month.

The racetrack, located just south of Portland, Maine, will conduct its final racing program next Saturday (Nov. 28) after opening in 1950 and having conducted harness racing since the 1970s.

After riding the wave of harness racing's heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, Scarborough Downs largely ended up lost in the shuffle of full-card simulcasting and has suffered financial losses for the better part of the current century.

"It's a combination of things," Scarborough downs publicist Mike Sweeney said in a report from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald. "The overriding sense within the industry is that harness racing needs something different, something that Scarborough Downs can't offer."

The half-mile track and its cavernous 6,500-seat grandstand — which was sold out many a summer evening in racing's golden decades — were sold in 2018 to real estate developers Crossroads Holdings LLC, along with the 500 acres of land surrounding the track. Crossroads leased the track back to its operators for the past three seasons, but with on-site wagering revenue having stagnated, the arrangement became unsustainable.

“We just appreciated the fact that the new owners let us have us of facility as long as possible to ensure the industry could get on secure footing, where we can go on from here,” said Mike Cushing, director of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association. “For that we’re grateful.”

The track will still offer simulcast wagering through the end of 2020, and will apply to do the same in 2021 after averaging nearly $8 million a year in simulcast handle over the past three years — a much rosier figure than the roughly $810,000 in on-track handle over 72 Scarborough programs in 2019.

For the time being, the closure of Scarborough Downs relegates harness racing in the Pine Tree State to Bangor Raceway as well as a storied county fair circuit which, unlike many jurisdictions in the United States, offers pari-mutuel wagering.

But despite the final days of one of New England's harness racing jewels of yesteryear being nigh, Cushing feels that brighter days could be ahead with the help of a new venue, which the Press Herald reports is potentially in the works.

"I think this means a new beginning for harness racing in Maine," Cushing concluded.

(with files from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald)

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