Horse Players Riot at Suffolk Downs, 1945

Dec 22nd 2009 06:19 pm | Tags: ,

One of the real joys in writing for this site is doing the research. It is amazing the historical trails that can be followed via the internet. As someone who remembers doing research before the web, it is astounding what can be discovered while sitting on your couch. If you have ever had microfilm-motion-sickness, you understand the luxury of researching on the internet

A few days back, I was poking around in my usual way and landed on the search terms “racetrack riots.” I had been searching for a particular incident when runners for local pool rooms and race track security clashed in Chicago. That is an incident I’m sure to revisit in a future post but I began uncovering accounts of horseplayer riots that were equally fascinating and bizarre.

A found a handful of horseplayer insurrections at tracks in Europe and North America. The most recent one of significance in the United States (that I could find) was at Roosevelt Raceway in 1963, when players demanded and then rioted in efforts to get refunds on their daily double tickets after a mass pileup eliminated six of the eight betting interests. Fifteen people were arrested and the head of track security died of a heart attack during the altercation. Reports called the riot the “worst in harness history.”

In 1975, horseplayers rioted at a harness track in Canada called Richelieu. Like the riot at Roosevelt, it also came as the result of confusion over an exotic bet (referred to as a “gimmick” in the article). When a statistical coincidence resulted in a $58.50 mutuel on a straight win bet and and the exact same $58.50 on a quinella payout in the eighth race, horse players smelled a fix and showed their displeasure by causing $50,000 in damages.

A riot in Europe took place at a track in Vincennes, France in 1930 when five trotters were left at the gate at the start of the first race. Punters “wrecked the grandstands, raided the bars, and continued rioting until assured that entrance money and all bets would be refunded.” When it was decided that bettors would be refunded, “the mob quieted and began lining up at the various gates to get their money back.” Nothing like the promise of a few bucks to transition a riot to an orderly queue.

Interestingly, most of the horsplayer riots I came across occurred at harness tracks (i’d love to hear some theories on this?).

With the exception of clashes between bookmakers and police found in the early part of the century, the most significant incidents I found at a thoroughbred track occurred at Suffolk Downs. The first was in 1944, and the second, in 1945, described this way by the the Associated Press:

“Police reserves were rushed to the Suffolk Downs horse track late Saturday as an angry crowd of spetators rushed the stewards stand and smashed the equipment in protest against a disqualification.

“The disturbance began as the number of the favorite, Johnny jr., was hauled down a winner of the co-featured $5,000 Commonwealth. Windmill, owned by Mrs. T. Haskos and A. Spilos was declared winner after Johnny jr., was disqualified for fouling.

“One spectator climbed into the stewards pagoda, when two policmen grabbed him, about 100 booing spectators swarmed on the track, one of them hurling a bottle through the door of the official stand. A shower of bottles followed and the stewards huddled on the floor, holding chairs up for protection. Police prevented a group from overturning a tractor used to harrow the track. After 45 minutes, track police called out the reserves with tear gas and riot guns and the crowd was dispersed.

“The jockeys’ scale was smashed in the riot, a policeman’s motorcycle sidecar was set afire and an attempt to burn an awning opposite the finish stand was frustrated.

“The eighth race, final event of the Suffolk season, was called off because Massachusetts law does now allow horseracing after 7 p.m. It had been delayed as the crowd roamed the track.”

I love the last line here: Are we to assume that if the riot ended before the 7 o’clock curfew the 8th would have gone off as planned? Times sure have changed – I have to think that an incident like this today would bring about a Congressional hearing and calls for the banishment of the sport.


Thanks to the Horseplayers Association blog for mentioning and linking to my site last week in their piece about takeout. Also, a thanks to John Pricci who was inspired by the HANA post to write an article at Horserace Insider about Colin and the “good old days” when tracks had dress codes. I wonder what the rioters were wearing when they tried to burn down the steward stand at Suffolk back in the “good old days”?

A new set of letters to a new horseplayer are up at the Hello Race Fans site including one that I wrote. Check it out!

Happy Holidays everyone! Thanks for reading!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history

32 Responses to “Horse Players Riot at Suffolk Downs, 1945”

  1. Teresa says:

    The site looks terrific, and the only downside to the ease of research is finding enough time to write about it all. Thanks for sharing the fruits of your labor, and Merry Christmas–

  2. That’s Why my home track had the nickname “Sufferin’Downs”!!
    Nice story.

  3. Matt says:

    I think its high time horseplayers start riots at tracks across the country to protest takeout rates and the numerous other issues killing this great sport…

  4. Jim says:


    Great piece. Re the link “clashes between bookmakers and police”…still laughing at the image of the bookmaker as he “bit, clawed and kicked with desperation”

  5. Valerie says:

    Awesome stuff, as always, Kevin, and so true about the ease of stumbling across great material these days. And to think, when I was in undergrad, all our library had was an old-fashioned card catalog! God bless the Internet 🙂

    Happy holidays!

  6. ML/NJ says:

    My guess as to why most of the riots have occurred at Harness tracks is that there is a much wider perception of chicanery at Harness tracks. So when the unwashed see “proof” right in front of their eyes it doesn’t take much to get many of them to return to a state of nature.

  7. ED D says:

    I was at the Weymouth (ma.) Fair in the early 70’s when people stormed the judges stand.
    Sports Illustrated did a small story on it. A horse went the wrong way after a spill, the track announncer told the jockeys to pull up their mounts,some did, some didn’t, then they declared a winner and paid off. The crowd went crazy & stormed the judges stand.Police we’re called to quell the crowd.
    God, do I miss the Fairs.
    If anybody has any good Mass fair circuit stories I would love to hear them

  8. Mac says:

    I share a great love for the Massachusetts Fair circuit, cheating and all. It was the first horse racing experience for many of my friends and I.

    Bring back Northhapton!

  9. PDV says:

    Who wouldn’t love being a 13-year-old kid betting on 13- year-old horses running three times a week around turns tighter than Paris Hilton’s blue jeans?

    Albert Florio winning aboard Grey Lawn in the Au Revoir (I think they went around six times). Popover. Cee the Fox.

    Forty six year ago I was 11 years old and selling cokes for the Duke in the stands at Weymouth Fair when my older brother (Ed who posted above) informed me I was going to be a one-quarter investor in a horse named Man O’ Kent. I forked over 50 cents and Man O’ Kent won and paid $12. I got $3 and was hooked too.

    “Hey Mister, can you make a bet for us?” Fair week came and we would actually go around and collect early on our paper routes so we’d have a stake.

    It never got better than that.

  10. Bystander says:

    This reminds me of when two people at Emerald Downs interrupted an otherwise calm day of handicapping to have an argument about abortion.

    Neither of these two men had a right to even possess a thought about abortion yet the argument ensued.

    One person kept giving the religious stance on the subject, with spoken paragraph after paragraph, while the other simply responded “It’s LEGAL!”, time and again without adding more.

    Eventually, the religious zealot ended up stabbing his own “Oriental Chicken Salad” with his own fork with such ferocity that most of the salad left the bowl and landed all over the clothing of an innocent 3rd-party bystander!

  11. Don says:

    I realize I’m a little late to the conversation about the Mass. fairs but I wanted to mention my introduction to the fair circuit. It was the late ’50s at Great Barrington. I was about 12 or 13. Tommy Maeda won something like three of the first four races. It must have been his day. Anyway, I concluded that this was an easy game. All I had to do was bet Tommy Maeda’s horse and I could collect. I couldn’t understand why people hadn’t figured this out. I soon discovered there were some holes in my theory, but I always had a soft spot for Tommy Maeda.

  12. Don Reed says:

    Things certainly have changed.

    My Communist racing-provider, New Jersey Account Wagering (wagering competition is ILLEGAL in N.J.) and Magna (a bankrupt racing organization) are at war over money, as we speak.

    Which means that my at-home betting system yesterday offered Aqueduct, Meadowlands harness, and a slew of dinky tracks, some I haven’t even heard of ($1,900 purses, etc.). All the Magna track feeds are GONE.

    I know racing history, and how the fans in the past vented their frustrations at the track when ill-, mal-, and other sorts of treacherous-feasances occurred.

    So WHAT if we never actually GO to a racetrack, anymore? SMASH!

    Now, I have to figure out how I can explain to the missus why we need a new front picture window in our living room.

    This is why racing really is a pain in the glass.

  13. John Manley says:

    Early 1980s, a weeknight at Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey . . .

    A Jack Van Berg entry (maidens, I think) goes to the post as the heavy favorites; one half of the entry is ridden by a 10-pound bug; the other half is ridden by Angel Cordero, Jr.

    Cordero’s mount (the well meant half of the entry) scratches at the gate, leaving the bugboy with the balance of the public’s money riding on his shoulders.

    Of course, bugboy’s mount is nowhere near the front as the horses pass under the wire. With Cordero’s reputation for alleged chicanery, the cynics in the crowd became vociferous about the turn of events that cost them a lot of money.

    That’s when the stewards made a big mistake in response to the increasingly restive nature of the attendees.

    After the race had been made official and many tickets discarded, the stewards declared the entire Van Berg entry a non-starter for wagering purposes, with refunds available for anyone who could produce a losing ticket on that entry.

    Naturally, most such tickets had been discarded and were now resting in garbage receptacles. And several such garbage bins had been set on fire before the stewards’ reversal was announced.

    So, you had the spectacle of spectators laying claim to garbage bags (which might contain lost tickets) at the same time as maintenance personnel were hustling to remove such bags from sight so as to prevent more fires. I actually witnessed a “fan” and a maintenance person having a tug of war over a Hefty® bag; one of the most enduring memories of my three decades whiled away at racetracks.

    This event was solely responsible for the rule now in effect at many tracks whereby an entry runs for purse money only if one-half of the entry scratches after wagering has begun.

  14. don says:

    Like you, I always have to research things.
    The horse in question in the 1945 incident was Johnny Jr:
    152 – 22 – 33 – 26 $ 57,525
    They don’t make many like that anymore.

  15. Kate Maeda-Buenrostro says:

    Hi Don,

    Every once in awhile I google my Dad and I was happy to see your memories.

    Just a lil’ tidbit about my dad and Great Barrington – My dad met mom there and they eloped to Ohio, on the way to another horse meet. My grandmothers house was on top of the hill and we could watch the races from backyard, after parking cars out front. One of my sisters was born in Great Barrington and we spent our summers there as kids, but our home base was Rhode Island. Dad rode primarily @ Lincoln Downs (before it became a greyhound track), Naragansett Downs and Suffolk Downs.

    Dad rode into his late 50’s, ending his career in Charlestown, WV. Due to a hip replacement, he fell, hit his head and passed 6/14/99.

    I miss my father terribly, but I can tell you, I had the best childhood around the fairs and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

    Oh, my younger sister, Christine, married an assistant trainer and she herself works with the horses in Hershey, PA. She is right now, down @ Santa Anita with my mother, getting ready to watch Zenyatta run. Horseracing is just in the blood and no one can really understand it, unless they’ve lived it.

    Thanks again for your kind memories… Kate

  16. Jack Blake says:

    I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was a young Kid(14) that Saturday afternoon and went to the track with my Mother and Father and as you described the riot it was just exactly what I saw from begining until we left. Once the burning started and I thought soldiers from fort Banks came to the track my folks decided it was time to leave and that was about 6:15. I remember Babe Rubinstien(?) yelling over the PA system there would be no last race if the rioters kept throwing glass on the track. It was really scary.

  17. Jack Blake says:

    Thanks for the change to go back in time…

  18. Jack Blake says:

    I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was a young Kid(14) that Saturday afternoon and went to the track with my Mother and Father and as you described the riot it was just exactly what I saw from begining until we left. Once the burning started and I thought soldiers from fort Banks came to the track my folks decided it was time to leave and that was about 6:15. I remember Babe Rubinstien(?) yelling over the PA system there would be no last race if the rioters kept throwing glass on the track. It was really scary. but what a day.

  19. ED D says:

    I am so happy to see a posting from Tommy Meada’s daughter. I grew up in Weymouth,got hooked on the fair circuit @ 12 years old and miss it so much.
    My first bet was on a 2/5 fave that ran out,(not T Maeda but Jose Pelez in the Irons) In today’s politically correct world it would be hard to believe but the police chief’s wife (mrs O) was our main source of placing wagers because she thought we always had good tips. My friend Danny’s family was well off & well connected in town. We sold cokes,used paper route money,ran scams whatever we could to get bets in.On the final day you would never return the coke trays or any of the money to “The Duke”.
    Tommy Meada was absolutely my favorite jock. There was nobody better at breaking on top than T Maeda. There were times when you’d be reading the Telegraph and see where he was brought in to ride a “hot horse” @ Liberty Bell or Suffolk or Rockingham that had to break on top to win. We cashed bets on Ray Pasquerelli, Eddie Marabona, Amos Martinez etc. but there was nothing better than T maeda whipping and banging coming out of the gate with the red #1 silk on some bet down chalk at “aout 5 furlongs”.

  20. RON S says:


  21. David G says:

    Does anybody remember george trenger or raymond pasquarelli ?

  22. Don says:

    David G, I remember them both. I grew up in Pittsfield, Mass. Ray Pasquarelli was a local guy so people around town knew about him. He was a regular at Berkshire Downs, which was just outside of Pittsfield, so he was around from time to time. I remember George Trenger, primarily at Green Mountain Park. He also rode in the area at Great Barrington and Berkshire Downs.

  23. Ed D says:

    i certainly remember them both. In the world of the fairs Trenger was good,Ray was great. One of the best races i ever saw was at Great Barrington in the 1&5/8 mile “au revoir” closing day.Ray was on favorite Cannonball Tim,Tommy Meada on Koosaw Cookero. These 2 $1500 claimers went head to head “4 times in front of the grandstand” as the crowd went crazy like it was Affirmed and Alydar. Ray finally pulled ahead in the last few jumps and we we’re able to head home happy, not just from cashing a ticket but in the afterglow of seeing a great race. This was in the early 70’s and anybody who was there still remembers it!

  24. Terry T. says:

    The. “Fair” circuit was great corn on the cob, sausage & pepper grinders.
    The 60’s & 70’s who could forget , Foxy Citizen at age 14 flying at the end
    to lose by a “lip”.

    At Northampton early ’70’s I actually bet a horse at 9/5 (last race) won,
    after crossing finish line falls down. Exiting the track he was in a payloader
    dead, sad but true.

    At the Fairs you could roam the infield. I shouted out to Ray Pasquerelli
    “Ray got a shot. he replied he’s not warming up to well”.
    You could always count on Ray.

  25. Kate Maeda-Buenrostro says:

    Got nostalgic again for the good ole days – This year I turn 50 and I can’t believe it!

    I remember George Trenger, Raymond Pasquerelli, Amos Martinez, Lewis Brown Jr, John Rodgers, Jerry O’Driscoll and a host of others that tolerated 4 little girls running around all over the place. We couldn’t wait to run down to the winners circle and get our picture taken. They were the best of the guys and they were all true friends of my father.

    Wow! What times…

  26. Kate Maeda-Buenrostro says:

    OMG! Just talked with family and was told that talk down in Charlestown, WVA was that Amos Martinez was possibly involved in my Fathers death. I was never told my father was beaten up causing his brain to bleed and money stolen. I always thought he fell and hit his head.

    I am so sad…

  27. edward bachorz says:

    As a kid, I remember going to Northampton aka the 3 County Fair quite often…My Dad would take me…I remember quite a few races, too…my dad had winning tickets on Congress Inn when he set the record for 1 1/16…and on Mystic Sword when he set the record for 1 5/8. That winning ticket paid $20.80…can recall the touts at the ‘Hamp too…”Hey who wants winners Armstrong”…Clocker Dan & Maryland Geo…jocks I remember: Tommy Maeda, Rodney Creedon, Eddie Maribona, Ray Pasquerelli, George Trenger…those were the good old days…

  28. paul honore says:

    Many great memories of the Fair Circuit as well as Lincoln and ‘Gansett. The tunnel at Northampton, the removable wooden sidewalk to the infield at Great Barrington, Jack’s Little Green card, and many more. Been meaning to stop by ThreeRivers and see how much, if any, of the old Lincoln site is recognizable. Took my Mom to Barrington in the late 60’s. Of course I spent hours studying the Form – she decided to bet on a horse named Purple Lilac because it was one of her favorite flowers. Guess who won? Purple Lilac, ridden by Morris DeBoise paid $82 on a $2 Win ticket. Still remember that like it was yesterday.

    What a shame that the Casinos caused the demise of almost all New England racing. Suffolk is hanging on by a thread.

  29. Dan McAuliffe says:

    My folks started bringin me to Weymouth and Marshfield when I was 5. Dad always lost at the track, and by the time I was eight I could read the Telegraph as well as anyone. I remember as far back as Pat Tuccio and Franklin Schaefer as jockeys. I spent two summer weeks there for over 30 years, and I remember the day Sir Eagle ran down Iva Mae Parrish’s At the Creek to set the track record. Keeno, a pudgy chestnut, was my favorite.

    One of Dad’s favorite horses later was Officer, ridden by George Steineman. He was a router, very slow from the gate. If the jock could get him going, he flew and ran away. Years later I figured out the horse was a grandson of a colt named Citation. I remember all the unique vendors and the tip sheet sellers like Louie selling his Clocker Dan. Oh to have it all back again, it was great and will remain one of the best times of my life.

  30. ed d says:

    Can’t get enough fair talk.just last night a group of us 60 year olds we’re reminiscing in Marshfield .Does anybody have a source for photos or films? The story about T Meada’s death is really sad if it is true he was beaten to death