A Horse is a Horse… of Course of Course

I can always tell which is the front end of a horse, but beyond that, my art is not above the ordinary.
Mark Twain

Like Twain, my acquaintance with horses and all things equine is slim to none so it’s ironic that two of my strongest early memories are horse related.

In our family’s early years, we lived in a blue-collar neighborhood with lots of young families. After school and on weekends the streets and fields were teeming with school age kids. Each summer, for a couple of years, a fellow would bring his pony into the neighborhood and offer to take a photo of children sitting on his pony. He supplied some western wear and other cowboy gear for the photo. Many parents bought photos of their “cowboyed up” offspring; and so did my parents. My sister and I were both photographed sitting astride the weary colt. I sort of remember the photo session, but the enduring memory is that our Father kept our photos on his desk at his workplace for 30 years. We were long gone out of the house into lives of our own and each day when arriving at his desk in the morning he would see Maureen and I on our pony in our cowboy gear. I think it was his way of keeping us young.

A second memory is from fifties television when family half hour comedies ruled the airwaves. And although I always liked that snarky Eddy Haskell, my favorite program was Mr. Ed. For readers under a certain age, Mr. Ed was a talking horse who only spoke to his owner, Wilbur. Every plot revolved around Mr. Ed concocting some ridiculous ploy to make Wilbur look crazy to his wife and neighbors. You’ll have to trust me on this…it was hilarious.

I have always known that Suffolk Downs racetrack was in East Boston and although I have now lived in eastern Massachusetts for 35 years, I had never been there. I decided now was the time.

Suffolk Downs Main Hall

The racetrack was built in 1934 and over the years the greatest racehorses in the country have competed on the track. The commemorative flags in the main hall are a who’s who of U.S. thoroughbred history.

Suffolk Downs Starting Gate

Over the course of almost 80 years the track’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed. In the past few years the track has been a leading institution in several important areas. It was among the first tracks in the U.S. to adopt a “no kill” policy for its horses. Virtually every racetrack in the country has followed its lead. It holds several annual auctions to allow owners to sell their retired racehorses to folks who would like to own a horse. In addition, more woman jockeys race at Suffolk Downs than at almost any other race track in the country.

I photographed the track proceedings on two different days. On both days the area had prior substantial rainfall and the track was very muddy. Although it was more difficult for the riders and horses, it made for dramatic images.

Vernon Bush

The valets in the jockey room are responsible for laying out the clothing and colors for the jockey’s next race. They have a major clean up job on a day like this.

Thank Goodness for the Goggles!

I’m told that it is now common to see woman jockeys riding on major race tracks throughout the country. Suffolk Downs boasts seven woman jockeys who regularly ride mounts at the oval….and they’re not there as window dressing. Two of them topped the money list in 2012.

Tammi Piermarini Driving Towards the Finish

Tammi Piermarini was the leading money winner at the oval last year and has won over 2000 races in her career

Jackie Davis Riding a Winner
Jackie Davis
Jackie Davis

Jackie Davis was Suffolk Downs’ second leading money winner in 2012 and has won over 1000 races in her career.

Just Out of Starting Gate

Massachusetts passed a bill in 2012 authorizing up to three casino resorts in the state. The owners of Suffolk Downs and their backers are preparing a proposal to be the one slated for the eastern part of the state. It’ s expected to be a contentious project as it will draw significant opposition from neighboring communities who will object to the additional traffic and congestion.

David Amiss Charging Ahead

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Shrewsbury, MA


  1. Love those photos if us on the horse! Big article a few years back about it. Many people sent in photos of themselves on horseback. It went on for several weeks!!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. This was awesome! I esp loved the photo of the start out of the gate. I used to watch races as a kid and always loved the gate…palpable excitement.  Nice job Frank!       Sue


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