Raynham Park 'will never be the same' as live greyhound racing ends
Although thousands of visitors crowded into Raynham Park for its final day of greyhound racing Saturday, Mike Curran could not help feeling devastated.
The 53-year-old Stoughton man said he has spent most of his adult life training dogs at the track, a local institution since 1940.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Curran, owner of a kennel of racing dogs at Raynham Park. “And it’s the end of my life up here.”
With his kennel now out of business, Curran said he is moving to Miami to work as a trainer at a track there.
Live racing at Raynham Park reached the finish line for good Saturday, after 56 percent of Massachusetts voters chose last year to ban dog racing in the state as of Jan. 1.
Although the park will keep its doors open, offering simulcast betting on races held elsewhere, visitors said much of the excitement of going to the park is gone forever.
“It won’t be the same without live racing,” said John Foster, 53, of Abington, who said he has been coming to the track since the 1970s.
Raynham Park officials estimated between 3,000 and 3,500 people attended the afternoon races Saturday.
Longtime park-goers such as George Power of Easton said they had not seen the track so busy in decades.
In 1989, for instance, the track set a world record with an annual handle of $240 million.
“It used to be like this all the time,” said Power, 67, recalling the track before casinos and slot machine parlors in New England drew many gamblers away.
Vehicles filled the massive parking lot at the park Saturday afternoon. Inside, visitors waited in lines of 30 or more to place bets.
Next to the track, a huge crowd gathered under dreary gray skies to watch the races, many people shouting and hollering as the greyhounds flew around the track.
Standing beside the track, Rita Orlando, 62, said she used to frequent the park but hadn’t come often in recent years. The Stoughton woman returned on Saturday with her 5-year-old grandson, Zachary.
“We wanted him to see what it was like before it’s gone,” Orlando said.
Many visitors said coming to the track has been a longtime family tradition.
Patrick Noonan of Easton said he has been coming around Thanksgiving and Christmas every year with his brother, who visits from New Jersey.
“We’ll have to do something else now,” the 26-year-old said, standing inside near the track because no seats were open.
Joanne Gramazio of West Bridgewater said her family had a tradition for many years of coming to the track on Christmas Day.
“We have lots of memories here,” said the 51-year-old.
She and several family members visited the park Saturday afternoon, watching the races inside the Grille Room on television monitors.
“I’m very sad,” said her brother, John Grigaitis, 52, a longtime Brockton resident who now lives in Taunton. “I used to come every day.”
For the first six months of 2010, the track will remain open for simulcasting — which allows patrons to bet on horse and dog races from across the country shown live on closed-circuit televisions.
About one-fourth of the track’s 600 employees have lost their jobs as a result of the end of dog racing, park officials said.
But track owner George Carney hopes the state Legislature will approve slot machines for the park, which he says would allow it to stay open past June and add hundreds or even thousands of new jobs.
Sitting in an office at the park Saturday afternoon, Carney, 81, said he saw many familiar faces from decades past during the day.
“I’m very happy with the sendoff,” said Carney, who has owned Raynham Park since 1966 and whose family has been involved with the track since it opened.
Though he said he was sad for the longtime workers losing their jobs, Carney said he is not feeling sorry for himself.
“I never look over my shoulder; I never look back,” Carney said.
“I’m gonna move on,” he added. “I moved on about two hours ago.”
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Enterprise writer Kyle Alspach can be reached at email@example.com.
Raynham Park timeline
1940: Raynham Park opens, founded by Russ Murray and with the financial backing of the Carney family.
1966: Ownership of Raynham Park transferred to George L. Carney Jr. and his brother, Joseph F. Carney.
1971: Raynham Park becomes first major track in U.S. to hold greyhound racing seven days a week.
1989: Raynham Park sets the world record for the largest annual handle of $240 million.
2000: Voters narrowly defeat ballot question to ban greyhound racing in Massachusetts.
2006: State Supreme Judicial Court rules that a ballot initiative to ban greyhound racing can’t go before voters.
2007: Annual handle at Raynham Park has fallen to $129 million.
2008: In a statewide referendum, 56 percent of Massachusetts voters choose to ban dog racing as of Jan. 1 2010.
2009: Raynham Park holds final day of racing on Dec. 26.