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  They Mob-ed The Joint!     

Berkshire DownsBerkshire Downs Logo

Berkshire Downs was a half mile Thoroughbred track in Hancock Massachusetts. It started out in 1960 as a commercial racetrack that hosted 24 days of racing, sharing the allotted Massachusetts thoroughbred race dates with Suffolk Downs in East Boston. It also closed out the Massachusetts Fair Circuit with six days of racing in the fall.

Berkshire DownsBerkshire Downs Logo

From day one things didn't go well, the partially completed facility didn't come close to projections for attendance or handle. It seems the weather wasn't to good and local clergy were promoting boycotts of the track. Another problems was that the track in the middle of nowhere was only twenty miles away from Green Mountain Park in Pownel, Vermont. Green Mountain at that time had not gone to night racing so a conflict existed. It soon became apparent that Suffolk Downs wanted Berkshires dates and Green Mountain just wanted it gone. As the track was preparing for the running of the 1969 season the owner of Suffolk Downs, Bill Veeck and Martin DeMatteo the president of Green Mountain cooked up a deal to buy the troubled track and close it forever as a commercial race track, the track was still able to operate a short agricultural meet.

In 1962 a couple of fellows one named Sinatra one Martin, invested in the track and were instituted as Vice Presidents. It was alleged that they were a front for local Massachusetts mobsters. Both insisted it was just an investment. This got so much attention that in the nineteen seventies all parties were compelled to appear before a Senate Sub Committee investigating racketering. After a lot of pleading the fifth amendment, the committee concluded that Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were unwittingly duped, and cleared of any wrong doing.

Berkshire Downs did survive as a fair track until 1976 when it pretty much imploded that winter. Anybody who attended the track in the rain would never forget it. You would have to walk on plywood sheets to keep from sinking into the mud getting to the betting windows. Oh did I mention you were inside the grandstand under the roof. Back in the sixties and seventies it was traditional for the fairs to close out with a marathon race usually one mile and five eights. In 1975 there was a little twist, due to rainouts the meet was extended 2 days, but the marathon went on as scheduled. Dea Herman with Dennis Strong up crossed the wire an easy victor, so it seemed. Jockey Strong probably sensed something was wrong when all the other jocks kept riding. Seems Strong miscalculated as he pulled up the third time he passed the finish finish, not the fourth. The favorite Otto Russell went on to win the race, Dea Herman finished off the board. Strong, could maybe find some solace in the fact that he wasn't the first jock who lost count on one of these marathons.      

 Berkshire Downs was located in Hancock, five miles from Pittsfield on Richmond Road off of Route 20. Seating capacity is unknown, the stall space could accommodate 400 horses.  It's coming up on forty years since thoroughbreds last raced at Berkshire Downs. The site is now the location of a pleasure horse breeding farm. Their ad mentions a half mile turf course, which is probably the original layout of Berkshire Downs.