Originally published in The Commons issue #241 (Wednesday, February 12, 2014). This story appeared on page C2.
Despite numerous snags and delays, longtime Hinsdale resident and entrepreneur William Faucher is hopeful that his effort to open an off-track betting (OTB) facility on Route 119 will cross the finish line.
Faucher said he was planning a soft opening in January, but that his filing for a OTB license with the state was delayed.
“It’s in the attorney general’s office, and it is in their hands to decide whether we get the license,” Faucher said late January. “They’ve got 90 days to make a decision, and I don’t know if they’re going to use the full 90 days to do so.”
This means he won’t be able to open until around April 1, but he said if the state decides quickly, he’ll get started sooner.
“We had hoped to start off without any fanfare while we make sure we’ve got things sorted out. Now, I’m planning for a grand opening and festivities on Kentucky Derby weekend,” Faucher said.
The 140th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., is set for Saturday, May 3.
Faucher has spent more than 40 years in harness racing as an owner, trainer, driver, and official, including 15 years as a United States Trotting Association director and Driver-Trainer Committee chairman.
He was an accomplished driver-trainer during Hinsdale Raceway’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. The track ceased live harness racing in 1985, closed altogether in 2008, and has recently been demolished. In 1993, Faucher was inducted into the New England Harness Writers Hall of Fame.
The new, 2,800 square-foot OTB parlor is situated on Route 119 one-half mile east of the former track and Walmart. It is projected to be open six days a week once a regular schedule is established as dictated by daily attendance.
Faucher first attempted to construct a facility adjacent to the race track, but ran into deed restrictions over the use of the property.
Hinsdale OTB will be the third off-track betting location in New Hampshire, joining — but not affiliated with — Rockingham Park in Salem, and Seabrook Park, which had greyhound racing, as did Hinsdale Raceway. It will have five terminals connected to live satellite feeds on the Roberts Communications Network.
United Tote, a wholly owned subsidiary of Churchill Downs, rents the equipment used to place wagers electronically.
“We are going to focus on harness racing with some thoroughbred racing, which will eventually be expanded,” Faucher said. “You have to make arrangements with each track to get all wired in. At first we’ll be working with Yonkers, The Meadowlands, Saratoga Harness, Harrah’s Chester Downs (in Pennsylvania), Pocono Downs, Dover Downs, Pompano Park, and Suffolk Downs.”
Patrons will be able to wager at the OTB or create an account that accommodates phone wagering.
“We’ll always have a teller, possibly two on site,” Faucher said. “When you make a wager at Yonkers, for example, it will immediately be reflected on their tote board. If you were the only person to place a bet, your wager would be shown at the track.”
Hinsdale OTB is owned by Hinsdale Harness LLC, of which Faucher has controlling interest. His partners include members of the Western New England Harness Horseman’s Association (WNEHHA), on which he serves as a director. As stated on its website, WNEHHA strives to return live harness racing to New Hampshire.
Live harness racing ended at Rockingham Park in 2009 and at the Rochester Fair in 2007.
Faucher has remained active in the sport, primarily as an official starter at state fairs in Maine, New York, and Virginia.
“I’ve seen the best and the worst of the industry,” he said. “It’s now a niche sport rather than a major one. There are still important races for big purses and some key tracks, but many purses are subsidized by casino dollars with no long-term guarantees. Nobody wants to invest back in the business. If the OTB can help create an opportunity for live racing in New Hampshire with our profits, it will be a good thing.”
Faucher has a history of reviving Hinsdale businesses, including Route 63 Country Store at 220 Old Northfield Rd. and Ed’s Tire at 13 Canal St.
“Bill is an intelligent, personable straight-shooter, an accomplished horseman who’s done a lot of things well in our industry,” Saratoga Hall of Famer and Bennington native Kim Crawford said. “He’s a class act. If you were going to pick someone to accomplish a revival of the sport in the region, you couldn’t pick a better person.”
“There used to be a lot of people who traveled to Hinsdale to go to the horse races,” local horseman Ron Merton said. “It was a family-like atmosphere: They brought dollars to the town and shopped at the local stores, gas stations, and restaurants.”
Merton added that “a lot of my friends have been asking when the OTB is going up. I think you’ll see a lot of the old-timers from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts there. There will be a lot of local support. It’s a good way to promote horse racing.”
Town of Hinsdale Road Agent Frank Podlenski, a veteran horseman who’s enjoyed a successful season at Saratoga Harness with his 3-year-old pacing filly Venus Delight and his 7-year-old trotter Mr. Invincible, is also optimistic Faucher will make a go of it.
“I’m glad to see he’s made it this far,” Podlenski said. “I’ve talked to quite a few people who are looking forward to having the place open. It’s a form of entertainment — a chance to go see the horses at different tracks and try to get lucky.”
One of Faucher’s reclamation projects when he was active as a trainer/driver was the pacer Seatrain. “He was the only gelding to win the Little Brown Jug as a 3-year-old, but he wound up barred from tracks because he became wild and unmanageable,” Faucher said.
“I found a trick to keep him well-mannered and we raced at The Meadowlands and increased his lifetime winnings from $300,000 to $825,000. We were two crazies, Seatrain and I.”
In September 2013, another 3-year-old gelding — Vegas Vacation — won the 38th Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fair in Delaware, Ohio, with driver Brian Sears in the sulky. Sent off at odds of 3/5, Vegas Vacation paid $3.40 for a $2 win ticket while earning $265,220.
The Little Brown Jug is one of harness racing’s most prestigious events along with the Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters and the Breeder’s Crown, harness racing’s 12-race, $5 million year-end championship which returns to The Meadowlands this November.
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