The mood at Suffolk Downs on October 4, 2014 was grim and the weather gods seemed to be sharing the despair that permeated throughout the local racing community. The raw, rainy, quintessentially miserable New England fall day was a fitting backdrop to what, at the time, looked like the swan song for horse racing at the East Boston oval.
John Botty had spent the majority of his career racing throughout New England and had seen the end of several important racetracks, including Narragansett Park and Rockingham Park. Now, it looked like Suffolk Downs would be added to the list. Though he and his wife Kathy had enjoyed success with a small string of horses throughout the country over the years, New England was home.
In my years at Suffolk Downs, I got to witness firsthand the horsemanship and meticulous attention to detail John put into every aspect of training horses. As the track handicapper, it was easy to pick his horses on top (though he would always tell me to stop picking his horses) because they were always well-prepared, well spotted and presented immaculately. Over the years, I spent as much time as I could visiting John’s shedrow to pick his brain about training, his horses and pedigrees. His eye for young horses was unparalleled.
So here we were – the final day at Suffolk Downs and a full field of 12 in an allowance race and John Botty had a horse among the contenders. Bo Badger was a hard-trying chestnut gelding and New England mainstay Taylor Hole was named to ride. That day, I picked a royally bred horse named Indy’s Illusion to win alongside a horse named Puget Sound (who, six years later I would come to finally own) and selected Bo Badger for third.
Bo Badger and Hole broke well and settled in to stalk the field from mid-pack. Indy’s Illusion was full of run and took command around the far turn and at that point, Hole began to launch his rally with Bo Badger. Those two drew on even terms at the top of the stretch and put on a show for the ages for the fans with a ding-dong battle to the wire in the pouring rain. Ultimately, Bo Badger prevailed by a whisker. My final memory of that whirlwind day is watching John walk Bo Badger down the track and back to the barns by himself because even in that moment, he was a horseman first.
Suffolk would go on to put on several boutique weekends of racing over the next five years before having a true finale in 2019. Bo Badger would be the last horse that would run in John Botty’s name.
John passed away recently and for me, it was the loss of a friend and a mentor. For racing, it was the loss of a truly great horseman.
Small tracks are full of outstanding horsemen and women who are as skilled as any top outfit in the country. For me, John set the bar of what horsemanship should be. He was incredibly successful from a small string and campaigned numerous New England champions including the brilliant, graded-stakes placed Sassy City but he never lost sight of what mattered to him – doing the right thing by the horse every day, no matter what.