After Delays and Discord, Turf Paradise Approved For Meet

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Turf Paradise | Coady

Turf Paradise got unanimous 3-0 approval from the Arizona Racing Commission on Thursday to open its backstretch by the end of the month in anticipation of an 84-date, Jan. 4-May 1 racing season.

The meet will mark the first Thoroughbred racing in Arizona since Mar. 14, when Turf Paradise ended its spring season prematurely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August, Turf Paradise withdrew its dates request for a traditional 2020-21 autumn-to-spring meet, citing liability concerns related to COVID-19. In between, the Arizona Downs summer meet never ran because local health officials would not extend permission to reopen under pandemic conditions.

“On the 19th of this month the horsemen arrive to get their stalls ready. On the 25th, which is the day before Thanksgiving, the horses are scheduled to arrive,” said Turf Paradise general manager Vincent Francia, who added that he does not anticipate any horse population problems that would keep the track from sustaining a five-day (Monday-Friday) race week.

Leroy Gessmann, who serves as both the AZHBPA executive director and the National HBPA president, said that “[Wednesday] we toured the backside, and it was probably the best condition I’ve seen Turf Paradise since I’ve been here for 12 years. There is still work to be done, but it’s in the process. We’re all very excited about the meet and anxious to get started.”

The newfound spirit of cooperation between the AZHBPA and Turf Paradise stands in sharp contrast to the acrimony-tinged AZRC meeting Sept. 10, at which members of the state’s racing community railed at Turf Paradise and accused track management of allowing the property to fall into disrepair and not making an honest effort to conduct racing.

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