By T. D. Thornton
By the time Turf Paradise opens Jan. 4 for Arizona's first live Thoroughbred racing since March 14, track management projects the horse population could top 1,200 for the five-day weekly, 84-date meet that runs through May 1.
Turf Paradise general manager Vincent Francia said during the Dec. 10 Arizona Racing Commission meeting that 664 horses are currently stabled on the grounds, adding that “I expect by the end of the month that that figure is probably going to double.”
Francia explained that Turf Paradise is the recipient of a mixed blessing related to COVID-19 pandemic closures at other racetracks.
Chiefly, he said, interest has been sparked from outfits at Golden Gate Fields (which is currently closed for racing until at least Dec. 26) and from tracks in New Mexico (where Zia Park just resumed racing after a health-related shutdown and the Dec. 26 start date at Sunland Park has been pushed back at least 30 days because of pandemic-related uncertainty).
“So in the good news department, we're getting an influx of horses,” Francia said. “And the not-so-good news [is] both of those areas have been hit pretty hard with by the virus.
“So we're having to revise and amp up how we're going to handle people coming into the backside and the track,” Francia continued. “And by that I mean we're looking at making sure [licensees] have a negative coronavirus test before they come on [to the backstretch]. And once they get here and get their horses in, then they get [another] test. We're taking that extra step…and we need to keep everyone here at Turf safe if we are going to get through this race meet.”
Leroy Gessmann, who serves as both the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (AZHBPA) executive director and the National HBPA president, said that in terms of compliance, “the majority of people want to stay safe and the majority of people are following the guidelines.”