By Dan Ross
Turf Paradise management and the Arizona horsemen have come to an agreement that will see the track remain open for stabling an extra 10 days. The track was scheduled to close its doors to the roughly 740 horses currently stabled there on the last day of April.
Nevertheless, the track will remain open those extra 10 days for stabling only, and not training, meaning exercise will be limited to the barn area.
“If this thing lasts longer than those 10 [days], then I think we'll probably be able to get a few more,” speculated Bob Hutton, president of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA).
The HBPA will cough-up the expense of keeping the barn area open for stabling, said Hutton–what is roughly $2,600 a day. “It gives us a bit of breathing room as far as trying to make decisions for everybody,” he said.
The extension was sought due to the uncertainty surrounding the stabling and live racing situations at some of the other venues typically utilized by the Arizona-based trainers—tracks like Arapahoe Park, Canterbury Park, Lone Star Park and Emerald Downs.
“Race dates seem to be up in the air at these tracks, so that's what's slowing things down here,” said Vince Francia, Turf Paradise general manager.
“The goal that they have—they, meaning the HPBA and us—is to get the horses off safely to wherever they're going,” Francia said. “Whether they're going to a ranch or to a racetrack.”
When asked why the track doesn't remain open for training beyond Apr. 29, Francia replied that the “skeleton staff” currently managing everyday operations at the facility are leaving for other race-meets. “Some are going to Canterbury,” said Francia. “Some are going to Emerald [Downs].”
Another factor weighing on any decision surrounding stabling concerns the imminent arrival of triple-digit temperatures to Phoenix, said Francia. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the race-meet at Turf Paradise was scheduled to run through May 2, but according to Francia, the summer heat-wave is arriving early this year.
“This weekend, Saturday, will be the first of the triple-digits,” he said. “Turf Paradise is no place for a horse to be in a stable when we hit triple-digits.”
Both Hutton and Francia mentioned that another possible stabling option is Arizona Downs, formerly known as Yavapai Downs, which reopened for live racing in 2019. However, it's not yet clear if the facility will indeed open its doors to horses this summer.
The TDN has reached out to Tom Auther, an Arizona Downs owner and partner, and will update the story as needed.
These latest stabling negotiations at Turf Paradise have capped what has been a rather tumultuous period for the Arizona racing industry.
Earlier in the year, a simulcasting dispute led The Stronach Group's Monarch to pull its signal from the state, dealing a sizeable blow to the industry's coffers. In response, the HBPA voted to withdraw the Turf Paradise signal from all Stronach Group affiliates.
Before that could happen, the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, and the operators of Turf Paradise gave the horsemen days to vacate the premises—they later backtracked from that demand under pressure from the HBPA.
According to Hutton, the suspension of live racing in Arizona has had a financial impact on the smaller operators especially. But the larger outfits have put their hands in their pockets to help supply them hay, straw and feed when needed, he added.
“The horsemen here have been very resilient in helping each other out greatly,” said Hutton. “It's really a tight-knit group, and it's very easy to be a part of representing them, as they're all really solid people.”