Additional details emerge on would-be Turf Paradise buyers

Additional details emerge on would-be Turf Paradise buyers
Photo: Turf Paradise

A few new details emerged Friday on the mysterious would-be buyers who emerged on Thursday as the potential saviors of Turf Paradise in Phoenix, which was otherwise planning on shutting down on Oct. 1.

In a brief statement, Turf Paradise identified the second partner in the prospective deal as Richard Moore and indicated that he was providing the financing behind the offer to save the 67-year-old racetrack. 

"The buyer of Turf Paradise is going to be Richard Moore and the Turf Paradise Land Trust," it said in its entirety. "Frank Nickens is the visionary. Mr. Moore's purchase of the track will save over 5,000 jobs."

The statement provided no details on the backgrounds of Moore or Nickens, but the latter told Daily Racing Form's Matt Hegarty that he is a 57-year-old businessman with construction and mining interests in Arizona but no experience in racing, apart from breaking a few horses when he was growing up in Louisiana and maintaining a lifelong friendship with a quarter horse trainer.

Despite that void in his resume, DRF quoted Nickens as saying that he has a long track record of “doing the right thing the right way.” 

“There has never been a time where I had the money to do something and I didn’t succeed,” it quoted him as saying.

Nickens emerged as a potential savior of the track on Thursday during a meeting of the Arizona Racing Commission at which the 11th-hour bid was revealed. The meeting came just 10 days after current owner Jerry Simms announced he would close the facility after a previous deal with a California real estate company collapsed.

Testimony before the commission identified Nickens as the point man in the purchase talks and indicated he had a partner, though they did not name him until Friday's statement from the track.

As an immediate result of the talks, the Arizona chapter of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association granted a waiver of a requirement that a racetrack must present live racing in order to share in revenue from simulcasts and off-track betting until Nov. 12 to give the prospective buyers time to develop their plans for operating the track.

In his interview with DRF, Nickens said that he and Moore, operating as the Turf Paradise Land Trust, plan to spend $50 million in the next year to refurbish the track and its backside. 

He said he and Moore would hold 51 percent of the equity, with the other 49 percent split among unidentified partners.  

“Every square inch of it is going to change,” DRF quoted him as saying. “I’m not just talking about putting a new coat of paint on it. We’re going to put the money into it to do it as a first-class facility.”

In a separate interview with Paulick Report, Nickens was quoted as saying that Moore is a Florida resident with a background in the nuclear power, oil and gas industries.

Nickens also indicated that parts of the 213-acre property could be developed for retail, including businesses that would be utilized by horsemen at the track.

As for live racing, Nickens told DRF that January is the soonest that a meet could be held. 

Nickens said he learned that the previous buyer had called off the deal to purchase the track last Wednesday while at an OTB in the Phoenix area and "for whatever reason it motivated me to say 'Let's see what we can do."

He began making phone calls immediately, he said, and met with Simms later in the week. This week he met with the Arizona HBPA and attempted to open a new chapter with the group.

“I told them, ‘You guys had a disgruntled relationship in the past, but I don’t want to hear any more about the old guy,’ ” he said, noting that he had come to the meeting straight from a mining site in coveralls. “I’m the new guy, and we have to put that behind us.”

No details on the new purchase agreement have been made public, though Simms said Thursday that Nickens and Moore had signed a letter of intent and that a draft contract had been delivered to them.

Both Nickens and Moore will have to be vetted by Arizona racing regulators before any deal can be consummated.

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