After multiple delays, live racing finally returns to Turf Paradise on Monday with the start of an 84-day meet that runs through May 1. Racing will be conducted five days a week, Monday through Friday, with a typical first post of 1:30 ET.
The Phoenix, Ariz., racetrack — which was forced to cut short last year’s meet in March because of COVID — originally was scheduled to run 110 days, from Oct. 17 to May 1. But track management elected to postpone the opening of the meet citing concerns with COVID.
Horsemen at Turf Paradise, who are represented by the Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, were not happy with the decision. They contended before the Arizona Racing Commission the delay was not because of COVID, but because of an ongoing dispute over simulcasting in the state and operations at Arizona Downs.
After months of contentious negotiations between Turf Paradise and horsemen, an agreement finally was reached to conduct this condensed meet after a nearly three-month delay.
“We are running this meet primarily for the horsemen,” said Turf Paradise general manager Vincent Fancia. “It has been an incredible effort by everyone in very challenging times to pull everything together.”
Horsemen will run for an average of $110,000 in purse money per day. But it does not figure to come easy. Track management estimates there will be more than 1,200 horses on site, which is largely because of the suspension of racing at Golden Gate Fields and Sunland Park in New Mexico because of COVID.
“In the good news department, we’re getting an influx of horses,” Francia said during a Dec. 10 meeting of the Arizona Racing Commission. “And the not-so-good news department is both of those areas have been hit pretty hard by the virus.”
Turf Paradise will allow limited attendance at its meet. Initially, 50 patrons will be allowed on the ground floor and outdoor apron. Francia said wearing of masks and social distancing will be mandatory.
The meet’s marquee day comes March 12, when Turf Paradise hosts the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap, $50,000 Arizona Oak and $50,000 Turf Paradise.
Fans and bettors also will hear a new voice on the microphone at Turf Paradise. Taking over race-calling duties is Craig Braddick, a native of England who previously called races at Arizona’s Rillito Park.