Turf Paradise Racetrack to Close Doors After Seven Decades of Arizona Horse Racing

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Phoenix’s long-running Turf Paradise horse racing track (pictured) is set to close its doors on October 1, marking the end of an era for Arizona horse racing. The track opened in 1956, and has since been a staple in the Phoenix horse racing scene over nearly seven decades.

The decision comes after the track’s owner, Jerry Simms, announced his retirement after 23 years at the helm, wishing to spend more time with his family.

“The owner of Turf Paradise, Jerry Simms, announced today that after 23 years of operating the race track, he is retiring to spend more time with his family,” said a company statement released on Facebook.

“There will be no more live racing or simulcasting at the Phoenix-based race track, beginning October 1, 2023.”

A Legacy in Limbo

Turf Paradise’s future has been uncertain for some time. Earlier this year, the track had to cancel its summer racing season due to financial constraints.

This was followed by the cancellation of its fall racing season. Despite the challenges, there was hope among the racing community that a new owner might step in to save the day.

As recently as last week, Simms was in discussions with potential buyers. According to a letter from the Turf Paradise Director of Mutuels, Frank Abbate, there were two prospective buyers interested in maintaining the racetrack and continuing live racing.

However, that hope was to prove short-lived, and the track has now officially announced its closure.

Fans interested in Arizona horse race betting can still wager on the sport of kings via the state’s two regulated racebooks, or via offshore sportsbooks.

Investment Struggles

Like many horse tracks across the U.S., Turf Paradise flourished during the golden age of horse racing. However, the past two decades have seen a significant decline in betting handle and a reduction in the number of races held annually.

In some states, such as Kentucky with Churchill Downs, operators have been provided subsidies or allowed introduced historic horse racing (HHR) machines to bolster the industry.

Other states, like with casinos venues in Nebraska, have allowed casino resort operators to come in, as long as they build around existing horse racing tracks.

However, because of local politics and attitudes in Arizona, Turf Paradise received no such lifeline.

Investment group CT Realty was one of those interested in redeveloping the venue into a combined HHR casino, entertainment venue, and racetrack. However, local horsemen opposed the project, as they felt live horseracing was not the main focus.

Arizona tribal gaming groups also weighed in, saying that the predetermined HHR machines infringe on their rights to operate Arizona casinos, and the developers had no answer for that.

In the end, CT Realty dropped out, leaving Turf Paradise behind in the Arizona dust.

Impact on Off-Track Betting Sites

Turf Paradise’s closure also spells the end for its 37 off-track betting (OTB) sites spread across the state. These sites, which broadcast live racing from Turf Paradise and other tracks, will have to shut down because of the cessation of live racing at Turf Paradise.

“In order for the OTB sites to operate, live racing is required. Since Turf Paradise will not be running a live race meet…the OTBs will have to close effective October 1,” the statement said.

Interestingly, Abbate had previously informed OTBs that if the track wasn’t sold, they could continue operations via Tucson’s Rillito Racetrack. However, because of Turf Paradise not renewing its contract with the Arizona Horseman’s Benevolent & Protective Association, its OTBs were prohibited from continuing simulcasting live racing from elsewhere in the state.

Great Memories at Turf Paradise

The news of the track’s closure has been met with sadness and nostalgia, especially among those who have fond memories of their time in the stands. The announcement on the track’s Facebook page saw hundreds of comments from fans reminiscing about their experiences.

“So many great memories at Turf Paradise with my Papa (grandpa). He owned racehorses, and I loved being around him and all of his gambling buddies. This is really sad to see,” said one commenter.

It is not the only long-standing U.S. horse racing drack to bow out in 2023. Fans of California race tracks lost the fabled Golden Gate Fields Race Track earlier this year. The track announced its closure in July after holding prime real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1941.

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