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home : latest news : local February 5, 2016

4/17/2013 10:11:00 AM
Racetrack opening pushed back again

Joanna Dodder Nellans
Special to the Tribune

It's looking unlikely that the Yavapai Downs horse racetrack will reopen in June.

"It's going to be difficult," new track owner Gary Miller said Monday.

Miller continues to work on getting the financing he needs for repairs to open the Prescott Valley track after finalizing the purchase in February.

He had financing back in February but things changed, he said. He declined to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement that prevented him from divulging more details. He wouldn't disclose how much financing he needs, but said he's willing to take on partners and give them some say in the track operations.

"The one or two offers I've had are not satisfactory to give up control," Miller said. "They weren't good for me or the horsemen."

Miller broke the news about the latest delay to the Arizona Racing Commission last week, and then to horsemen at the Turf Paradise racetrack in Phoenix over the weekend. Turf's season ends May 7.

"He wanted to explain what's going on, and that's the best thing to do," said trainer Jacque Guerra, who caught part of Saturday's meeting at Turf and used to race at Yavapai Downs. "We miss going up there."

Miller said he also told the racing commission and horsemen that he still has hopes he can open the Prescott Valley track for a short season in August and let the horses return as early as July, when some of the out-of-state tracks close for the season.

If the PV track doesn't get open by August, it won't reopen until next year, Miller said.

"There's a lot of people disappointed because they wanted to stay in Arizona," Guerra said. "We're hoping something still comes together."

While financing was the major issue, Miller said he was concerned about not having enough horses to reopen in June, too. Most Arizona horsemen already have made commitments to run elsewhere when Turf closes for the season.

One of the closest tracks, SunRay Park at Farmington, N.M., opens Friday for the season and closes on June 23. Guerra and her husband Vince, a jockey, will be going to Arapahoe Park near Denver. It opens May 26 and closes Aug. 18.

Miller said he has completed his application for a state racing permit except for the financing section. When financing is settled and he files that information, he's heard he could get a permit as quickly as 4-6 weeks.

The PV track's traditional racing season is Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend. Last month, Miller announced he wouldn't be able to open on schedule and said he hoped to get the track open by mid-June.

"He's been very up front," Guerra said. "He didn't want anything to happen like before, when we were lied to."

The Yavapai County Farm & Agriculture Association's board of directors abruptly shuttered the track in May 2011 without warning, leaving many horsemen stranded there. The board said the track didn't have enough money to open, and by July 13 of 2011 it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Miller bought the track by assuming a $5.5 million federal loan and faced the daunting task of trying to clean up the grounds and replace the roof on the 93,000-square-foot grandstands. He said he's already invested more than $1 million of his own money.

He said he's already cleaned up the neighboring car racetrack and county government-owned events center, and he is considering opening them to events this summer too.

He's even heard from someone interested in building a baseball stadium on the property, he added. He's a die-hard Yankees fan.

Related Stories:
• Yavapai Downs for sale, but owner holds out hope
• Yavapai Downs Horse track won't open for 4th year
• Yavapai Downs horse racetrack's owner still looks to reopen
• Prescott Valley Raceway could open this month
• Yavapai Downs back on track with new owner
• Horse racing may be returning to Downs, but PV Raceway's fate uncertain
• Yavapai Downs racetrack sale won't be official until next week

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