Turf Paradise will not run its 2020-21 meet due to challenges related to COVID-19, track representatives told the Arizona Racing Commission in a video conference Aug. 13. The Arizona track has traditionally run a meet from the fall through early May.
Turf Paradise announced last month that it planned to run a shortened season, but a previously-proposed 121-day meet that was to begin Nov. 1 was scrapped early during the commission meeting by track representatives. The track last raced March 10, an early ending to its 2019-20 meet.
"We would like to withdraw race dates. The primary reason is the ongoing prevailing challenge of the coronavirus," Turf Paradise general manager Vincent Francia told commissioners. "Purse money, which we have been accumulating for the Turf Paradise horsemen, will move toward the next meet."
Commissioners quickly moved to the next items on their meeting agenda without lengthy discussion with Turf Paradise representatives, though track owner Jerry Simms briefly spoke.
"I'd like to give the horsemen as much notice as possible and not wait for another meeting," he said. "We are not going to run this next meet because of the coronavirus ... We are not going to take on that liability."
Cases of COVID-19 surged in early July in Arizona, though its incidents have declined in recent weeks.
Trainer Valorie Lund, who has raced predominantly in Arizona and Minnesota, disputed the track's claim that COVID-19 is the reason for the meet not being run. A board member of the Arizona Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, she instead attributes it to a dispute between the track and horsemen over simulcasting and the operations of Arizona Downs in the state.
"In the spring, when they closed down it was before anything in the state closed down for the coronavirus," she said via telephone after the meeting. "It was a retaliation move against the horsemen in trying to get Arizona Downs up and running. We had a disagreement in the signals and it was retaliation against the horsemen why they closed, in my opinion."
Michael Napier, an attorney representing the Arizona HBPA, discussed some of the differences between horsemen and the track prior to the comments from Francia and Simms. At that time in the meeting before Turf Paradise withdrew its request for race dates, he urged commissioners to not allow the track to run a meet shorter than is required by state law.
"The track, when they abandoned racing back in March, they left with a lot of horsemen on the backside, but there were some messages," he said. "One was take your property with you. And for the first time ever, the track told the horsemen, 'Get your colors. Get your papers.' They are also said now to be selling equipment that is critical and essential to conducting racing at the track."
Lund said the closure of Turf Paradise this upcoming season will leave horsemen searching to find alternative racing and stabling locations. Many of its horsemen split their time between Turf Paradise and Canterbury Park, as she has usually done, while another group race during the summer months at Emerald Downs.
"The people I feel worst for are the people truly based in Arizona that might have trouble figuring out where to go," she said. "For myself, I'm moving my stable to Kentucky. I've made reservations at a farm there, a training center."