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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Psst... Wanna Buy a Track?

Wouldn't it be great to expand harness racing's exposure?  Well, Yavapai Downs in Prescott Valley, Arizona goes under the auctioneer's hammer as part of a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Auction.  Arizona?  While there is currently no harness racing going on in Arizona, the law allows for harness racing.  The best thing for any prospective harness racing operator is they don't even have rules established for harness racing so you can get your own rules or the USTA's rules set up (there is even an article in their administrative code that has been reserved for harness racing). 

The best thing is the facility was renovated in 2009 thanks to a loan from the US Department of Agriculture, depending on how the auction is conducted you can also be a proud owner of a auto raceway, and fairgrounds with an indoor arena for non-racing events.

Okay, a little disclosure here is necessary.  There has been harness racing in Arizona and it was short-lived at the Phoenix Trotting Park and lasted 2 1/2 years in the early 1960s.  However, the track was built 20 miles outside of Phoenix in Goodyear, AZ, before any major highways went by the area.  You had to travel dirt roads to get there.  However, to compare harness racing then to the potential for success now is not possible.  The best thing is Yavapai Downs, fairgrounds, and motor park could probably be purchased for less than the $10 million invested in Phoenix Trotting Park (when adjusted for inflation).

But there is an interesting opportunity as long as one is willing to battle the thoroughbred horsemen there.  Up to now, Yavapai Downs raced thoroughbreds and quarterhorses.  Being standardbreds have not raced in Arizona in most people's lifetimes, the likelihood of standardbreds being successful on their own is not likely from day one.  However, if someone was to build inside the main track a quarterhorse track, we could have during the summer months a mixed quarterhorse-standardbred meet.  This would allow people to wager on familiar quarterhorses yet introduced them to standardbred racing.  Where would the standardbreds come from?  California during the two month break at Cal Expo.

The only major track currently operating in Arizona is Turf Paradise, so scheduling can be worked out easily.  The one problem is there is no racinos at the racetracks.

Make no mistake, it would be a challenge for standardbreds to get involved, but it is important to expand the market of harness racing into new states.  Even if you ran a two month mixed meet program at Yavapai intermingled with quarterhorses, you would introduce standardbred racing to a new audience which may improve the exposure of standardbred racing in the Southwest.

Unfortunately, the only casino gambling in Arizona is limited to Indian gaming so the chances of getting a racino is slim to none.  Therefore, a track operator would have to make their living on the OTB outlets, simulcasting and auxiliary facilities at the track.

Odds are no one with a standardbred background will be bidding on the track.

Speaking of racetracks, I can't help but wonder about the Ohio Governor's executive order to get slots installed in the state as quick as possible; most importantly, the part about allowing tracks/racinos to relocate in the state.  For example, yesterday there was a hearing regarding moving Raceway Park into the Northfield Park market.  I realize with the majority of the Ohio tracks selling out to casino companies, racing is a necessary evil, but this wholesale musical chairs approach to moving tracks into different markets shows how little they think about racing.  In fact, if they could get away with it, I suspect each of these casino companies would offer pari-mutuel Barrel racing with thoroughbreds and standardbreds if they could get away with it.  This is a perfect example of the problem of racinos.  While the horsemen look at racinos as their ticket to prosperity, in the long term these slot machines are going to lead to the demise of the racing industry right under their noses.  The shame is I am not sure the horsemen care.


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