Turf Paradise hopes to improve upon the previous season’s record daily purse distribution at its 2007-08 race meet, which commenced Oct. 5. So far, things seems headed in the right direction.
The Phoenix, Ariz., racetrack averaged $86,709 in daily purse distribution during its last meet despite losing its Pima County simulcast outlets due to a dispute with Tucson Greyhound Park. Through 20 days this season, purses have averaged $88,096 per day with a projection close to $100,000 for the entire meet.
“We’re fortunate that we’re in Arizona,” Turf Paradise owner Jerry Simms said. “The growth in Arizona is what’s responsible—in my opinion—for the success of Turf Paradise.”
The upward trend in purses has helped attract horsemen to Turf Paradise, director of racing Shawn Swartz said. Getting full fields can be a challenge at a track that had 133 racing days at its last meet.
“This year was a little better because we increased our purses, and that always brings in more horses,” Swartz said. “I had a good year recruiting and we brought in some new trainers, and we’re looking for a better season in terms of field size.”
Through the first 20 days of the meet, field size has averaged 8.50 horses per race, according to The Jockey Club. For the first 19 days of the meet last year, field size averaged 7.59 horses per race. That’s an increase of almost one horse per race so far this season.
The track has used its extensive off-track betting network to stay competitive despite an increase in American Indian gaming in the state and the allure of slots-enriched races in neighboring New Mexico.
Arizona is second to New York in the number of off-track betting facilities with 66 outlets in the state. All except 10 are controlled by Turf Paradise; the 10 locations in Tucson are managed by Tucson Greyhound Park.
Turf Paradise receives all revenue generated by its 56 OTB facilities, but the restaurant or bar conducting the wagering retains the food and beverage income. The economic model is beneficial to the racetrack and the OTB parlor, Turf Paradise manager Eugene Joyce said.
“We provide (the OTBs) business at a time of day when they normally don’t have many customers, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” Joyce said. “This system is very economical and cost-effective for us.”
And while the population growth has strained the infrastructure, the off-track betting network ensures that handicappers can still wager conveniently.
“With the population growth of Maricopa County, it is so much more difficult to get to the track,” vice president and assistant general manager Dave Johnson said. “You can just go to your local OTB, which is five minutes down the road.”
The growth has caused property values to rise, increasing demand for open space. Before the 2006-07 racing season, part of the Turf Paradise parking lot was developed into a Wal-Mart. But according to Simms, racing interests need not worry about losing the track to redevelopment.
“I was interested in the track for the land it sits on,” Simms said. “The land will keep appreciating, but my plan is to keep it a racetrack.”