A Phoenix-based ownership group that also includes Kentucky Downs president Corey Johnsen has purchased Yavapai Downs with plans to restart racing at the Prescott Valley, Ariz. track.
The real estate investment and development company JACOR Partners announced at the Jan. 11 Arizona Racing Commission meeting that its affiliate J and J Equine Enterprises has closed on the purchase of the 120-acre track property. The new owners include JACOR principals Tom, Dave, and Mike Auther and Joe Jackson, along with Johnsen.
Yavapai features a 90,000 square-foot clubhouse/grandstand and accommodations for 800 horses. The property was purchased for $3.22 million out of federal bankruptcy court, with the new owners planning to invest millions of dollars worth of improvements.
Johnsen said the next step will be to get a racing license approved through the Arizona Racing Commission, as well as get a license to simulcast races. Part of the success at Kentucky Downs followed the addition of historical racing games at the Franklin, Ky. track but the initial plans for Yavapai do not include any push for any added gaming.
"The racing is what everything is based on. To go a step further than that and speculate on any added gaming is premature because frankly we need to get our racing permit first," Johnsen said. "Then we'll look at all avenues to increase revenues for Yavapai Downs and the industry."
Johnsen said without a racing permit in place, it's also difficult to say when racing may begin at the track but the group is anxious to move forward with plans.
Yavapai has not conducted live racing since 2010. Daily purses at that meet averaged $32,000. Tom Auther said they plan a first-rate facility that will draw on the area's growing population.
"This track is a real gem," Tom Auther said. "Yavapai Downs is a great structure that will be a fun place to offer summertime horse racing in Arizona with all the amenities, attractions and great summer temperatures associated with Prescott. Arizona has a population of more than seven million and is one of America's fastest-growing states, and Prescott and the surrounding area is rapidly expanding with a population approaching 300,000."
Johnsen's roots in racing took hold in Arizona, where he worked as a backstretch groom while attending Arizona State University. His first job out of college would be in marketing and public relations at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
"The Arizona horse racing scene holds great sentimental value for me, and it's very gratifying to be part of re-establishing a year-round racing circuit," Johnsen said. "We look forward to improving purses for all the hard-working horsemen, encouraging the Arizona-bred program that has produced so many solid runners, and providing an entertaining product for the many dedicated horseplayers.
"I am honored to be a part of Yavapai Downs. I am very impressed with the JACOR Partners team, who are Arizona natives with a lifetime of experience in the state in many business deals. Their commitment to making this happen has been extraordinary."
Veteran racetrack executive Ann McGovern will be the general manager, the new ownership said. McGovern has been in senior management at Oklahoma's Remington Park, Texas' Sam Houston Race Park and New Mexico's Ruidoso Downs. Dennis Moore, the track superintendent at Santa Anita Park and Del Mar and who has consulted on tracks around the world, will oversee renovation of the racing surface.