Arizona Downs open for business; live racing slated for 2019

Co-owner Tom Auther makes a bet as Arizona Downs opened its doors for off-track betting for horse races across the country Friday, July 13, 2018. (Photo by Les Stukenberg/Daily Courier)

Co-owner Tom Auther makes a bet as Arizona Downs opened its doors for off-track betting for horse races across the country Friday, July 13, 2018. (Photo by Les Stukenberg/Daily Courier)

PRESCOTT VALLEY – A new roof, flooring, paint job inside and out, and 50 flat screen televisions are part of the $2 million in renovations occurring at the much-improved Arizona Downs racetrack facility, formerly known as Yavapai Downs.

Arizona Downs opened to the public Friday, July 13, for simulcast wagering on 40 big screens in the betting room and 10 more outside in a large overflow space all showing horse racing events from around the country. The facility will be open seven days a week beginning at 9 a.m. Admission and parking in the recently paved lots are free.

“Our customers can watch horse racing, professional and college sports, and enjoy food and beverages. With more than 40 televisions, Arizona Downs will have something for everyone,” said General Manager Ann McGovern in her news release dated June 27.

Those in the horseracing industry try to space races so they don’t overlap each other. The main TV screen, McGovern said, will telecast with audio the race occurring at the moment. As it finishes and the next race begins, the audio switches to the monitor showing that racetrack.

“On a busy day, that can be a challenge,” she said.

Use of the facility

Massive repair work has taken place on the ground level of the building at the former Yavapai Downs racetrack on the northeast side of Prescott Valley. McGovern said the leaking roof made a mess of the facility that sat vacant for the past six years.

The third floor received extensive damage, as did the second floor. Had the condition of the roof been addressed earlier, the damage would have been far less, she said. Both floors will be rehabbed at the same time in the coming months. The third floor will contain a restaurant and rooms available to host events.

“This will be a great place to come on a Friday night after work with friends and have a nice dinner,” McGovern said. “The rooms can be used for weddings, quinceaneras, Christmas parties, or a training center for businesses, which can be catered by the kitchen.”

The second floor opens up to outside seating in the grandstand and inside views of the track with plenty of space for parties to gather. The fourth floor juts out on the racetrack side of the building and provides space for the announcer, officials, and cameras.

“I can’t think of another track with unobstructed views of the mountains. A breeze comes through here and makes it nice to sit outside,” McGovern said Monday, July 9, as workers installed equipment, set up tables and chairs, and applied finishing touches inside the first floor betting room.

Horseracing business

Future plans include replacing dead or damaged trees and building a water feature in the center of the racetrack in which the water will be reused for the landscape.

McGovern said improvements to the stable area will be made prior to the start of the 2019 season, as some horses stay for the season; others return to their farm after participating in a competition.

Racing is known as an agricultural industry, she explained, from growing grain and hay to providing pastures and green space. Add other services like veterinarians, blacksmiths, breeders, grooms, exercise riders, hot walkers and jockeys, and the business provides work for many others.

To operate the simulcast portion of Arizona Downs on the ground level also requires employees: technology staff to man the 50 screens and audio system, clerks to take money and issue tickets for betting and keep the self-serve machines running, restaurant and kitchen workers, and facility maintenance.

Loretta Brasher with the Arizona Quarter Horse Racing Association said she was “tickled to death” for live horseracing to start up next year.

“It’s such a boon for the economy. People will watch the horseracing and they’ll eat and spend the weekend,” she said. “The horseman’s impact is good.”

Betting

Patrons will place their bets at machines manned by clerks or at a self-serve machine. Some people prefer the self-serve machines because they feel there is less chance for error, McGovern said. These machines take vouchers or cash.

When live racing begins next year, she said many people will want to see the horses before placing their bets. The horses and jockeys will walk and pose at the staging area at the front of the building before their race is called.

Other bettors place wagers on a horse based on unrelated information.

“I’m always amazed when someone new comes to the track and bets on a child’s birthdate, or the color or name of a horse, and they get lucky,” McGovern said with a laugh. With more than 30 years in the horse racing business, however, she doesn’t bet on horses.

McGovern has always ridden horses and was drawn to racing after working as an exercise rider and groom throughout college. An internship with the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program solidified her career.

“It’s not just gambling. It’s running a business, and being a partner in the community. We’re an entertainment venue,” she said. “We will get it up and running for good quality racing with good quality food and bar, then expand our horizon.”

Raising horses is a family-oriented activity that teaches caring for beings who are dependent on each other. “It has core values that people don’t think about with horse racing,” she said.