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Arizona Downs installs new racing surface, plans for May opener in Prescott Valley

A grader rests in front of the grandstand at Arizona Downs. (Arizona Downs/Courtesy)

A grader rests in front of the grandstand at Arizona Downs. (Arizona Downs/Courtesy)

PRESCOTT VALLEY — It’s beginning to look like the refurbished Arizona Downs horseracing complex will be ready for its grand reopening in late May after having been closed for the past nine years.

Graders and other heavy equipment, this week, under the direction of racetrack consultant Dennis Moore, started putting the finishing touches on the installation of a new racing surface. Work on the new surface got going on Jan. 3.


Prominent track consultant Dennis Moore, left, in black jacket, and surveyor Dean Johnson work to get proper measurements for the horseracing track at Arizona Downs in Prescott Valley. The track is scheduled to reopen in late May, nine years after it closed due to bankruptcy in 2010. (Arizona Downs/Courtesy)

“There’s no problem being done by May,” Moore said in a news release issued Jan. 23. “You can usually build a track from nothing in three to four months as far as the surface is concerned. We had a lot to work with, so it wasn’t like we were building a track from scratch.”

Moore hired veteran track surveyor Dean Johnson to determine the Downs track’s existing grading before staking out the proper grades for the 1-mile dirt surface. Moore and Johnson worked on the track’s homestretch for a week and will return in February to work on its two turns.

“At that point, we’ll take soil samples of the track to see what type of amendment we need to make to the composition to get it where we want it to be,” Moore said. “Then we’ll go from there.”

“Arizona Downs is extremely fortunate to have the two best racetrack-surface experts working on our track,” Arizona Downs General Manager Ann McGovern said. “Track safety is our No. 1 priority, and both Dennis and Dean feel the same. Seeing all the equipment on the track is terrific; it means that live racing is just around the corner.”

Moore said he had access to the original track plans and saw the intended grades, including the cross slope, which ensures proper water drainage during storms.

“Sitting for the 10 years, or whatever it’s been, the grades were really, really out of whack from what they should be,” Moore added. “That’s what we’re doing now, putting them back.”


Track surface material can wear out and does not necessarily stay in place over time.

“But there’s still plenty of good material there,” Moore said. “We’re just looking at different sands now to get the right combination to amend it with. We’ll probably have to take some material off and add to the existing material to get the blend that we want, mix that all in and we’ll be ready for racing.”

Moore said the samples will be tested by the University of Kentucky’s Mick Peterson and his Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, a nonprofit organization that provides research, testing and consulting to the horse-racing industry.

Moore, who is track superintendent at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club near San Diego in addition to his consulting work, said American tracks for the most part are comprised of sandy loam with silt, clay and sand.

“The No. 1 thing we look for is for it to be safe for the riders and the horses,” Moore said. “That’s what we’re going to do — make sure it will be a safe, uniform track. All the rest falls into place.”

Johnson was familiar with the track because he did the surveying to put in the original Fontana Safety Rail on the inner boundary of the racetrack back in 2001, when the facility was built as Yavapai Downs. The surveyor said his first trip back for Arizona Downs was in September to make measurements.

“It was all compacted down, weeds growing out of it, pretty rough shape,” he said of the track. “But now that Dennis has been in there, the homestretch is in real good shape. All the weeds are gone, and it’s starting to look like a racetrack now.”

J and J Equine Enterprises, an affiliate of the Phoenix-based retail investment and development company JACOR Partners, acquired the old Yavapai Downs property one year ago, renamed it Arizona Downs and is in the process of making extensive renovations to the grandstand and physical plant.


Arizona Downs is open daily at 9 a.m. for betting on tracks across the country, and it has off-track betting operations at Connolly’s Sports Grill and Bull Shooters Sports Bar & Grill in Phoenix, The Museum Club in Flagstaff and Gallagher’s Dining & Pub in Lake Havasu City, with more to locations set to be added.

Information provided by Arizona Downs.

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