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Tue, June 18

Off to the Races: Arizona Downs celebrates grand opening with Memorial Day weekend meet
Horse Racing

A rider exercises his horse as Arizona Downs prepares to reopen Tuesday, May 21. The racetrack will reopen, after 10 years, with live racing on weekends beginning Friday, May 24. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

A rider exercises his horse as Arizona Downs prepares to reopen Tuesday, May 21. The racetrack will reopen, after 10 years, with live racing on weekends beginning Friday, May 24. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

PRESCOTT VALLEY — The renovation for the Arizona Downs racetrack in Prescott Valley has just finished up and what better way to celebrate than with a Memorial Day weekend extravaganza to kick off the summer season.

In 2018, Arizona-based Company J&J Equine Enterprises bought the mile-long racetrack, which was once known as the Yavapai Downs before it was shut down in 2010, out of bankruptcy court for $3.22 million. The purchase was done to preserve the sport of horse racing and keep the traditions and culture alive throughout Arizona.

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Arizona Downs on Tuesday, May 21, in Prescott Valley. The racetrack will reopen, after 10 years, with live racing on weekends beginning Friday, May 24. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

“Our mission is to bring quality horse racing back to a year-round status in Arizona,” said Ann McGovern, Arizona Downs general manager. “There hasn’t been racing here for close to 10 years and the racing community has missed a place to stay in Arizona to continue racing when they’re done racing in Phoenix. So we’d like to bring that year-round circuit back to Arizona.”

The Memorial Day Grand Opening Weekend will last from Friday to Monday as each day will feature professional jockeys and their horse compete in eight thoroughbred and quarter races with the first race beginning at 1 p.m.

Along with a total rebranding, the three-floor venue has underwent over $7 million worth of improvements including renovations to the racing surface, a new craft-bar area, a restaurant overlooking the surrounding mountains, food trucks, a simulcasting room that opens for daily wagering, mutual and self-bet machines, and a Findlay Toyota Family Fun Zone.

The family fun zone is geared to keep children and their families entertained with The FIDO 500 Mini Dog Races as its main attraction.

This event will last from the Memorial Day weekend event through July 21 and will feature more than a dozen miniature purebred dogs participate in races throughout the day between the horse races. Most of the FIDO 500 competitors will be rescue dogs, including breeds like Dachshund, Chihuahua, Chinese Pug, Shiba Inu, Schnauzer, Pomeranian and Scottish Terrier.

Arizona Downs also enlisted the services of jovial race-caller Michael Wrona to be the track’s announcer. The Australian-born journeyman has called races all across the nation and overseas and is renowned for his ability to incorporate colorful humor into precise calls.

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The third floor dining area overlooks the race track as Arizona Downs prepares to reopen Tuesday, May 21. The racetrack will reopen, after 10 years, with live racing on weekends beginning Friday, May 24. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

“I am thrilled that Michael is joining our team,” McGovern said in a press release. “He is an incredible talent and we are fortunate that his voice will be associated with the opening of Arizona Downs. Our goal is to grow Arizona racing and Michael’s race calling will be an important factor in reaching that goal. Michael brings instant credibility to those familiar with racing and his style resonates with newcomers to the sport.”

Gates for the Memorial Day Grand Opening Weekend will open at 10 a.m. each day with general admission priced at $2 a ticket while children 10 years and younger are free. The first 10 children in line at the admissions gate to the Family Fun Zone will be able to register for a stick horse race and keep the stick horse. Tickets are available for purchase at ArizonaDowns.com.

Racing will take place every weekend at Arizona Downs all the way through Labor Day to round out the summer season. The venue will also be throwing themed celebrations for Father’s Day, Kids Day, Fourth of July, and Back-to-School Day during the corresponding weekends.

“Families are searching for new experiences they can share together without draining their wallets,” McGovern said in a press release. “We’ve planned our entire summer season with families in mind, and we’re keeping it very affordable. We want parents and children alike who haven’t experienced horse racing to fall in love with the sport.”

Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @Valaaron_94. Email avaldez@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.

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