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Reopening of Turf Paradise Tied to Potential Sale

A planned resumption of racing at Turf Paradise in Phoenix in January is tied to a potential purchase headed by Frank Nickens and another partner, horsemen and track representatives told members of the Arizona Racing Commission Sept. 28.

According to current track owner Jerry Simms, he has a letter of intent for the Nickens partnership to buy the property, and he expected a purchase contract to be issued Thursday. Simms informed the commission that Nickens anticipates closing the sale within 60 days, allowing the track to operate next year under different ownership.

In prior years, Turf Paradise had typically raced from late fall through the spring.

A prior deal that Simms had to sell the track to developer CT Realty fell through this summer. Earlier this year, Simms, a senior citizen, told BloodHorse that he desired to sell the track due to his age and desire to spend more time with his family. Turf Paradise, which opened in 1956, has been owned by Simms since 2000 when he purchased it for $53 million. It has been financially troubled in recent years, Simms or other track officials have said during past commission meetings.

Nickens did not appear during Thursday’s commission meeting. Little is known about the potential owner.

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He met this week with horsemen, said J. Lloyd Yother, president of the Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. 

“I have no idea where we are at this point, but it’s the only olive branch, if you will, that we can grab a hold of to keep the (off-track-betting locations) open and running, keep the potential for purse monies coming into the Arizona horsemen for future racing, wherever it may be,” Yother said. “All we’re looking for is for someone to run live racing in the state of Arizona and to save the industry.”

Fortified Effort wins the 2018 Gene Fleming Breeders' Derby - J. Lloyd Yother
Photo: Coady Photography

J. Lloyd Yother, president of the Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association

David Auther, a co-owner in Arizona Downs, another track in the state with financial problems that did not open for racing this summer, said Arizona Downs “has a track and plans to run.” It has typically raced in the summer.

He cautioned commissioners from allowing Turf Paradise to benefit from OTB and advance deposit-wagering revenues without first “vetting” the new potential ownership. OTB and ADW wagering are two of the most profitable components for racetracks in the state, and the two tracks have recently fought for their share of such betting.

“I had several buyers for the track, and I chose the buyer that I’ve signed an agreement and moving ahead with because he plans to run racing,” said Simms, who called Nickens an “enthusiast” of horse racing.

Turf Paradise general manager Vince Francia said Nickens wished to attend the ARC meeting, but “at the last minute that wasn’t possible.” Francia read a statement that he said Nickens asked him to deliver, signed by Richard Moore, CEO of Turf Paradise Land Trust.

“We plan to keep live racing, bring this facility into a new era—horse racing for the benefit of everyone involved,” Francia stated in a portion of the statement read to the commission. “We feel the preservation of such a wonderfully historical facility and the preservation of thousands of jobs that horse racing offers can carry the legacy of Turf Paradise on for another 50 years. We plan to completely redevelop surrounding land, all for the benefit of horse racing. We look forward to a new bright future for everyone at Turf Paradise.”

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