PHOENIX – In response to concerns raised by the newly formed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Turf Paradise has agreed to pay over $150,000 in fees to insure its track meets updated standards.
The condition of track rails, the availability of equine ambulances and issues with riding crop violations are among the issues HISA addressed.
HISA was was formed in July 2022 to provide a uniform set of safety rules that can be applied to racetracks around the country and is under the umbrella of the Federal Trade Commission. Turf Paradise officials said they held off signing an agreement with the organization because some rules conflict with state racing regulations and they feared losing their Arizona operating license.
But Turf Paradise general manager Vince Francia said he is also confident the change could be good for the sport.
“I think going forward, this will benefit the sport of horse racing,” he told Cronkite News Thursday.
Turf Paradise was under scrutiny last year for a high number of equine fatalities that caught the attention of animal rights activists.
This is a far different issue, the track said, one related to conflicting rules.
“The recently signed agreement with HISA clarifies that state regulations do not apply in areas that HISA regulates,” Turf Paradise said in a statement. “Turf Paradise needed to do additional research to ensure it would be allowed to operate in Arizona if it adhered to the federal regulations under HISA. The $150,000 are assessment fees covering the disputed time period, they are not fines.”
The news attracted the attention of Animal Wellness Action, an organization that promotes enforcing public policy that prevents cruelty to animals.
“We applaud the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority for dropping the hammer on Turf Paradise, a track that’s been ridden with scandals and dozens of racehorse deaths in recent years,” executive director Marty Irby said in a statement.
The horse racing industry is at an unprecedented crossroad with the increasing legalization of sports betting. The number of races is down by 30 percent in the past decade, yet the U.S. horse racing industry just recorded its largest annual wagering handle numbers since 2009, according to data recently released by Equibase.
If racing becomes less risky for horses, the industry hopes more bettors can be drawn back in, especially in Arizona, where sports gambling is legal.
Additionally, HISA is administering an anti-doping and medication control program. This change could help get rid of the doping stigma surrounding the sport.
“The effort to end doping is American horse racing’s last chance to maintain credibility with the betting public,” Irby told Cronkite News.
Irby’s concerns lie with the horses. He has been encouraged by recent progress at the Breeder’s Cup and Triple Crown races. He hopes that Turf Paradise can look forward and be an example of improved racing on the West Coast, starting immediately.
The track is hosting its Super Saturday this weekend. Attendees will be able to watch five stakes races and the first 4,000 admitted will get a free wallet with a betting voucher of up to $500.
“This is our premier day,” Francia said. “There are just super races that attract really good horses.”