Turf Paradise cancels horse racing schedule due to COVID-19 pandemic

Turf Paradise has cancelled its 2020-21 horse racing schedule due to the coronavirus.

"There is plenty of sadness and heartbreak to go around with this decision," said General manager Vince Francia. "I just can't ensure 100% I can protect everybody from this virus."

Track officials said the restrictions on large crowds combined with the economic uncertainties associated with periodic closures and necessary social distance requirements make it impossible to conduct a financially practical race meet for both the track and the horsemen at this time.

"We just didn't want to take that risk and end up with a stable area of people under quarantine, or worse, some sort of outbreak of the virus," said Francia,

Turf Paradise had considered opening with no crowds in the stands, but the decision, according to Francia, would not solve the issues that come with racing itself.

"Our concern was people here," said Francia. "We have 1,600 horses, 1,000 people who take care of them, the staff."

Turf Paradise informed the Arizona Racing Commission on Thursday that it must decline the proposed 121-day race dates, which would have spanned from November to May. 

The Phoenix track’s normal race meet days have traditionally gone from October to May. Francia said the decision is a big hit to the horsemen who rely on meets for their livelihoods, the 2,500 race horse owners and dozens of trainers in Arizona, and the tourism industry.

"We infuse $100 million into the local economy in Arizona, primarily here in Maricopa County," said Francia.

Turf Paradise has operated at the same location in north Phoenix since 1956.

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.