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Photo caption: The family-friendly environment of the recently opened 300-person dining room at Arizona Downs attracts large Sunday crowds.

Arizona Downs Opens Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend sees the beginning of live horseracing at the formerly bankrupt Arizona Downs race track. In fact, Arizona Downs in central Yavapai County is destined to become the second largest horseracing destination in Arizona.

Ann McGovern, general manager for Arizona Downs, says that during the past five months, experienced racetrack personnel have converted the run-down horseracing complex into “… one of the finest tracks in the Southwest.”

It has been almost 10 years since horses last galloped the one-mile, 80-foot-wide oval located just a few miles east of Prescott Valley on Highway 89 A. The racetrack, formerly known as Yavapai Downs, was bought for $3.22 million out of bankruptcy court by J & J Equine Enterprises, LLC. Owners are Phoenix-based JACOR partners (and brothers) Tom, Dave, and Mike Auther and partners Joe Jackson and racing executive Corey Johnsen.

The biggest track is Turf Paradise in Phoenix, but it has races only during the fall and winter season, when desert temperatures are more moderate and not threatening to horses.

McGovern said it cost from $7 million to $10 million to put Arizona Downs back into operation.

She described the track as having excellent facilities for everyone. McGovern said it was an exceptionally safe track, with more than 1,000 sralls for owners and trainers and their horses. “We have unlimited parking. And with 90 acres of land, we have a lot of room for future growth.”

Current plans are to have horse races regularly from Memorial Day through September.

Some races will be for quarter horses. Others are for thoroughbreds. Thoroughbred races are measured in furlongs. (Note: Eight furlongs equal one mile).

McGovern said most races in the Southwest and West are for quarter horses and are run in yards.

McGovern said the multi-story grandstand, painted in muted earth tones had been reroofed and completely rehabilitated. “We can seat at least 1,000 fans in the bleachers,” McGovern explained.

Inside the third floor is a 300-person contemporary dining room, fully equipped for full service meals as well as buffets. She suggested that enjoying eating a fine meal while looking at chaparral and sage landscape is, “…as good as it gets. We feature a Sunday brunch that guests tell me is exceptional. We have what we call a ‘traditional menu, but with a bit of a twist’.”

The dining room also has a full bar. It is adjacent to an event room which can accommodate up to another 150 persons.

McGovern tells visitors that Arizona Downs is “… a perfect location for a private party, a reception, a wedding—or any other occasion you can think of for a celebration.

Off-Track Betting (OTB) is possible. Arizona Downs is open daily at 9 a.m. for betting on tracks across the nation. OTB operations also have connections with Connoly’s Sport Grill and Bull Shooters Sports Bar and Grill in Phoenix and with the Museum Club in Flagstaff and Gallagher’s Pub in Lake Havasu City.

McGovern said plans are to add more contracted OTB sites in the future. Such interests are controlled by the Arizona Racing Commission and other legal authorities.

McGovern attended West Virginia University but later moved to Tucson. She enrolled in the University of Arizona Race Track Industry program and has more than 30 years’ experience in the horse racing industry.

She said staff already were receiving inquiries about parking and RV spaces from possible visitors from throughout the West and Southwest. Some are adjacent to the racetrack, and others are within a few miles. 

McGovern said the appeal of horse racing is growing as an affordable, safe and family-friendly sport.

For further information, contact 928-227-1996 or visit