2/14/2013 9:15:00 AM It's final: Yavapai Downs back on track with new owner
It's finally final: Gary Miller is the owner of the Yavapai Downs horse racetrack.
Miller said he received an email at 5:08 p.m. Wednesday that the sale was final, 10 months after his winning bid in bankruptcy court.
"Boy, was this a long road," he said shortly thereafter. He planned to relax Wednesday evening and then get right back to work Thursday, because he has a lot to do to get the track up and running by his goal of May 25.
That includes rehabilitating the 93,000-square-foot grandstands building that's been sitting empty for two years. Roof repairs will be the biggest cost.
No one is happier than the Arizona horsemen to see the track come back to life. They have been forced to go out of state to race during the last two summers after Turf Paradise in Phoenix closes for the season.
"It's our lifeblood that this opens," said Loretta Brasher, executive director of the Arizona Quarter Horse Racing Association. "That's how important this is to the whole racing industry in Arizona, especially quarter horses.
Her group has 900 breeders, owners, trainers and jockeys as members. Breeding is "almost non-existent" without the PV track, she said.
"We have to have year-round racing here," agreed Tom Metzen, executive director of the Arizona Horseman's Benevolent & Protective Association. "It's been here 100 years except the last couple of years."
The Downs employed about 300 people each summer alongside hundreds of trainers, jockeys and assistants. The economic benefits extend to everything from feed stores to veterinarians, PV Economic Development Manager Greg Fister and PV Town Manager Larry Tarkowski said.
The Yavapai County Farm & Agriculture Association's board of directors abruptly shuttered the track in May 2011. The board said the track didn't have enough money to open, and by July 13 of 2011 it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
A federal bankruptcy judge approved the sale of the track to Miller for $5.5 million. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development arm held a $14.7 million loan on the facilities, mostly for its construction in 1999-2001, and now the federal agency will transfer $5.5 million of that loan to Miller.
Spokesperson Dianna Jennings said, "We were pleased that the final sale price recouped more than $2 million over the initial high bid for taxpayers. Our hope is that the improved economy in the area and a fresh start for the facility will provide the jobs and economic stimulus that were the impetus for our funding of the project in the first place."
Miller submitted an application for racing and off-track betting permits to the Arizona Department of Racing on Jan. 15. That same day, he resigned as president of the Arizona Horseman's Benevolent & Protective Association that represents horsemen.
He said he hasn't picked a name for the track yet, but it won't be Yavapai Downs.
Miller will meet with Arizona Department of Racing Director Bill Walsh to see what he can do before he has state permits, such as setting up off-track betting sites or sending out horse stall applications to anxious horsemen.
"Our goal is to do everything we can to get them up and racing this year," Walsh said of the PV racetrack.
But the department must do a thorough review of the permit applications to make sure Miller has the financial ability to run the track and pay off bets, Walsh said.
"My bottom line is, what happened two years ago I don't want to have happen again," said Walsh, who was not the director at that time.
"Time is of the essence," said Brasher, who breeds horses with her husband Wayne, a long-time trainer.