Cluer had purchased 1,400 acres of barren desert and entertained aspirations of building a first-class racetrack in the Phoenix area. Cluer was an experienced horseman but most locals thought his plan was too ambitious, ill-timed and destined for failure.
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The only route to the future racetrack was a series of poorly maintained dirt roads and, being 25 miles from downtown Phoenix, Cluer had his work cut out for himself. He forged ahead with his project, anyway, and on Jan. 7, 1956, Turf Paradise opened its doors. Success has followed.
In 1980, Herb Owens took the reins from Cluer and Turf Paradise was renovated. A seven-furlong infield turf course was added, the clubhouse was expanded and an outdoor patio made its debut. Owens ran the racetrack until 1989, when Robert Walker purchased the track.
Walker successfully lobbied the Arizona Legislature to legalize off-track-betting. The in-state OTB network is perhaps Walker's biggest contribution to the Arizona racing industry. What started out as a single OTB betting parlor in 1991 has now grown to 55 OTBs in Arizona, plus more than 900 out-of-state locales.
The new millennium provided Turf Paradise with yet another owner, Jerry Simms. He purchased the racetrack on June 16, 2000, for a reported $53 million. Simms renovated the main track and turf course and installed an equine swimming pool for advanced horse therapy.
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This year’s Opening Day at Turf Paradise will be on Oct. 14, with races running through May 6, 2018. The 132-day meet will see 35 stakes races — highlighted by the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup on Feb. 10 and the $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby on Feb. 20.
I must admit, when I first glanced at a few races at Turf Paradise several years ago, I thought it was a joke. Spoiled by the New York racing ovals, I couldn't appreciate the charm of a smaller venue.
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But this track is no joke. Turf Paradise is now the third-largest sports attraction in Arizona and hosts one of the longest seasons of thoroughbred racing in the country. This track has given the average horse enthusiast some hope in a sport that doesn't give much back. They continue to acknowledge the average horse player and put millions back in track maintenance and renovations. Turf Paradise and the people involved with the operation of this racetrack get a big thumbs-up from me and a pat on the back.
The first post is 12:55 p.m. on Wednesdays through Sundays. Grandstand admission is $3 and parking is free.
Although the meet doesn't kick off for a few weeks, you might want to plan a trip in advance. With the mountain-range view, perfectly manicured landscaping and live racing, it just might be Paradise!
Want to talk horse racing? Email Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article of The Spectrum read it here: www.thespectrum.com/story/sports/mesquite/2017/09/15/turf-paradise-arizona-desert/672384001/?hootPostID=435818e1b5e3e8e2713b06ede85395d1