Turf Paradise: A lasting legacy spanning 60 years in Arizona

In January, Turf Paradise, at 19th Avenue and Bell Road, will mark 60 years in Arizona.

Vince Francia

Vince Francia

The Valley was a very different place when the Phoenix racetrack opened its doors six decades ago. The area surrounding Turf Paradise was desert and dirt roads. In 1956, it was considered a gamble to establish a major track in what was then considered the middle of nowhere. The gamble paid off. The fans arrived. And 60 years of horseracing have followed.

Over the decades north Phoenix literally grew up around Turf Paradise. The track was the first professional sports franchise in Arizona, but over the years that would change. The Suns, the Cardinals, the Diamondbacks, The Mercury, the Coyotes, and others would join us in providing quality sports entertainment to a growing population. The arrival of Indian gaming gave Arizona still more entertainment options.

All that increased competition could have easily crowded Turf Paradise out of the market. It didn’t. Instead, it inspired renovation and innovation. Over the decades the facility has been remodeled a number of times. Turf has aggressively sought to bring new fans to the sport. Off Track Betting, wagering via smart phones, and social media are just some of the ways our sport reaches out to a new fan base.

The popularity of horseracing in Mexico brings our state’s growing Hispanic population to Turf Paradise. Family events such as wiener dog races and camel races help establish Turf as a family friendly destination. We learned a long time ago that when you are no longer the only game in town you have to think of innovative ways to make sure the town knows you’re still in the game.

Those efforts have paid off. Turf Paradise’s races are viewed at Off Track Betting locations from London to Dubai and from to Scottsdale and Tucson. Wagering and attendance remain brisk. More than 1,800 horses are stabled at our facility as trainers, jockeys, and horse owners continue to come to Turf Paradise for a chance to compete.

A thriving community populates our stables or “backside.” Thousands of horsemen and women come here from 18 states as well as Canada, Mexico, and central and south America, helping to fuel our state’s economy.

Through all of the changes there remains one constant, the thrill of watching thoroughbreds and quarter horses race to the finish line. It was compelling entertainment in 1956 and it remains so today. We treasure our legacy but with the knowledge that you can never take your fans for granted. It’s how you stay in business for 60 years. It’s how we plan to be around for at least another 60 years.

Editor’s note: Mr. Francia is the general manager of Turf Paradise

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