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Arizona Downs suspends live racing amid simulcast dispute

Arizona Downs, the recently reopened horse racing track in northeast Arizona, will suspend the remainder of its planned summer racing schedule after Sunday’s card amid a continuing dispute with a simulcasting company.

The track in Prescott Valley, which reopened in May with a new name after a nine-year hiatus, said the simulcast company, Monarch Content Management, has refused to make its out-of-state racing signals available for use in its network of off-track-betting (OTB) sites.

“OTBs are the lifeblood of horse racing in our state because they fund the purse distribution to the horse owners, trainers, grooms and jockeys that compete at Arizona racetracks,” Arizona Downs co-owner and partner Tom Auther said in a statement. “Our OTBs need access to the same robust network of signals that Turf Paradise offers at its OTBs through Monarch.”

Arizona Downs is one of the closest live racing tracks to Las Vegas, a four-hour drive away.

The Arizona Legislature recently passed a bill requiring that any simulcast signal of live racing brought into Arizona from another state “must be offered to each commercial live-racing permittee in this state,” which is due to take effect Aug. 27.

But Monarch Content Management, which is owned by the Stronach Group, has indicated it believes that Arizona Downs’ OTB sites encroach on Turf Paradise’s OTB network and will threaten the Phoenix track’s long-term existence. It has indicated it views the new law as unconstitutional under the Interstate Horse Racing Act and plans to challenge it in court.

“It’s my belief that if Arizona Downs is allowed to go into the Phoenix marketplace and cannibalize the market, then Turf Paradise will not survive long term,” Monarch President Scott Daruty told the Review-Journal. “… We care because Turf Paradise currently produces 130 to 140 days of live racing a year, and if it goes out of business, we and our customers will lose access to that content.”

Arizona Downs’ ownership group, which spent $7 million renovating the former Yavapai Downs, believes Turf Paradise is pressuring Monarch to stick it to its new competitor, but Turf Paradise General Manager Vincent Francia said Friday that the track is not involved in the dispute.

“This is not a Turf Paradise issue,” he said. “It remains an issue between Monarch and Arizona Downs.”

The Arizona Downs release said the track will host its last two days of racing Saturday and Sunday before closing for the year. But the owners and management remain hopeful that it will again host live racing next summer.

“We are heart broken at the prospect of suspending our 2019 summer racing, and for our employees, and all the horsemen, trainers, jockeys and their families who stayed in Arizona to compete in our meet,” Auther said. “However the successful passage of HB 2547 puts us on sound footing for a full summer meet in 2020.”

Mike Brunker can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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