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Arizona Downs climbs up off the canvas, to reopen this month

They might want to consider renaming it Upson Downs.

I refer to Arizona Downs, the new racetrack in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which announced this week it will resume its inaugural season July 20 after abruptly canceling the remainder of its season two weeks ago amid a dispute with a simulcasting provider.

A news release from the track, one of the closest live racing venues to Las Vegas, credited the decision to resume racing to an unidentified new investment group that “loves horse racing, and understands how important a year-round circuit is for the industry,” according to Arizona Downs co-owner Tom Auther. “They will be incredible business partners.”

The fresh infusion of cash means the track, revived this year from the bones of the former Yavapai Downs, can pay out purses even as the simulcast dispute drags on and continue to expand its off-track betting network, which currently consists of outlets in Phoenix, Flagstaff, Lake Havasu and Pinetop-Lakeside.

At the risk of being accused of burying the lead, I should mention that the track will celebrate the resumption of live racing with $1 hot dogs and $3 beers on both July 20 and 21. If that wasn’t enough to induce you to make the four-hour drive from Las Vegas, the track also is staging wiener dog races July 20.

Stars & Stripes Racing Festival

Those craving a big dollop of classy racing will not need to leave home on Saturday, as NBC will broadcast five graded stakes races starting at 1 p.m. PT from Belmont Park’s Stars & Stripes Racing Festival.

The menu includes an expected 14-horse field of intriguing 3-year-olds for the 70th running of the $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational, a Grade 1 run at 1¼ miles on the turf. Among those expected to face the starter are Triple Crown also-rans Spinoff, Master Fencer and Plus Que Parfait as well as a quartet from trainer Chad Brown’s shedrow and two European invaders sent over by the Irish assassin Aidan O’Brien.

The race begins the New York Racing Association’s Turf Trinity series, which includes the Saratoga Derby in August and concludes with the Jockey Club Derby back at Belmont in September.

Other races on the program are the $700,000 Suburban (Grade 2) for older horses going 1¼ miles, featuring the versatile Catholic Boy; the $250,000 Dwyer (Grade 3), featuring the comeback of Code of Honor; the $750,000 Belmont Oaks Invitational (Grade 1), which drew former Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf rivals Newspaperofrecord and Concrete Rose; and the $300,000 John A. Nerud Stakes (Grade 2), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint headlined by the Dale Romans-trained Promises Fulfilled.

New handicapping contest

The #RJhorseracing crowd ’cappers are taking a rare week off in order to reload for our next three-month handicapping contest starting next week.

We’d love to have you join us each week as we tackle two of the toughest handicapping puzzles we can find each week. To get in on the action, simply drop me an email or follow me on Twitter and let me know you’d like to be added to the list. If you do you’ll receive free past performances (courtesy of Equibase) for all featured races and be entered to compete for a semi-fabulous prize to be announced shortly.

And speaking of prizes, a loud huzzah goes out to Bill Dentinger, who triumphed in the just-concluded #RJhorseracing Spring Donnybrook to walk away with the grand prize – an autographed copy of Barry Meadow’s excellent new book “The Skeptical Handicapper.” Well done, Bill!

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Friday. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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