Updated: Ahead Of License Renewal, Questions About Turf Paradise’s Planned Reforms

by | 03.11.2019 | 9:04pm
Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Ariz.

After several weeks of tough press coverage and promises of reform, Turf Paradise will face the Arizona Racing Commission Thursday seeking a renewal of its three-year commercial permit to operate through the 2021 fiscal year.

Trade and regional media covered Arizona's spike in equine fatalities, which rose alarmingly in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, despite attempts at improving safety protocols. (2019 numbers are on track for improvement.) Turf Paradise holds the majority of racing dates for the state. A report released by the Racing Commission suggested voluntary reforms it hoped racetracks would take on.

One week ahead of the upcoming meeting, a press release from Turf Paradise general manager Vince Francia was published in The Blood-Horse detailing new safety procedures for 2019 in accordance with the commission's report, including pre-race veterinary inspections of all entered horses for the first time beginning March 18 – the Monday following the track's license renewal. Francia told the Paulick Report a group of three veterinarians from Dr. Verlin Jones' Race Day Veterinary Services, will complete pre-race examinations.

Jones' name may be familiar to readers from a late 2017 case at Prairie Meadows in which his racetrack license was revoked in Iowa after he allegedly provided syringes filled with Aminplex Plus and Monster Energy Booster to an assistant trainer. A security officer encountered the assistant hiding the syringes behind a bale of hay. An Oct. 12, 2018 stewards' ruling from the Arizona Department of Gaming indicates his license there was restored to good standing after he fulfilled a settlement agreement with Arizona and his Iowa suspension was lifted.

Also on the pre-race inspection team will be Drs. Jeff Alldredge and Wes Vogt.

The release also trumpeted the recent work of surfaces expert Dr. Mick Peterson on the Turf Paradise racing surface, saying it has been “inspected by one of the nation's leading experts on racetrack conditions”. But Peterson said the release mischaracterized his association with the Phoenix track, and that in fact he has never been to Turf Paradise. Rather, track maintenance had sent samples of the surface to his non-profit Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory.

“It is a blatant misrepresentation of my relationship with the track,” Peterson said in an email to the Paulick Report.

Further, Peterson tweeted, the track is not using the Maintenance Quality System. The analysis of the samples, he said was “only the first step.” The Maintenance Quality System is an online tool tracks use to monitor maintenance performed and to keep an historical record of activities should a problem arise.

Francia said he plans to send new samples to Peterson's lab for analysis every 15 days or after major rainstorms to try to maintain surface consistency. He also asked Waypoint Analytical to do a soil sample, which concurred with Peterson's analysis. Peterson's lab determined the sand to clay ratio in the surface was slightly off – an issue Francia said has already been corrected with the addition of more sand – and the samples were consistent at different sampling points across the width and length of the oval.

Peterson told the Paulick Report he had contacted an attorney to see about getting the press release pulled down from sites which had published it.

Turf Paradise has had a long history of woes independent of February's coverage of safety concerns. The track's license was up for renewal in January, but commission vice chairman Rory Goree walked out of the meeting in protest over an apparent lack of functional fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in barns, leaving only two commissioners in the meeting and preventing the matter from coming to a vote.

For roughly a decade, the track has been at the center of a legal war between brothers Ron and Jerry Simms, who purchased the track in harmony for about ten years before beginning a feud that continues to this day. Jerry Simms, majority owner of Turf Paradise operator TP Racing, alleges Ron has lied about investments with the intent to defraud the state. Ron brought claims against Jerry, alleging his brother had misappropriated track money and inappropriately used close relationships with racing commission members; those claims of misappropriation were dismissed by a judge in 2015. Jerry has tried to block Ron's operator's license in the state. The argument, which has often placed state regulators in the middle, has cost the commission six figures in legal fees – some of which, according to the Arizona Republic, came out of purses.

Editor's Note: Francia emailed a statement to the Paulick Report regarding Peterson's comments: “My apologies to Mr. Peterson. No misrepresentation or offense was intended. My publicity guy made an assumption. However, no blame his way; the responsibility is mine. Correction being made with media.” Additionally, Francia clarified Drs. Vogt and Alldredge are not new hires by the track, as was previously stated.

Also note an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified one of the syringes in the Jones case as containing aminorex, when in fact it contained Aminoplex. The Paulick Report regrets the error.

The story has also been updated to clarify that Ron Simms' claims of misappropriation of funds against Jerry Simms were dismissed by a judge in 2015.

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