Horse racing returns to Phoenix on Saturday as Turf Paradise opens for its 63rd season. Gates open at 11 a.m. The first post time is 12:55 p.m.
In addition to opening day’s featured race, the $30,000 Bienvenidos Stakes, several ceremonies and races will be held throughout the day honoring veterans and first responders.
Free grandstand admission will be offered to veterans, active military, police officers and fire fighters.
“We thought it was important to take advantage of opening day, which has a large audience, to honor these different groups,” Turf Paradise General Manager Vincent Francia said.
Approximately 7,000 people are expected to attend opening day. Francia expects that enthusiasm to hold throughout the track’s eight-month racing season.
The track’s stalls, which hold 2,000 horses, are at capacity for the first time in years. Owners and trainers are recognizing Arizona as a temperate place to race during winter months. And, according to Francia, fans seem as excited for horse racing, which is closely intertwined with the budding future of sports gambling and is celebrating a Triple Crown winner, as ever.
For these reasons, Turf Paradise is expecting a big year.
“We’ve seen the Triple Crown twice in recent years … both horses were trained by Bob Baffert, who is from Nogales and has raced horses (at Turf Paradise),” Francia said. “Last time it happened, attendance and interest spiked.”
Turf Paradise’s stakes program, worth $2 million, includes the Bienvenidos Stakes, the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile (Jan. 12), the $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup (Feb. 9) and the $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby (Feb. 16).