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At 60, Turf Paradise is racing forward

(Brian Rackham/KTAR News)

Sixty years ago in Phoenix, John’s Green Gables was one of the hot restaurants in town, teens cruised Central Avenue in hot rods and KTVK Channel 3 had just started broadcasting. It was also in 1956 that horse racing began at Turf Paradise.

While much has changed in the Valley, the Phoenix landmark remains pretty much as it was.

“It’s very rewarding for us,”said General Manager Vince Francia. “The horse racing market in Arizona is very healthy.”

Francia said the key to the track’s longevity is the steady influx of Winter visitors and a local culture that has long revered horses.

His optimism is not shared by many in the industry, who worry that horse racing is in decline. It is also worth noting that the track sits on a valuable chunk of land in North Phoenix.

“We’re all very aware that the commercial value of this property probably exceeds the value of it being a race course,” Francia said.

But Francia says the track remains profitable. In terms of attendance, he said Turf Paradise is the third most popular sports franchise in the Valley, behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cactus League.

As the track held a celebration Saturday marking the 60th anniversary, Francia said he would continue to fight for the right to install slot machines at the track. Previous efforts have been met with little success over the years.

In the meantime, he said, longtime owner Jerry Simms remains committed to horse racing in the Valley.

“I would like to think that 60 years from now the track will be celebrating its 120th birthday,” he added.