06/04/2003 11:00PM

Optimism reigns as track starts its third season

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PHOENIX - Jim Grundy very much understands the concept of walk before you run.

Grundy, general manager at Yavapai Downs, is hoping his fledgling track in northern Arizona is ready to hit a full gallop in this, its third season, which opened May 24.

"We had a great opening, great attendance, full fields. We were delighted," said Grundy, who is making a bit of a comeback himself. Grundy, the longtime Prescott general manager, suffered a heart attack April 26. "I'm feeling much better now. It was a little sticky for a while."

After years of racing at the half-mile oval at Prescott, Yavapai was built in Prescott Valley, a few miles south of the old track, with a mile oval and modern facility.

"Everything is very much in place now," Grundy said. "That first year we were really under the gun but we've now had the time to do more things. Landscaping was a big deal. It's so arid up here we've had to work on it but we're managing to get the place more green. We've expanded the clubhouse and we also resurfaced the racetrack. I've heard nothing but raves from the horsemen."

Yavapai Downs offers live racing Saturday through Tuesday through Sept. 2 and is open seven days a week for simulcasting. It is located about 1 1/2 hours north of Phoenix.

Yavapai, like Turf Paradise in Phoenix, is presented with major competition from Indian gaming.

"Our goal this year is to try and maintain, to do as well as we did in 2002," Grundy said. "We had an initiative on the ballot to get slots last year and it got defeated, whereas the Indian measure won, allowing them to expand gaming. That makes it a challenge."

Adding to the challenge is that last year the Indian casinos took the Yavapai signal. This year they are not.

But Grundy is staying positive, and he notes that Arizona now has a racing circuit - Turf Paradise and Yavapai - that can keep horses in the state year-round.

"We are doing so much better on the quality of animal we're getting now," he said. "I think [the horsemen] now realize we have a viable year-round racing schedule with two great facilities. In the old days, because of Prescott's half-mile track and outdated facilities a lot of people left the state to race elsewhere, but we're seeing people stay now and that's certainly helped keep the fields up and the quality up."

Grundy also pointed out that Yavapai's extensive simulcast network has helped buoy purses.

"Don Rogers, our simulcast coordinator, has gotten us into about 400 locations around the country. Obviously that helps enormously," Grundy said.