01/11/2018 4:30PM

Partnership group buys Yavapai Downs


A partnership group that includes a real-estate company in Phoenix and Kentucky Downs part-owner Corey Johnsen have purchased Yavapai Downs in Prescott, Ariz., out of federal bankruptcy court, according to the partners.

The partnership, which consists of Johnsen and the real-estate company Jacor Partners, paid $3.22 million for the property, according to the partners. Live racing has not been conducted at Yavapai Downs since 2010, and the property is expected to need millions in dollars in improvements to be race-ready.

The partnership announced their purchase of the Yavapai property at an Arizona Racing Commission meeting on Thursday. The group will need approval of a racing license from the ARC.

Yavapai Downs was built in 2001 by the Yavapai County Fair Association for a reported $22 million, replacing a half-mile bullring known as Prescott Downs. For decades, Prescott Downs and Yavapai Downs together formed a summer racing location for horses based at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, approximately 85 miles south. Yavapai usually began its meet on Memorial Day weekend.

But Yavapai filed for bankruptcy shortly after cancelling its 2011 meet, and efforts to re-open the track since then have stalled.

According to a release from the partners, Ann McGovern, who has been a senior racetrack management official at several major tracks in the Southwest, has already been pegged as Yavapai’s new general manager. In addition, Dennis Moore, the track superintendent at Santa Anita Park and Del Mar in Southern California, will oversee renovation of Yavapai’s main track, the partners said.

The principals in Jacor are three brothers – Tom, David, and Mike Auther – with experience in real-estate development and management, along with a fourth principal, Joe Jackson. In an April 2017 article in the Prescott Daily Courier about the firm’s interest in acquiring Yavapai, Tom Auther said that the company was looking at the acquisition as a “real-estate deal.”

“We’re real-estate guys, not horse people,” he said. “We don’t really have any expertise in this.”

Johnsen, a former general manager of Lone Star Park before buying Kentucky Downs, went to school at Arizona State University in the Phoenix area, and his first job out of college was working in marketing and public relations at Turf Paradise, according to the release.

“The Arizona racing scene holds great sentimental value for me, and it’s very gratifying to be part of re-establishing a year-round racing circuit,” Johnsen said, in the release.

Johnsen and his partners in Kentucky Downs have made millions of dollars from the track through the year-round operation of so-called “historical horse racing machines,” devices that are similar to slot machines. While Kentucky’s racetracks are relatively strong politically in the state’s legislature and in front of its racing commission, Arizona’s racing industry is a minor player in an enormous gambling market that is dominated by Native American casino resorts.