05/26/2004 11:00PM

Sure sign of summer: Action moves north


Once the temperature starts cranking up in the Phoenix area to signal the onset of summer, residents look north to the high country for comfort. It's the same in the racing industry.

After the long main meet at Turf Paradise, the racing scene shifts north to Yavapai Downs, which opens its fourth meet Saturday. For years the northern Arizona racing scene meant the half-mile oval at Prescott. That plant became outdated, though, so Yavapai was built in Prescott Valley, a few miles south of the old track, with a mile oval and modern facility.

Yavapai, located about 1 1/2 hours north of Phoenix, offers live racing Saturday through Tuesday until Sept. 7 and will be open seven days a week for simulcasting.

The track's general manager, Jim Grundy, who supervised the transfer from Prescott Downs to the new facility, likes the way things have come to hand.

"We have lots of horses, and our entries went very well for opening weekend, so we're excited about the prospects for this meet," Grundy said.

Grundy hoped that Yavapai's stable area and modern track and facility would keep Arizona horsemen home and make for a year-round Arizona circuit. In the past, after Turf Paradise closed, many horsemen would leave Arizona for the summer, citing Prescott's small track and outdated facilities. Then there are the living arrangements for the horsemen themselves.

"We finished a new RV park for the horsemen, so they have living quarters," Grundy said. "Before they were spread out all over, many of them commuting from Phoenix, and that just wasn't going to work. Hopefully this will alleviate that problem."

Because Yavapai races on Monday and Tuesday, dark days at numerous tracks around the country, the simulcast signal remains popular. Grundy said that Don Rogers, the simulcast coordinator for Yavapai, "has us into a number of new locations around the country. But we also have done some work in-state. We now have 50 in-state offtrack wagering sites."

The opening-day feature, the $17,500 Gerry Howard Inaugural Handicap, brings out a field of 12 going six furlongs. The weight spread from top to bottom is eight pounds (124-116) with two co-highweights. It goes as race 8 on a nine-race card.

Favoritism may fall to Mister Party, who along with Top Boot was assigned 124 pounds. Trained by Justin Evans, Mister Party faced some of the top sprinters during the Turf Paradise meet and was hardly disgraced. In fact, he won three times during the meet. He also closed strongly to be third to stakes runners Newark and Expert in a March 28 optional claiming race, and then was fourth behind Expert in the Gerry Howard Memorial at Turf Paradise May 2. He is to be ridden by Miguel Hernandez, who was aboard for two of those Phoenix victories.

Top Boot comes off a strong win over optional claimers at Turf Paradise on April 23. Trained by Ken Newell, he dueled early and then drew off to win impressively under Kelly Bridges, who has the return call.

Others of note are Mamone, who comes off an easy claiming win at Turf Paradise; General Biltmore, the romping winner of two straight in Phoenix and winner of his only start here last year; Red Spark, third in the Grand Canyon; Vaclav, winner of two straight; and Hediditright, romping allowance winner at Turf Paradise last time in his fourth career start.

At a glance: Yavapai Downs

RACING SCHEDULE: 60 days, May 29 through Sept. 7; live racing Saturday through Tuesday, full-card simulcasting 7 days a week.

POST TIME: 1 p.m.

ADMISSIONS: $2.50 Saturday, Sunday; free Monday, Tuesday

SEATING: Apron (outdoors) free; Clubhouse table $10; box $18.

PARKING: Free; RV space $10/night.

LOCATION: Highway 89A, just a few miles West of I-17, about an hour and a half north of Phoenix.

PHONE: (928) 775-8000

INTERNET: www.yavapaidownsatpv.com