09/29/2009 11:00PM

Turf Paradise opens with new optimism

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PHOENIX - You can understand if Jerry Simms has a bit more jump in his step these days. That's because the owner of Turf Paradise has a sense of optimism as his Phoenix track kicks off its 155-day meet Friday.

Simms saw his track hold its own last year, navigating its long meet with some success, despite the dire economic situation.

That optimism, as the track opens its 54th season, is buoyed by hopes that the track may indeed land the right to have slots. While the state has fought such a move in recent years, Arizona's crippled budget has many at the state capital thinking about doing an about-face since slots at the track could bolster state revenue at a time when crucial state services continue to be whittled away by dwindling revenue.

It's that possibility that has Simms and others associated with the Phoenix track encouraged. Not only would the state benefit, but surely that extra income would be reflected in increased purses. That manifested itself in a huge oversubscription of stall applications for the meet, which included many new faces from various circuits, all playing on the come, thinking too that should slots come in then the Turf Paradise purse structure would head north significantly.

"With the record number of horses applying for stalls [3,600 for 2,000 stalls], we have the potential for a very successful race meet," Simms said.

The plates remain in the air, however, as Simms said the work continues on slots."The dialogue continues with legislative leadership," he said. "Our proposal would certainly help the state resolve its revenue shortfall and would continue to do so on an annual basis.

"Purses would increase dramatically. This would change racing for the better in Arizona, benefiting horsemen, the breeding industry as well as the horseplayers."

The stand runs through May 2, 2010. Live racing will be conducted Friday through Tuesday, with first post of 12:30 p.m. Mountain Standard. Full-card simulcasting is offered seven days a week.

The stakes schedule includes 41 events worth more than $2.1 million, with the meet's marquee events being the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons at a mile on turf Jan. 16; the $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup at six furlongs Feb. 13; and the $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 20.

The $75,000 Arizona Oaks at one mile also will be run on Feb. 20, while the traditional closing-day fixture, the $50,000 Hasta La Vista Handicap at 1 7/8 miles on the turf, will be renewed May 2.

The stand kicks off with the $50,000 Luke Kruytbosch. The six-furlong event for 3-year-olds is named in honor of the former track announcer who died in July 2008 at age 47. Kruytbosch called the races at the Phoenix track since 1993. The meet also will commence with a new voice. Frank Mirahmadi, who took over for Kruytbosch last season, resigned last week to pursue opportunities at TVG. He is replaced by Mike Chamberlain, who called races for 12 seasons at Sam Houston Park.

* The opening-day Kruytbosch drew a dozen sophomores, and contention runs deep without a standout. Who's Your Next Ex is a stakes-placed invader from Emerald; Radford is a spring stakes winner on this track; Mickey Rocks comes off an 11 1/2-length win in the Yavapai Downs Derby; Robo Willie invades from Northlands Park, where he was a two-time stakes winner recently; and Rockin Zola, a three-time local winner returns from Sacramento off a romping 7 1/4-length claiming score.