Wanted: Downs owner with business sense

With a little luck, Yavapai Downs may have begun its own Run for the Roses Tuesday as the Tribune went to press. A federal bankruptcy court trustee was overseeing an auction for the racetrack in Phoenix, and the prospect of an experienced, savvy owner taking over the long-suffering facility outside of Prescott Valley inspires visions of not only a racing season but of clean hallways and restrooms, not to mention a county fair and car racing once again.

At least three bidders have thus far expressed interest in purchasing the operation, which replaced the aging Prescott Downs racetrack around the turn of the century and promised a new era of safer, more accessible racing.

That promise turned out to be a lie, as management fumbled and stumbled its way into millions of dollars in debt and the surprise announcement last year that the racing season would not take place, even after several of the contestants and their animals had already arrived.

Tuesday's auction was far from a sure thing, as the federal government, which holds nearly $13 million dollars in delinquent loans on the property and hopes to get some of its (our) money back in the sale, has the right to approve or deny a potential new owner. We in the public don't have that right, but we would hope to receive some assurances from that person or entity:

• Get it open. This is horse country, and a lot of people in the past have depended on the Downs for at least a portion of their livelihoods, selling feed and services to both the racers and the folks who come to watch the action.

• Keep it clean. It was impossible not to notice the lack of care previous owners took to maintain the functionality and appearance of what began as a beautiful location. People notice cleanliness and attention to detail, both when it's in place and when it's not.

• Let the county fair happen. Last year's lack of a county fair was an embarrassment, brought about by a perfect storm of bankruptcy and ineffectiveness. We miss the homeiness of the old Prescott Fairgrounds, but the spaciousness and accessibility of the Yavapai Downs location is impossible to match in this area.

So let's hear it for the auction process, and keep our fingers crossed that the winner will be someone who can bring some business sense to what could and should be a very profitable enterprise.