Yavapai Downs for sale, but owner holds out hope

Gary Miller inspects Yavapai Downs prior to finalizing the purchase Dec. 10, 2012. Miller has put the property, which he purchased for $5.5 million, back on the market for $7.45 million.<br>
File photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

Gary Miller inspects Yavapai Downs prior to finalizing the purchase Dec. 10, 2012. Miller has put the property, which he purchased for $5.5 million, back on the market for $7.45 million.<br> File photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

After his plan to bring back horse racing to Prescott Valley came up short, Gary Miller is trying to sell the former Yavapai Downs.

Less than a year and a half after purchasing it for $5.5 million, Miller is selling the horse and auto racetrack - now known as the Prescott Valley Race Course/Prescott Valley Speedway - for an asking price of $7.45 million.

"Everybody who sells something is always looking to make money," Miller said late Wednesday. "Am I looking to make a killing? No. "I'm looking to get horse racing going."

When he purchased the property at auction, Miller said he hoped financial backing would help him bring back horse racing. The sound of horse hoofs pounding to the finish line has been quiet here since 2010, the last season of racing before the track went into bankruptcy.

While Miller has been able to fire up car racing, his hope of getting horses running again has not got out of the gate.

"I've been unable so far yet to find the proper financing package" for horse racing, Miller said.

He said that his listing of the track is open to various offers, from anyone who wants to take over the operation to potential partners that would keep him on board.

"The race track is listed for sale," Miller said. "What I'd like to do is get the race track running. If it means I have to dilute my equity, great. Whatever is in the best interest of horse racing."

Miller, a Scottsdale resident who owns the commodity trading company Petromet, said auto racing at the Prescott Valley Speedway "is going quite well."

Compared to horse racing, he added, "it takes less capital to get open ... and generates less cash flow."

Miller says crowds of up to 850 have been coming to the weekend auto races.

"Car racing, although profitable," Miller said, "does not support the mortgage."

And he is carrying a $5.5 million mortgage.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program has been the largest creditor at the track since it moved from its historic Prescott site to build a larger oval. The federal agency agreed to the bankruptcy court sale to Miller.

The Prescott Downs track had racing from 1959 to 2000, when it moved to Prescott Valley and became Yavapai Downs, which opened in 2001. Horse racing at those two tracks typically ran from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with as many as 300 people employed during the racing season.

Wagering on horse races, including off-track betting, made the track a lucrative enterprise.

According to an auction description before Miller's purchase, the former Yavapai Downs spreads across more than 124 acres, with "a one-mile racetrack, and 862 horse stalls with additional stalls available."

Miller said the revenue traditionally has been more than $3 million annually, "and projections show the operation would be profitable."

Miller said he had received "administrative approval" from the Arizona Department of Racing, the first step toward being approved for horse racing and wagering. But after his financing plan failed to come to fruition, Miller has withdrawn his application.

He said there is no chance of horse racing this summer, though he hopes jockeys will saddle up for racing next summer.

"I have at least three interested parties that have contacted me," Miller said.

"I think the place has tremendous potential to do well."

And he remains confident that the horses will be running again in Prescott Valley.

"I am unable to obtain the financing as of yet" for horse racing, Miller said. "I'm not a quitter - I'm going to do the best I can to get this thing running."