10 things to know about Arizona horse racing

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

September 10th, 2021

Horse racing in Arizona has a rich history. If you’re planning to bet Arizona racing, here are 10 facts and stats to know about the local racetracks and history.

Arizona has three Thoroughbred racetracks

Thoroughbred racing in Arizona takes place at three tracks — Arizona Downs, Rillito Park, and Turf Paradise.

All race primarily on dirt, though Turf Paradise also has a turf course. The dirt tracks at Arizona Downs and Turf Paradise are one mile in circumference, while Rillito is five-eighths of a mile. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won his first race at Rillito in 1979.

Quarter Horse racing is also common

Thoroughbreds aren’t the only racehorse breed in action in Arizona. Quarter Horses also compete at all three of the state racetracks and offer a change of pace for horseplayers who like wagering on pure speed events.

Rillito is often called the birthplace of formal Quarter Horse racing.

Average field size leans on the small size

Over the last 10 years, the average Arizona horse race has contained 7.58 starters, a bit below the North American average of 7.74.

Purse money is on the rise

The average purse per race in Arizona has gone up over the last decade and generally falls in the $9,000-$10,000 range from year to year. This is lower than the North American average of ~$31,000 in 2019, but an improvement from the $6,800-$7,800 range seen in Arizona from 2001-2006.

Arizona hosts 3% of North American races

In 2019 (before COVID-19), Arizona held 1,211 races (3% of the North American total) across 173 racing days, with an average of seven races per race day. The races awarded $11,463,442 in purse money, or just less than 1% of the North American total.

Diodoro, Evans, Silva among Arizona’s leading trainers

The best racing in Arizona takes place at Turf Paradise, which hosted approximately six months of action during its 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons.

Since 2016, no trainer has won more Thoroughbred races at Turf Paradise than Robertino Diodoro, who has 354 wins from 1,140 starts (31%) and earned nearly $3.5 million in purses. 

Only Justin Evans (86 wins, 296 starts, 29%) and Juan Pablo Silva (188 wins, 757 starts, 25%) have come close to matching Robertino’s win rate among trainers with more than 200 starters at Turf Paradise since 2016.

Jockeys Arrieta, Negron boast lofty win percentages

Which jockey is the best to bet at Turf Paradise?

That would be Francisco Arrieta, who has 264 wins from 975 starts (27%) since 2016.

If you bet of his mounts equally, it would have produced a 5% profit. But Arrieta didn’t partake in the 2021 Turf Paradise meet, so the riding title went to Luis Negron, whose 71 wins from 267 starts (27%) easily topped all other jockeys.

Approximately 100 Arizona-bred Throughbreds are born each year

Between 2016 and 2020, 485 Arizona-bred Thoroughbreds (97 average per year) were registered by The Jockey Club, which represents about 0.5% of the North American foal cop.

Records have been set at Arizona Downs

The North American record for 4 1/2 furlongs on dirt was set at Arizona Downs (then known as Yavapai Downs) on Sept. 5, 2006, when Motivo won the Fain Road S. in :49 flat.

The following year, King Justin tied the record in the Motivo S.

Inside posts are detrimental in Turf Paradise’s dirt sprints

Post position stats from the 2021 Turf Paradise meet paint a surprising picture.

The three innermost posts in dirt sprints produced winners at an average rate of just 9.6%. Posts 3 through 10 produced winners at an average rate of 15.3%, and post 10 led all positions, with 24 wins from 101 starts (23.8%). It pays to bet outside runners in dirt sprints at Turf Paradise.