After consulting with horsemen’s representatives, Turf Paradise general manager Vince Francia said he would ask the Arizona Racing Commission during its April meeting for a state rule change that would lower the maximum age for horses competing at Arizona racetracks. Currently, horses 13 or younger can race.
The proposed rule would prohibit horses aged 13 and older from starting, irrespective of breed, and require 12-year-olds to have won a race within the preceding 12 months.
The action follows public dismay after Hes too Icy for Me, a 13-year-old Quarter Horse, fell after crossing the finish line in the $12,500 Turf Paradise Quarter Horse Championship March 26, unseating jockey Michael Ybarra. Ybarra was taken to the hospital for evaluation and released with sore ribs, Francia said. Ybarra rode March 30 at Turf Paradise.
The Phoenix track runs a mixed-breed meet of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds.
Hes too Icy for Me, winless since 2013 and sparsely raced since 2016, including for a nearly 21-month period before the March 26 race, regained his feet after the fall, which followed a last-place finish at 45-1 odds. He started for trainer Pedro Urias Soto and owner Angel Burrola March 26 after racing for different connections over his 32-race career. As a juvenile in 2010, he won the Rainbow Futurity, a grade 1 Quarter Horse race at Ruidoso Downs, for another stable.
“The horse is fine. He ran off for a bit. The outriders collared him,” Francia said. “He did not need the ambulance. He was taken back to the barn.”
Francia, first reached March 27, a day after numerous social media posts drew attention to Hes too Icy for Me’s fall, said the First Down Dash gelding passed veterinary inspection and was not flagged for concern by its racing department.
“I like to say I have, as a general manager, time in the day to go through the entries and check everything, but I don’t,” Francia said. “My concern since this meet began in January is singular—getting us through this meet with this virus. Talk about losing sleep at night.
“But still, no excuse. Had I seen it, I would have had a problem and gotten on the phone about it.”
Under Arizona law based on age, Hes too Icy for Me could again run at Turf Paradise or elsewhere in Arizona.
“If we’re going by the state rule, he would be allowed to, but I would protest that,” Francia said.
In the days following the fall, he said he met with representatives from the Arizona Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Arizona Quarter Horse Association to receive their input on a rule change.
The track also had a 12-year-old Thoroughbred in action Tuesday when Pacific Nights ran sixth in a $6,250 claiming race after a layoff of more than a year.
Francia said he spoke March 29 to the Racing Division director for the Arizona Department of Gaming and was told that any rule change would need to be made on a state level, not as a “house” or track rule. Rudy Casillas is deputy director and racing division director for the Arizona Department of Gaming.
A house rule based on age came into play this winter at Gulfstream Park, which prohibits horses ages 11 and up from racing there. That rule contributed to the retirement this winter of an in-form Pay Any Price , a stakes-winning course record holder at the track.
According to its website, the upcoming Arizona Racing Commission meeting, initially scheduled for April 8, has been postponed until April 19.