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PAYSON HORSE RACES MAY BE CANCELED

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The funding is in place and temporary grandstands are available for Labor Day horse racing in Payson. But now the body, the Payson Horse Racing Association, isn't willing.

In a letter to the editor printed in the weekly Payson Chronicle, the association's board of directors notified the City Council this week that the organization will not participate in Labor Day races because of what leaders call poor treatment and suspicious motives."We do not feel obligated and decline offering our assistance with this year's Labor Day race meet," association vice president Bert Argyle said.

Members of the City Council recently voted 3-2 to seek as much as $4,000 to fund the races, though during this year's city budget process the council had left the long-standing city tradition unfunded.

However, Payson Horse Racing Association members say they didn't have nearly enough time to schedule quality racing, and that expectations by the council to be reimbursed for the $4,000 from gate receipts were unrealistic.

"We would need to rely on $3,500 of gate receipts to make up the money required for purses needed to attract adequate horses for a two-day event," Argyle said. "(We are) reluctant to make up the shortfall from our own resources, as we are planning for future projects."

In late July, Payson city crews demolished the Payson Downs Racetrack Grandstands.

The council, in a split vote, empowered the crews to raze the 75-year-old grandstands, which were damaged in this summer's microburst windstorms and were judged to be unsafe by the city's building inspector. The grandstands were earlier given a temporary reprieve while architects studied the feasibility of restoration.

Plans by city officials to put up temporary grandstands - taken from the Hillman Field baseball complex - also angered members of the racing association, who said the lack of a canopy for shading and problems with adequate viewing positions would make the races uncomfortable and possibly dangerous for spectators and racers alike.

"The PHRA is not interested in shouldering complaints for the grandstand situation," Argyle said.

Opponents of the council's actions, including angry residents as well as members of the horse racing association, have charged that the grandstand demolition is just the first move by the council and other city officials to close Payson Downs and possibly sell its 40 acres for residential or commercial development.

"There have been no commitments made from (Payson officials) as to what they will do with the equestrian facility," Argyle said.

Payson officials have made no decisions yet about what the group's actions will mean for the Labor Day races, though it is expected that they will be canceled. A special session of the Payson council may be called to decide on the matter.