Horse racing at Rillito gets a boost from the University of Arizona

A winning future for racing, Rillito Downs partners with U of A

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - An agreement between the University of Arizona Agriculture and Life Sciences Department and the Rillito Foundation may have preserved horse racing for the foundation and also given the U of A a valuable source of internships for its students.

Under the agreement, 30 paid interns from the department will participate in a variety of real life experiences including business, animal training and care, veterinarian services and hospitality.

The internship program is the brainchild of Shane Burgess, University Vice President for the Life Sciences Department.

“It’s huge for us,” he said. “This partnership is really great because not only are the students getting real life experience in really great business processes but they’re contributing to the growth of Tucson and Pima County.”

Burgess said internships for the students are usually scattered all over the country which means students have to travel, find living space and pay expenses but “now they can do it locally.”

It eliminates a financial burden for the students and he says “they get to see their work applied and how it contributes to the community.”

For years, horse racing at Rillito Park has been tenuous at best. Racing has been part of Rillito Park since the 30s but fell out of favor when attendance dropped and maintenance of the grounds was less than stellar.

The grounds were attractive to developers and soccer enthusiasts. It was thought to be a perfect place for an 18-field soccer complex. The battle between horse racing aficionados and soccer fans raged for a decade.

The county solved the problem by investing millions of dollars in a soccer facility on the south side and by turning the racing over to the Rillito Foundation.

The Foundation has rejuvenated the grounds, sparked a renewed interest in horse racing and the crowds have increased.

“This agreement today is super important,” said Jaye Wells, the President of the Foundation. “It shows if the university has faith in us, everyone else should too.”

One Pima County elected official said even though the agreement does not guarantee a permanent home for racing, it certainly helps.

The Foundation is halfway through a five-year agreement with the county to operate racing and events at the park, which has become a multi use facility which includes fields for football, rugby, lacross as well as soccer.

The 30 interns will start in January. Racing starts in February.

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