Rillito Park horse racing is out of the gate

76th year of horse racing at Rillito Park

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - Horse racing starts its 76th year at Rillito Park Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019. Post time is 1:30 p.m.

This year, there seems to an ease over the park and the horse racing community, one not felt in a long time.

“The political obstacles we had in Pima County have disappeared,” said Jaye Wells, President of the Rillito Foundation. “Pima County is a huge supporter of what we’re doing.”

What the foundation is doing is building on its success year to year, a little piece here and there until it has become a viable enterprise.

“Last year was the first year we actually showed a profit,” Wells said. “This year we expect to repeat that and beyond.”

It allowed the foundation, which is a non-profit, to invest in a track upgrade which the owners, trainers and jockeys appreciate.

It imported 15 tons of sand from the beaches of California to make the track softer and less likely to injure the horses, many of which are older.

“It’s a cushion so the horses as they run, there’s 1,200 pounds with a 100 pound man on their back going 40 miles an hour, if there’s a hard track, that’s damaging,” he said.

Also this year, in partnership with the University of Arizona, the track has begun working on a wellness program for the horses.

“So what they eat, how they’re treated in the barns, their happiness, they’re wellness, just like they’ve done in humans with health and wellness, we’re doing that with equines,” he said. “As silly as this might sound, there are actual massage techniques they can do on horses to help them loosen up for the races, from the races, the impact of the races.”

Most everyone at the park says there is a sense of calm this year which hasn’t been present in the past.

“Everyone has a job and everyone is doing it,” said Michael Weiss, the track manager. “They all seem to know what they need to do and are doing it.”

There are 40 new stalls for the horses to go with the new stables from two years ago. The stalls in the past were a mixture of pipes and plywood but now they’re permanent fixtures.

Much of that thanks to the efforts of Chandler Warner, whose family philanthropic organization, the Bert W. Martin Foundation, has been supporting the track for several years and is largely responsible for the financial needs which keep the track afloat.

“We’re finally to the point of where we want to go,” he said. “But it’s a historic and cultural treasure in Tucson that needs to be preserved.”

The track is located 4502 N. First Avenue. for more information call (520) RILLITO (745-5486) or @rillitoracetrack.com.

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