Equine herpes outbreak could mean good news for Rillito Park - Tucson News Now

Equine herpes outbreak could mean good news for Rillito Park

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It was a mixed day for supporters of Tucson horse racing Tuesday at the Rillito Park Race Track on First Avenue. 

Pima County delayed a planned conversation and vote on a new contract for the Rillito Parks Foundation.

On the table was a five-year deal that would have given the foundation some certainty following this season, which begins Feb. 13. 

READ: Pima County extends horse racing at Rillito Park until 2017

The cancellation means horse racing at the track is uncertain after this year, although some supervisors have made it clear they support racing but have questions about the contract proposal. 

"I think those can be worked out going forward," said Jaye Wells, president of the non-profit foundation. 

At issue is whether Rillito Park should be used exclusively by either youth sports or horse racing.

Conversations between the soccer proponents and horse racing supporters are ongoing.

Most supervisors have publicly stated they want the park to be multi-use and that the two sides need to find a way around scheduling conflicts.

There are 11 soccer fields at the complex and the soccer leagues said they would like to see the county build and maintain a championship soccer complex which would be for exclusive use.

If so, they would need 18 fields.

The county does not have funding for that at this time and may not for years down the road.

READ: Horse racing may be preserved at Rillito Park Race Track

In the meantime, the horse racing season was delayed for three weeks while the contract details were being debated.

Now it seems that delay could work out in the track's favor.

An equine herpes outbreak in New Mexico and a horse that tested positive for the disease at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, has led to at least a three-week quarantine. 

READ: Turf Paradise horse tests positive for herpes

That means no horses in or out of the tracks until the health and safety of the horses can be ensured.

After a series of state-required protocols were implemented in Tucson, Rillito Park has now become one of the few tracks that can accept horses for racing.

"We're getting calls from Dallas, from Idaho, Florida," Wells said. "Asking if we can take horses."

It means the delay in the season has put Tucson in a position to accept more and better horses, as well as jockeys who might have been going to other tracks.

"By a serendipitous chance of fate, this could work out for us," Wells said.

The first horses begin to arrive in Tucson on Wednesday, Feb. 3, and some of those horses may be those diverted from other tracks.

Wells said the foundation has hired an equine vet to ensure the horses' health comes first and they will be routinely checked and monitored in light of the outbreak. 

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