Letter To The Editor: Rillito Racetrack Setting Stage For Accountability Standards – Horse Racing News

Rillito Race Track in Tucson, Ariz.

Dr. JoAnn di Filippo, PhD is a racehorse owner of Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses and has served as a business and education consultant to governments, Tribal communities, non-profits, and institutions of higher education.

Rillito Racetrack in Tucson, Ariz., is more than a Pima County-owned property hosting horse racing and other sporting events. For over 79 years, Rillito has served as the American West’s backbone racetrack for Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing.

Rillito Racing, LLP, the current racetrack operator under contractual agreement with Pima County, has worked continuously for the past six years to establish accountability standards and create a live learning environment for students from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program (RTIP) working in collaboration with industry and horse racing professionals. The working relationship between a local community racetrack, industry professionals, and a world-renowned educational partner is unique to our industry. Everyone is working together to improve the sport of horse racing and set accountability standards that can be implemented nationally.

As previously reported, opening weekend at Rillito was a welcomed event after a nearly two-year hiatus from horse racing due to the pandemic. As with any competitive sport accidents can happen, and we saw two horse breakdowns and one freakish accident in the paddock. While these accidents are never acceptable, they bring out the naysayers who have competing interests over valuable land use. Rillito Racetrack is located on some of the most valuable property in the City of Tucson and is landlocked to any future expansion.

Competing interest holders fighting for use of Rillito’s valuable land, cause havoc, display bias, and openly express discriminatory statements about the sport of horse racing and its participants to the public and the Board of Supervisors — creating major disruption prior to the start of each racing season. Yet, it’s the community and the racehorse owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, and supporters who save Rillito from opposition and destruction every time a race contract goes up for renewal with the Pima County Board of Supervisors. It’s a never-ending battle facing stiff opposition from the soccer groups and developers all clamoring to get their hands on this valuable property.

Thus far, Rillito Racetrack has been saved from the chopping block. What we need to remember is that Rillito is more than a racetrack … it’s a cultural event and learning laboratory unlike anything you’ve ever experienced! This year Rillito celebrates 79 years operating as an historic racetrack and the birthplace of Quarter Horse racing.

The purses this year are the highest ever – up from $25,000 in 2020 to $100,000 per race day. The live handle for the first two weekends of racing nearly tripled over prior years. The University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program operates on the racetrack grounds providing student interns a hands-on experience including providing the record of safety with the Equine Wellness Program — a nationally recognized equine accountability standards program. With the initiation of the Equine Wellness Program in 2016, Rillito saw a drastic reduction in track incidents (2019 – 1 incident; 2020 – 2 incidents) both well below the national average. The track has hired three veterinarians to assist with pre-race checks.

And, Rillito has one of the best track maintenance operators, Vic Oliver. Any track owner would be lucky to have his dedicated expertise. Racing professionals and enthusiasts have often referred to Rillito as the “best little track in the West,” and we as horse racing professionals are committed to upholding accountability standards to ensure the safety of everyone including our horses.

At both the national and local levels, our industry professionals need to learn to work together to understand the rules of civility and accountability. Horse racing professionals need to be held to accountability standards. By working together, we present a united front combatting voices of opposition before they destroy our industry and our livelihoods.

The key to our industry’s survival is working together; not against each other. We need to think about the impact of words used before blasting statements to the media — statements that can intentionally be used against our industry to destroy it for the sake of advancing competing self-serving agendas.  In the meantime, we need to take a close look at how this little community racetrack in Tucson is setting the stage for accountability standards that can be adopted nationally to ensure safety for both the two- and four-legged investments we so thoroughly cherish and protect.

Dr. JoAnn di Filippo, PhD – Tucson, Ariz.

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