A Day at the Races: A Slideshow About Rillito Park Racetrack

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They're Off 01 thumbnail
Rillito Paddock 01 thumbnail
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Rillito Crowd 03 thumbnail
Rillito Roy Wins 01 thumbnail
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Neck n Neck
They're Off 01
Rillito Paddock 01
Trumpet Announcer
Rillito Crowd 03
Rillito Roy Wins 01
Rillito Three
Rillito Racetrack Winner

Rillito Park Racetrack is not Santa Anita or Churchill Downs. For one thing it's a lot smaller, which is a good thing if it's the horses and the races that matter most. No one goes to Rillito to make a fashion statement. Rillito is a historic country racetack in the midst of a bustling urban environment.

Neighbor Roy & I went to the races at Rillito for the first time on a blustery winter day, 2013. Here they race both thoroughbreds and quarter horses. Entering the clubhouse we acquired a program for $3, which was particularly helpful. It not only detailed each horse's meet & lifetime winnings, but also explained how to place a bet, how to read a racing form, and other useful information, such a symbols and definitions of racing terms. The program did not, however, suggest how one goes about consistently picking winners.

The horses that race at Rillito are magnificent animals. Born to race, they love to run. Here in the paddock the great beasts prance & dance as their handlers try to maintain control. Before each race, serious gamblers carefully scrutinize their favorites. For all I knew, they were just counting to make sure "their" horse had four legs.

Before each race, this fellow played his bugle "Call To Post" announcing the arrival of the horses for the next race. Very dramatic! In part, the bugle lets the crowd know that it's time to place their bets, which incidentally provides the revenue to keep the races going year after year. The message is clear ... bet heavily and often. The minimum bet is $2. Never thought to ask what the maximum is.

As spectators, we had three choices: (a) watch from along the rail which would get us as close as possible to the action; (b) sit on benches in the enclosed grandstand and get our own drinks & food; or (c) enjoy the races from the enclosed clubhouse with dining tables and pleasant waitresses. General admission: $5. Clubhouse: $8.

Neighbor Roy had never bet on the ponies, so I explained to him the intricacies of choosing a winner. I placed the racing program for upcoming race #3 on our clubhouse table in front of him. Roy closed is eyes and pointed to horse #4. I choose #6 and went off to place our $2 bets.

While waiting for race #3 to start, I ordered tres tacos & a margarita. Roy was skeptical that the food here would be to his liking, so he only ordered a diet somethingorother. I had heard the Rillito cuisine described as "carnival food". It wasn't that good, but it was OK.

It's amazing how much more focused we became once we had skin in the game. Down the stretch, the crowd comes alive. Grown men become animated; shouting, waving their arms, jumping up & down. Following one race, I even saw a fellow weeping.

But on this day, horse #4 in race #3 (yes, Roy's horse) won! I turned to my friend who stared out blankly across racetrack in disbelief. "Roy, you won," I exclaimed. Roy looked dumbfounded. "I did?" he asked. "Now what do I do."

Roy returned to our table from collecting his winnings a changed man. "Ya know, this horse racing is kinda fun."

Roy was right. Horse racing is fun. And even funner when you're a winner. For Things To Do In Tucson, we definitely recommend Rilltio Park Race Track. Great fun!

Rillito's racing season is weekends from mid-January through mid-March, except Super Bowl weekend. Click here for a PDF of Race_Track information.

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