Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Horse groomer Neal Samson sits on a couple hay bales beside some of the horse stalls at Rillito Park Race Track Monday morning.

The Rillito Racetrack is designated with an American Quarter Horse Foundation Historical Marker that provides official acknowledgement of horses, people and events significant to American Quarter Horse history.

In the 1930s, as the University of Arizona was developing, two university students who were also horsemen, Ruken Jelks and Mel Haskell, decided to upgrade the supply and quality of racing quarter horses in Tucson and started a breeding program of their own.

Eventually they needed a place to race the horses they bred, so Jelks, with the help of Mel, carved a track out of desert land in Jelk's backyard on River Road. Bob Locke, a local racing expert, and Jake Meyer, a man with starter experience, joined the team and Rillito Racetrack was off.

Rillito Racetrack was the first regulated racing quarter horse facility in the United States. It set standards still in use today, among them the chute system, the photo finish, and standardization of races.

Haskell's record-keeping during the first season of Rillito led to the establishment of the American Quarter Horse Racing Association in 1945. Because of his efforts, he was recognized as the "father of modern Quarter Horse racing" and inducted into the American Quarter Horse Race Association Hall of Fame.

Many famous horses have passed through the starting gates of Rillito Park, among them world-famous sprinters such as Shue Fly, Joe Reed II, Piggin String, Hard Twist, Queenie and Miss Panama.

Most recently, Rillito Park has been the fertile training ground for new legends in the racing industry, including Bob Baffert, the trainer whose horses have won two legs of the Triple Crown including the Kentucky Derby four times; Todd Pletcher, a leading trainer whose horses have consistently placed in the Triple Crown and won numerous stakes races; and Joe Badilla, a four-time world champion jockey.

Source: Trey Buck, executive director of racing, American Quarter Horse Association>/i>

Rillito's '10 stakes slate

The 2010 stakes schedule, with added purses, for Rillito Park's 2010 horse racing season includes:

Jan. 16 – The Dr. Dale Shirley Memorial, for 3-year-olds and older. Six furlongs. $5,000 guaranteed.

Jan. 17 – The Zoom, Zoom, Zoom Pima County Horsemen's Association Shootout #1, for 3-year-olds and older. 100 yards. $8,500 estimated.

Jan. 23 — The La Gran Espectacular PCHA Shootout #2, for 3-year-olds and older. 330 yards. Estimated $40,500.

Jan. 24 — The Mack and Helen Hastings Memorial, for 3-year-olds and older. 300 yards. $4,000 guaranteed.

Jan. 30 — The Walter Seifried Memorial, for 3-year-olds and older. Seven furlongs. $4,000 guaranteed.

Jan. 31 — The Support the Troops race, for 3-year-olds and older. 5-1/2 furlongs. $4,000 guaranteed.

Jan. 31 — The AQRA Stakes Series #1, for 3-year-olds and older. 350 yards. $4,000 guaranteed.

Feb. 6 — The John Deere / Rillito Park Bonus Challenge, for 3-year-olds and older. 330 yards. $10,000 guaranteed.

Feb. 6 — The Mary and Jack Shoemaker Memorial, for fillies and mares 3 years and older. 5-1/2 furlongs, $4,000 guaranteed.

Feb. 13 — The Mile Kelly Memorial Old Times Special, for 8-year-olds and older. 6-1/2 furlongs. $3,500 guaranteed.

Feb. 14 — The Bet the Gray Late in the Day, for 3-year-olds and older. 5-1/2 furlongs. $3,500 guaranteed.

Feb. 20 — The Howard King Handicap, for 3-year-olds and older. 870 yards. $5,000 guaranteed.

Feb. 20 — The Rillito Park Quarter Horse Derby, for 3-year-olds. 350 yards. $5,000 added.

Feb. 20 — The Rillito Park Budweiser Mile, for 3-year-olds and older. 1 and 1/16th miles. $5,000 added.

Feb. 21 — The Pete Selin Memorial, The Happy Minute, for fillies and mares 3 years and older. 5-1/2 furlongs. $6,000 guaranteed.

Feb. 21 — The Tom Clark Memorial, for 3-year-olds and older. 400 yards. $5,000 guaranteed.

Feb. 21 — The Hasta La Vista PCHA Shootout #3, for 3-year-olds and older. 220 yards. $20,500 estimated.

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