The 2011 horse racing season kicks off this Saturday, Jan. 15, and continues on weekends through Sunday, Feb. 20, at Rillito Park Race Track. Post time is 1 p.m.

Originally opened in the 1940's, the track is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the home for the humble beginnings of American Quarter Horse Racing in the United States.

Rillito Park Race Track has offered racing during the cool weather of January and February since 1988. With the grandstand and clubhouse so close to the track, spectators feel like they’re part of the action.

Rillito Park has a 5/8-mile race track that hosts Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing. It offers pari-mutuel betting on eight or nine live races each Saturday and Sunday during racing season. The exception is Super Bowl weekend, when the track is closed.  

Rillito Park was not only the first quarter horse race track in the United States, but it was also the first race track west of the Mississippi to offer pari-mutuel betting on the races. For those new to race track betting, classes are offered on race days, beginning at noon, that teach the ins and outs of racing and the how-to’s of betting.

The historic race track was the home of several racing innovations and, in its first season alone, Rillito set a number of standards that are being used in quarter horse racing to this day. Perhaps the most important was the establishment of the “chute system.” First appearing in 1943, the chute is a 45-foot-wide, 3/8-mile-long straight stretch of prepared dirt track.

Another of Rillito’s innovations was the photo finish. Using a high-speed clock placed at the finish line, the finish was filmed with a movie camera, enabling frame-by-frame examination of the photographs and, for its time, very precise timing.

Many famous horses, including Shue Fly, Joe Reed II, Piggin String, Hard Twist, Queenie and Miss Panama have raced at Rillito. Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert won his first Thoroughbred race with Flipper Star on Jan. 28, 1979 at Rillito.

Clubhouse seating, with a full restaurant and bars, is available for $8 per person. Tables for four, along the windows overlooking the track, may be purchased for $25. General admission to the grandstand area is $5. 

Tables for four along the windows in the grandstand may be purchased for $20. Snack bars and beverage bars are available in the both upper and lower levels. Children under 12 are admitted free to the clubhouse and grandstand. Parking is free and valet parking is available.

For information, call 293-5011 or write Pima County Horsemen’s Association, P.O. Box 65132, Tucson, AZ 85728

If You Go

What: Horse Racing at Rillito Park Race Track

Where: 4502 N. First Ave., south of River Road

When: Weekends through February, except Super Bowl weekend

Hours: Gates open11 a.m.; post time 1 p.m.; racing 1-5:30 p.m.

Admission: Clubhouse $8, Grandstand $5, Children under 12 free

For information, call 293-5011.

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