Rillito Race Track is partnering with the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to launch the Rillito Equine Wellness Program, it was announced this week. The purpose of the Equine Wellness Program is to create a racing environment whereby the health and safety of horses and riders is a primary objective.
“The health and welfare of the horses that compete at Rillito is paramount to how we want to measure our success,” said Mike Weiss, general manager of the 75-year-old track. “Rillito has always been known as an innovative track; and because we are smaller, we can implement protocols and adapt them more effectively.”
Weiss brought in Dan Fick to be the coordinator of the Rillito Equine Wellness Program. A 1980 graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, Fick’s credentials in the racing industry range from executive director of the Jockey Club to executive director of Racing for the American Quarter Horse Association. He will work with the assistance of Racing Secretary Debi Ferguson.
Ferguson and Waterman worked with Weiss to draft protocols during the 2016 outbreak of equine herpes in Arizona and prevented the virus from entering Rillito. These protocols were then adopted by tracks around the county.
“While we want to focus on creating a racing environment whereby the health and safety of horses and riders is our primary objective, we also want to use the opportunity to bring modern wellness practices to our trainers and owners," Fick said. “We will conduct equine wellness educational seminars for the horsemen on the topics of equine nutrition, bio-security, veterinary care, training regimes and fitness.”
Utilizing the new partnership with the Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Rillito is implementing a mentor program for CALS Program students that have horsemanship experience to work hand-in-hand with retired racehorse trainers, equine scientists and veterinarians on the subjects of horse health, welfare and safety.
The 76th racing season during the 2019 Winter Meet begins this weekend at Rillito Race Track and continues for six weekends through March 17. Rillito Racing Inc. has an agreement with Pima County to operate the track under the auspices of Rillito Park Foundation through 2021. The park is on the National Register of Historic Places. The facility is the site of horse racing, the Jelk’s Farm Stud House, the largest farmer’s market in southern Arizona, soccer fields, special events and festivals and is in the Pima County Park system.