Horse racing to begin at Rillito Park Race Track

Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing begins Saturday, January 19, at Rillito Park Race Track, 4502 N. First Ave., and runs for eight weekends through March 17, skipping Super Bowl weekend of Feb. 2-3.

Bet can be placed on any of the eight or nine races each Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a fun place to go,” said Pat White, track general manager for the Pima Horsemen’s Association, which operates the winter races under contact with Pima County. “It’s in beautiful shape. It’s in first-class shape. It’s part of our heritage.”

The Rillito Race Track was founded in 1943 by four Tucson-area horsemen – Bob Locke, Mel Haskell, J. Rukin Jelks and Jake Meyer – on Jelks’ ranch north of the Rillito (the Jelks’ house and stables, built in 1940, still stand on the track grounds). Quarter Horse racing was popular; Quarter Horses were bred as work horses that could race on
the weekends. Their name comes from their unparalleled speed in quarter-mile races.

The four horsemen created the American Quarter Racing Association to establish regulations and a registry for Quarter Horse racing. They created the “chute” at Rillito Race Track, a straightaway into an oval track upon which all Quarter Horse racing is based. The Rillito “chute” was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. They developed the “photo finish” camera system that helps identify the winner in those “neck and neck” races. And the Rillito was also the first track to have pari-mutuel betting.

Children under 12 get in free to the grandstand and clubhouse. The clubhouse offers a full restaurant and bars. Snack and beverage bars are on both levels of the grandstand. And parking is free (valet parking is available).

General admission, including the grandstand $5
Clubhouse seating $8
Window seating in the grandstand $10
Tables for four along the windows in the grandstand $20
Tables for four along the windows in the clubhouse $25
Gates open at 11 a.m. Post time is 1 p.m. Racing ends at 5:30. Each day of racing attracts on average 4,500 enthusiastic fans.

Call the track at 520-293-5011 or learn more about it and other family attractions in Southern Arizona online at

Visitors can get to Rillito Park Race Track on The Loop, the bike and pedestrian paths being developed along the Rillito, Santa Cruz and Pantano rivers and on Julian Wash.