TUCSON, Ariz. — Rillito Park Racetrack began sending out a signal of its races last weekend for the first time in the track’s history, much to the excitement of racing fans and University of Arizona alumni.
Rillito’s races are available to watch on the Dish Network Racing Package, Racetrack Television Network and advance deposit wagering sites such as Twin Spires, Premiere Turf Club and Watch & Wager. This move was coordinated by Rillito Park general manager Michael Weiss and much of the show is produced by University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program students who can be found behind the scenes controlling TV graphics or on the screen announcing their handicapping picks.
“We’re excited to have our races available for even more people to see and bet on,” Weiss said. “And a huge majority of the show is being put on by the RTIP students working here.”
Students from the RTIP began working at the Tucson track last year with the introduction of a coordinated relationship between the program and Rillito. This year, even more students have secured positions at the track including working the photo finish timing equipment, creating the race program, working and managing admissions, and being the live talking heads on screen as the track’s handicappers.
“I think it gives the program more exposure and the students more exposure,” RTIP Director Doug Reed said. “We get — you could almost call it — indirect PR because if you’re a prospective student out there and you like racing, you’re probably watching some racing and you may stumble on it and go, ‘I didn’t know they had a program out there. That would be neat; not only do I get to go to class, but I get to learn hands on.’”
That was the exact purpose of this collaboration. Students are able to learn more first hand by doing projects related to the operations at Rillito during the week and then heading over to the local track on the weekends to work in a professional setting.
“As a student comes in as a freshman or sophomore, they’re learning in the classroom and they can have jobs [at Rillito] that are more introductory,” Reed said. “After they’ve had more classes and they’ve had a year out there to see how it runs, they can have more responsibility.”
According to Reed, the turn out proves how excited students are for this opportunity. Students from all backgrounds are thrilled to work at Rillito — even those who are fortunate enough to have personal backgrounds in racing.
RTIP freshman Nick Fanucchi might be one of the best examples. His family owns Stonestreet Farms, famous for having the likes of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra grace its barn aisles.
“We just had a horse run second in the Fountain of Youth,” Fanucchi said. “And we’re hoping to get a horse in the Derby this year.”
Fanucchi has been to the Kentucky Derby and the Breeder’s Cup and he can volunteer his time on the family farm when he wants to. Despite these opportunities, he jumped at the chance to work at Rillito while in college.
“It’s a chance for me to see the other side of the business,” he said. “How the tracks operate and what they do to keep the show going.”
Fanucchi works on the TV graphics and controls what images are being broadcast during the race day.
“I put up the picks page,” he said. “If there’s an inquiry or objection, I post that. I post the prices, the results, the judges’ replay, all of that.”
Students are given the opportunity to hold different — even managerial — positions in a gamet of departments. Now with Rillito’s signal being introduced to the rest of the industry, they have one more facet to look at.
“They’re learning advanced racing operations and now with the signal streaming, they can even study the effect advanced wagering deposit companies have on Rillito,” Weiss, who is also the president of Paribet.com, said.
Despite being the birthplace of Quarter Horse racing and being known for accomplishments like the development of the photo finish, Rillito Park is a small track — and that is it’s best feature for the students.
“I learned at a small track,” Reed said. “You learn more at those tracks because you get to do more. There are fewer people operating the track, so students can get jobs they normally wouldn’t. They’re going to wear several hats.”
For Fanucchi and other RTIP students, this range of experiences may be exactly what they need to figure out what they want to do in the racing industry.
“It’s an opportunity to experience what you might want to do in the future for every student here,” Fanucchi said. “It gives them the chance to kind of find what they want to do in racing and I think that’s a blessing to have here.”
Rillito Park Racetrack will continue its Winter 2016 meet running Saturdays and Sundays through March 20. Rillito’s live racing feed is available on the Dish Network Racing Package, Racetrack Television Network and advance deposit wagering sites.