Horse racing enthusiasts fight over turf at Rillito Park Race Track
Simone Del Rosario
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Horse racing fans at Rillito Park feel they are losing ground in their fight against soccer fans who want to take over the complex.
The gates of Rillito Park Race Track first opened 70 years ago. But now the county is trying to build a tournament center on the property.
The Pima County Horseman's Association said the county's newest proposal would rip out all of the old horse barns on the west side and replace just a few of them on the east side of the track in the parking lot.
But the association worries that with fewer barns and less parking, they will lose too much revenue and won't be able to break even.
"Without barns and parking, we can't have racing; we're down to the bare minimum at this point," association president Pat White said.
For White and other members, this historic landmark is more than a race track: It's a lifetime of memories.
"I was born here in Tucson the same year the track was built," Bill Matthews said.
"I was just a little kid and we used to run stick races out behind the bleachers," Jerry Cox shared.
It's the birthplace of the photo finish, and the track is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
But some say the location is perfect for a tournament center, which requires 18 regulation soccer fields.
"It's just right in the center of town. It's a great location; there's enough space out here and enough land in order to do that," said Tucson Soccer Academy director Jeffry Rogers.
"No one is advocating for losing horse racing," Rogers continued. "We know it's a long tradition and we know it's a part of our culture here in Tucson. But we also know there are other places where a horse track would do even better."
Rogers suggested along Interstate 10, but racing enthusiasts are digging in their heels.
"There is no dollar amount that you can put on what this track is really worth," Cox said.
But for both sides, it's worth the fight.
The county is meeting with the horseman's association in two weeks to share plans for a compromise.
Photo Credit: Coady Photography