This is part of a series profiling participants of the PariBet Racetrack Industry Student Experience (PRISE), a program that allows students at the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program the chance to work in paid positions in key roles at Rillito Park.
Rillito Park's 2017 winter meet ended with a flourish on Sunday, March 19, and while Tucsonans and Race Track Industry Program students alike were sad to see it end, there was a sense of optimism as the track looks forward to at least another four years of racing under the most recent lease extension granted by the Pima County Board of Supervisors.
Among those who are most excited about Rillito's future are RTIP students who began working at the track this year and are poised to continue bringing their enthusiasm to Rillito for the foreseeable future.
Ash Hentges and Patricia Scholle, both Arizona residents, spent the 2017 meet working in program sales to get their feet wet in the world of racetrack operations. For both of them, their initial interest in horse racing came from an interest in racing's equine stars.
“At school, we were reading [Time for Kids] magazines, and I came across a small section that was about Barbaro. I had not known that horse racing was a sport until then, so I got interested and looked up stuff on Barbaro,” Hentges, a native of Illinois, said. “When my parents found out I was taking an interest in the sport, my dad offered to take me to Arlington Park, cementing my love for horse racing.”
Scholle took a bit longer to become engrossed in racing.
“I knew I was interested in horse racing at a young age because I was interested in… horses such as Ruffian, Seabiscuit and Secretariat,” she said. “My love for racing was always there, but I never felt so passionate about it until I was watching my first horse race at Rillito Racetrack in 2016.”
Having never worked at racetracks before, Hentges and Scholle cited the invaluable learning experiences that arose from Rillito.
“There are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that the public might not even be aware of, and working at Rillito allowed me to see more of these behind the scenes jobs and appreciate how much goes into a race day,” Hentges said.
While Hentges and Scholle interacted with customers constantly, Kietze Garcia, an RTIP junior, spent race days in a tower controlling the front-stretch camera. Originally from New Mexico, Garcia's interest in racing was piqued by trips to the state fair and The Downs Racetrack of Albuquerque. The enthusiasm of other students inspired him to start working at Rillito.
“After I had found out that students in the program had the possibility to work [at Rillito], I wanted to get involved,” Garcia said. “Opportunities like this do not happen, so I had to make sure that I took advantage.”
As the older RTIP students graduate and take positions in all facets of the racing industry, Rillito's general manager Mike Weiss can feel confident in the potential, work ethic, and enthusiasm of the next crop of RTIP students and their future impact on Tucson's treasured racetrack.
Learn more about the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program.
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