02/09/2017 5:22PM

Rillito Park, given new lease on life, opens 14-day meet

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Jim Dunleavy
Rillito Park in Tucson, Ariz., begins a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse meet on Saturday.

Rillito Park, the small racetrack in Tucson, Ariz., whose future was in doubt until last month, launches its 14-day winter meet Saturday with a combination of low-level Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse races.

Best known as the birthplace of American Quarter Horse racing from its opening in 1943, Rillito gained new life in January when the Pima County Board of Supervisors approved a four-year extension of racing through June 2021.

The facility is also home to the county’s largest recreation area with 11 full-size soccer fields. One option was to tear down Rillito’s grandstand and use that ground and the racing oval to build additional soccer fields.

Rillito will race Saturdays and Sundays, along with two Friday programs, through March 19.

Although its purse structure is low and $1,500 is the bottom claiming price for Thoroughbreds, Rillito does offer a series of stakes for both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses.

The opening-day feature is the $5,000 Bert Martin Foundation Stakes for older horses going 5 1/2 furlongs. Contenders include Grant, whose 2-for-3 record locally includes last season’s seven-furlong Mr. Ed; Truco Latino, an 8-year-old with 12 lifetime wins, including a victory going five furlongs at Albuquerque in September worth a 74 Beyer Speed Figure; and the 11-year-old My T Quick, who won the six-furlong John Goodman and 1 1/16-mile Pima County Classic a year ago.

There are also two 350-yard  trials for 3-year-old Quarter Horses seeking to qualify for the Rillito Derby. The standout among eight runners in race 2 is the colt Cowboys Dynasty, who won the $59,000 Arizona Quarter Horse Racing Futurity at Turf Paradise in December by 1 1/4 lengths.

The top two horses in the first trial are the filly Discrete, fourth after stumbling at the start of her most recent start as the 4-5 favorite; and the gelding Sniper 1, third in a pair of futurities at Turf Paradise and winner of a maiden race by a nose in his most recent start.