Rillito Park, Tucson, AZ, Feb 22 ** Bonus Photos **

Sunday morning after Animal Day arrived just a tad too early for my tastes. Still, I managed to rouse myself out of my luxury accommodations - the Marge V. Memorial Air Mattress on McChump #2's living room floor next to McChump #2's cat's litter box - and score myself a cup of that fine McChump #2 coffee, to start handicapping Sunday's card in preparation for the big events of the day.

The first thing I spotted in the DRF was ... ANOTHER MULE RACE!

Yup that's right not one but two, count 'em two, mule races in one weekend, and since this mule race was carded 6th, it would still be light and I'd be able to get some pictures! Cool! And as I started looking over the pp's for the mules, I noticed that every single mule in the race had been in yesterday's mule race! What an advantage, already knowing which were the fastest mules in Arizona. I opened up the morning paper and duly transcribed all the results from Saturday's race into Sunday's Form, so that I'd be assured of making a killing, at least on the mule race.

Long as I was at it, I took a closer look at the mule pp's, and noticed something I'd totally missed the previous day: Two mules were sired by Unknown, out of Unknown by Unknown, and bred by Unknown. What was known was that these mules were from Nevada. Upon sharing my amazing discovery with McChump #2, we came to the conclusion that these were probably the mules of some sadly and mysteriously deceased old gold prospector, which had simply wandered in off the Nevada desert one afternoon, had been adopted, and had been given a comfortable new home in the mule racing industry, even if that did mean running one race on Saturday and another on Sunday. We were looking forward to a mule race with a mule interest story like that.

-- Rillito Park, Tucson, AZ, Feb 22 --

After a short drive which involved only two aggravating traffic slowdowns, zero patented getting lost incidents, and an ongoing tussle with McChump #2's Home Shopping Network car CD player, we arrived in the Old Pueblo and picked out a spot in Rillito's gravel parking lot for the Cool Breeze to spend the afternoon.

Parking: Free. Admission: Free for us; $2.00 general public. Track program: $1.50. Track program also included a special insert regarding the previous day's mule race at Turf Paradise. So much for all that transcribing.

Rillito is a smaller, older, and somewhat rundown facility, set in the midst of what has grown up to become a very posh bedroom neighborhood on the northeast side of Tucson, close up to the Catalina mountains, with a very nice view of same in the background. On this warm, clear, sunny day, the mountain tops were snow capped and made quite a nice backdrop.

But McChump #2 and I didn't have much time right then for the appreciation of scenery, as we were both starving and looking forward to the world famous red chili burritos served from the concession stand on the 2nd floor concourse of the grandstand. So we hustled up the stairs, hurried down the concourse to the burrito concession stand, and ... empty. No one working there. No sign anyone WOULD be working there. No nothing, not even a napkin dispenser. We were forced to face a sad and tragic reality - there are no more red chili burritos at Rillito. This is a stunning loss of a great tradition for all of racing, particularly Tucson racing.

Much saddened, we went downstairs and ordered cheeseburgers ($2.00, I think), which were okay, and they did have one of the finest condiments bars I have encountered in all of racing. But cheeseburgers aren't really decent substitutes for red chili burritos, now are they.

That task accomplished, we went out front to get a better look at the place, and McChump #2 set out on a deep cover mission to pretend he was an owner heading for the backside but really the purpose was to get a chance to walk across the track and determine if it was muddier on the inside or the outside, as the track was distinctly muddy. While he was pursuing this particular clandestine task, it was time for the national anthem, and at Rillito there's an actual flag raising ceremony. The flag raisers slowly started raising the flag to the opening strains of Our National Anthem, but then the record skipped or something, and I seemed to detect about 1/2 the Anthem deleted, so the top half of the flagpole was achieved in jig time.

The track itself is a 5f bullring, but the turns aren't too terribly tight, with a small chute into the backstretch, and then another much longer one coming into the homestretch so that they can run quarterhorse races up to 550 yards. The backdrop is, as I mentioned, beautiful, but the infield isn't really much but bare dirt (and today mud) with what looks like a pipe corral for maybe some sort of rodeo activity set up in the middle. Basic but functional infield toteboard.

Out in front of the stands there's a long asphalt apron that runs from the paddock tunnel which separates the grandstand from the clubhouse, and there's lots of free benches and bleacher seats out there for people to sit in the sun. No real apron on the clubhouse side, as that structure juts out till it hangs almost directly over the track.

The main grandstand structure has a stone block or brick foundation in the rear, and then kind of a big sheet metal quonset hut-looking dome over the whole grandstand, in a gray and brown color scheme, and the entire upper seating area is glass enclosed by what looks like ancient aircraft hanger glass. Upper seating consists of a couple rows of boxes down front, and then maybe 30 rows of benches up behind. Upper concourse, as mentioned, with a couple of teller windows, one or two TV's, a beer stand, and the empty red chili burrito stand. Lower concourse has the big roll up garage doors, which were rolled up on this day to create a pleasant open air concourse, and there's several teller windows, and food stands, and beer stands, and some little shelves along the front windows to lean on and cap and see the races go by. I figured this building at just less than 200 feet in length. Press box and so on perched on top.

Smallish paddock area out back, with tunnel to track. Room to stand around to see the horses saddled, but kind of cramped. There's also a long window looking out the back of the 2nd floor to watch the saddling activities.

Clubhouse level consists of the 2nd floor of the clubhouse building, with terraced floor levels and lots of tables ($25/day, yikes!) that looked out through the windows to the finish line. The whole clubhouse is kind of skewed at an angle back toward the finish line. Overall it's pretty nice and there's lots of TV's. Downstairs in that building is administrative offices.

Overall, it isn't Arlington, but it is functional and pleasant enough. The track program includes a two page history of Rillito Park, noting that it dates back to the mid-40's, and detailing its contribution to the birth and growth of the quarterhorse racing industry.

The first race on the card was indeed a quarterhorse race, and McChump #2 doesn't like these, so he wandered off to look for a TV showing a TB race from GP or SA or TuP or somewhere, but I InstantCapped(tm) the race with impunity, and got set to win some more of that eaaaaasy money! I was somewhat concerned, however, that the crowd was going to be tiny on the day, and my whopping bets might skew the pools. Last time I was here, the place was packed, but as of the first race, there were hardly any people on the grounds, and just before 1st post, there was only 595/288/347 in the WPS pools.

Doesn't make any difference if you don't win, I discovered. This fact was further impressed upon me during the course of the following few races, while meantime the crowd steadily trickled in until it was quite respectable, and the pools grew accordingly.

The card on the day consisted of 4 thoroughbred races, three QH races, and one mule race. Field sizes went from 7 horses/mules up to 10, and were pretty competitive. The 4 TB races consisted of a maiden at 6-1/2f, a $2500 cliamer at 4f, a starter allowance at 6f, and a $1500 claimer at 4f. QH races went from 250 to 440 yards.

My betting during the early part of the card was pretty stinky. It all came back to me - last time I was at Rillito I got pounded, as well. There was only one answer - $2.25 for large, Bud only. McChump #2 managed to haul down 1/2 a $190+ tri that brought him back from the brink, but he wasn't doing so great, either. He lamented the fact that as much as he loves Pick 3's, the only one on today's card consisted of a TB race, a mule race, and a QH race, and no way was a professional horseplayer like him going to play something like that.

As the sixth race, the mule race, approached, we decided we needed to head out back to see the mules saddled, particularly since a trainer friend of McChump #2's was listed as trainer of the #1 mule, and we wanted to get right up by saddling stall #1 and question him closely regarding his mule training career. Unfortunately, he did not show up to saddle the mule, which was probably actually fortunate, as no Tucson jockey would ride this particular mule, it being one of the slower mules in Arizona and maybe stubborn for all I know, so the mule was a paddock scratch, and I assume this trainer would have been miffed and vexed, and of course we didn't want to see none of that.

As we were running our practiced eyes over the mules, looking for the fit and ready ones, we ran into friend Toni and her party, and I proceeded to tout the #2 mule as the fastest mule in Arizona, or at least in Tucson that day, as the #2 had run 2nd the day before behind a mule who hadn't made the trip, and those two mules had easily outrun all the others. The #5 mule, a mule of a color not normally found in nature, and I don't know how to describe it except maybe as a paint horse colored mule, was quite revved up and nearly started his race in the paddock, but they got him under control, and Toni felt maybe this was the mule to beat today, and he was definitely a contender, as he'd finished 3rd the day before.

Also as I was out by the paddock, I discovered the gift shop, well actually the gift boxes and display racks, which had many decent items on sale for reasonable prices, and I scored me a nice Rillito t-shirt for only ten bucks.

I got my bet down for the mule race, a whopping $5 on the #2 mule's nose, and went out front to observe the action. They got the mules all loaded up in the gate, although some were initially reluctant, and suddenly they were off!

Due to the moisture in the track and its grade to the inside, it had been playing to outside posts all day long in the QH races, and the mule race was no different. The 5 mule got the jump out of the gate and then ran on the faster part of the track, while mule #2 got a bad start and then had to run on the slower inside. These two dusted the rest of the field, but mule #5 won, and I had lost my bet.

Back I went to discuss the race with Toni and crew, and found that Toni's husband had taken my tout to heart and was now holding a handful of losing tri tickets with the #2 mule on top, which he proceeded to toss into the air and onto the brim of his cowboy hat. I felt pretty bad about touting him onto the wrong mule, but not so bad as to offer to pay back any of his tickets or anything, and I think we all learned a valuable lesson this day: Choose your mule touts carefully.

About this time Toni mentioned to me that I had picked a good day to visit Rillito. Well yeah, I agreed, that mule race was pretty cool. No, look here, as she pointed out a special page toward the back of the program. I could not believe my good fortune! After the last race of the day there was to be a special exhibition race: Car versus Quarterhorse, at 330 yards.

"Car versus Quarterhorse". I rolled it around on my tongue a few times. It felt good. It sounded real good when you said it real slow in kind of an announcer's voice. I tried it out on McChump #2. It instantly became the theme of the day, and the day was suddenly looking much, much brighter. It call for another beer.

The 6th and 7th passed in uneventful fashion, with a loss and a minor win for me, and McChump #2 giving back the money he'd previously won on the day, except for the huge $15.60 (?) payoff he won on the Pick 3 he said he wasn't going to bet. What a chump!

Finally it was time for the last race of the day, the 4f event for $1500 claiming thoroughbreds, field of 9, running for a purse of 11 points. InstantCappin(tm) had been quite a disappointment throughout the day, so I decided to consult the Groovy Numbers, which McChump #2 had printed off that very morning. No looking at the horses in the paddock, no consulting the pp's, no nothing - I just picked what I thought were the top three Groovy Number horses off the sheet, and boxed them up in a quinella, 1-7-8.

The 1 horse was the big favorite in the race, down at even money or so, while the 7 and 8 were both up at 8-1 or so. I thought I might have a chance at a decent payout if one of my longer shots came in along with the 1, which I truly expected to win. As the horses rounded the turn the 8 was making a powerful move, and came on to win in convincing fashion, with the 1 in second, and the 7 in third. I berated myself for not making a tri bet, but was happy enough to be getting the Q.

But ... OH NO! "Ladies and gentlemen, we have a stewards' inquiry". And a little later there was the announcement of a "jockey's claim of foul". And then we were given to understand that the rider of 4 was claiming foul against the 1 AND the 8. NO - not the 8 !

Unbeknownst to me, McChump #2 had bet a tri involving some of these same horses, but it soon became apparent, as he started calling for the 1 to be taken down but the 8 to stay up. Now mind you, we weren't seeing any replays or anything, this was just raw greed on his part. I, on the other hand, was interested in seeing justice done, as the #1 horse just *looked* like a fouler, and his jock looked suspicious, too. I joined McChump #2's call for the 1 to come down.

After what seemed like an interminable wait, the 1 came down, the 8 stayed up, my quinella was worth $133.40, the 8-7-all tri was worth $392-something, and McChump #2 said he had the $1 tri 5 times! Well, so he said, but it was really only 4 times, but still a nice score.

And then, it was finally Time. Time for Car versus Quarterhorse.

The Quarterhorse in question was a handsome 3yo horse named One Slick Loom owned by Jerry and Rebecca Cox, very nice folks who Toni introduced me to after the race. One Slick Loom had raced the day before, but had been a little startled by the bell and didn't run all that well, as I got the impression he was a fairly green runner. The Car in question was a white dune buggy with big off road tires and big nasty tread. Whereas I'd originally felt The Quarterhorse would have a distinct advantage due to the somewhat muddy track, when I saw that big tread I wasn't quite so sure.

The gate crew set up the starting gate at what looked to me to be substantially shy of 330 yards from the finish line, and the driver of the dune buggy backed The Car up to the gate on the extreme outside of the track. Meanwhile, The Quarterhorse and his rider got in behind the gate, and the gate crew got ready to load him, but he wasn't loading up quite so good, until finally they did get him loaded into the 2 hole down close to the rail, and whump! the gate opened and out sprung The Quarterhorse, sprinting for the finish line. The driver of The Car had apparently been a little asleep at the wheel, as The Car dwelt a little at the start, and then with a roar of the engine and clods of mud flying off the big nasty tread, The Car was off in hot pursuit!

But it wasn't even close. One Slick Loom won by open lengths. Horses rule!

Thanks much to the Cox's for making One Slick Loom available for this race, because it truly made my trip to Rillito memorable. And thanks also to Rillito for staging this event, as well as the mule race. We sure don't get stuff like that in Chicago! And the Tucson crowd out on the apron is the bestest and funnest. Rillito is a great place to spend a warm sunny winter afternoon.

Big thumbs up to Rillito, but get back those red chili burritos!

Upon arriving back in the greater Phoenix area, we decided maybe we needed to stop in at McDuffy's and bet some dog races as long as we were so red hot. And besides McDuffy's serves these really big giant beers, and we hadn't seen the inside of a friendly beckoning tavern since about, ohhhhh, the Picacho Peak Trading Post.

So stop and bet dogs we did, and lost miserably, as dogs were coming out of the clouds to win and we couldn't pick a winner with a sharp stick. So after a few races of that, we came to the conclusion that chumps shouldn't let chumps bet dogs, and headed out.

Final tally for the weekend: McChump #2 way ahead, me taking home more money than I had brought in the first place, with everything but the plane ticket paid for by my fabulous wagering, and tons of Animal Racing fun!

Way to go, Arizona!