RTIP students Amy Euler, Kevin Schnoor and Alexa Ravit at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. (Photos courtesy of Alexa Ravit)
All good things must come to an end, and March 20 marked the end of Rillito Park’s 2016 winter meet. For six weeks, about a dozen students from the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program (RTIP) devoted our weekends to working at the charming little bullring track in Tucson, Ariz. I loved the experience, and I cannot wait to work at Rillito again next year.
While it has been great to have more free time, I have been in racetrack withdrawal. After being surrounded by the racing atmosphere for six weeks, my weekends now seem incredibly boring by comparison. Fortunately, three of us “RTIPers” gave in to our racing cravings this past weekend and made the 100-mile journey to paradise. Turf Paradise that is.
Turf Paradise, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, is a Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse track in Phoenix that typically holds races from October to May. I went to Turf Paradise a few times last fall, but my commitments at Rillito made it impossible to go to Phoenix for most of this semester.
However, with the Rillito season over and a huge day of racing scheduled for Saturday, April 9 across the country, my friends Amy, Kevin, and I made the two-hour drive to Turf Paradise. Kevin and I day-tripped to Del Mar last August (that’s a six-hour drive ... each way), so Turf Paradise might as well be next door!
We left Tucson at about 10 a.m. on Saturday morning so that we would make it to Turf Paradise by 12:15. As a New Yorker, I never imagined myself running into a track to watch a Grade 1 race at 12:30 (the Ashland Stakes), but that is the norm in Arizona.
After watching the Ashland, our day was non-stop. The three of us were on our feet the entire afternoon, whether we were watching horses in the paddock, claiming our favorite seats in the grandstand, or looking for televisions that were showing the races at Aqueduct,Keeneland, or Santa Anita Park. Although Turf Paradise does not have any Kentucky Derby or Oaks contenders on its backstretch, its weather cannot be beat. While the crowds at Aqueduct, Keeneland, and Santa Anita were drenched, bundled up, or both, it was 80 degrees and gorgeous at Turf Paradise!
One of my favorite areas of Turf Paradise is the third floor grandstand. Most of the crowd congregates on the first floor, so going upstairs significantly increases one’s odds of finding a place to sit. Its best attribute, though, is that it offers the best views of the track. From the third floor, you have an unobstructed vantage point that allows you to clearly see as horses jostle for position on the backstretch or make their winning moves on the far turn.
TURF PARADISE FROM THE THIRD FLOOR
My other favorite area of Turf Paradise is the paddock. As someone who got interested in racing because of my love of horses, I spend a lot of time around the paddock when I am at any racetrack. This past Saturday was extra exciting because we were able to be in the paddock while the horses were getting saddled. This is a perk from our being licensed by the Arizona Department of Racing to work at Rillito. Ten-year-old me never dreamed of being “special” enough to go into the paddock at any track, and I do not take this privilege for granted.
TURF PARADISE PADDOCK
AMY, KEVIN AND ALEXA IN THE WINNER'S CIRCLE
After an afternoon of great racing, we were about to leave when we were stopped by three people who noticed our RTIP shirts. Like many, they had never heard of our program and were intrigued. Their initial curiosity turned into an engaging conversation in which we explained what RTIP was and taught them about horse racing. I love these types of conversations, for I really enjoy teaching people about the sport I am so passionate about and increasing awareness of RTIP. My fellow RTIP students and I have a responsibility to serve as ambassadors for horse racing, and this is a responsibility that I relish.
DISCUSSING RTIP WITH NEW FRIENDS
Turf Paradise might not have the local charm of Rillito or the big-name horses of Belmont, but its racing is just as exciting, and I have a great time whenever I go. This may have been our last Turf Paradise trip for the semester, but I can guarantee that I will be back in Phoenix next racing season to watch the best sport in the world.
For more information about the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program, visit the program’s website at www.ua-rtip.org and visit its Facebook, Twitter (@UA_RTIP), and Instagram (@UA_RTIP) pages. You can also contact the program’s director Doug Reed at email@example.com and 520-621-5660.