Calls from animal rights activists to end season at famed Tucson track after three more horses die | news

TUCSON- This coming weekend marks the fifth consecutive weekend of horse racing at Rillito Park.

The historic Tucson track, first opened in 1943, is under fire as questions continue to surface as to why horses are dying at the track.

A total of seven horses have died since the racing season began at the end of February.

“We are trying to do and we are doing everything right in my book,” Rillito Racetrack General Manager Mike Weiss said. “We’re trying to protect the horses, protect the jockeys. This is a sport and it has a dangerous aspect to it.”

Rillito says it has vets check the horses pre and post race.

According to Weiss, jockeys are encouraged to speak up if something feels off during race day so a horse can be scratched before heading to the starting gate.

“We’ve set up an equine wellness program using University of Arizona students, vet students and veterinarians,” Weiss said. “We do all our best to protect the athletes and we are known for to the point that major tracks around the country have looked to us to see what our program is.”

“If you ask the horsemen that ride on this track everyday, that come and train, it is not the track, this is the best the track has ever been,” longtime Rillito outrider Sandy Johnston said. “Accidents happen. It’s a sport with horses running 45 miles an hour. They were born to run and they like their job.”

Gary Vella is an animal rights activist with the group SPEAK, Supporting And Protecting the Ethics of the Animal Kingdom.

“The program’s in full force and we have seven horses dying in eight days,” Vella said. “That program’s not working.”

Vella wants to see racing canceled for the remainder of the season.

He has long protested for horse racing to be banned in Arizona.

“There’s no magic wand you can wave or any button that you can push that’s going to take it away,” Vella said. “The only way you’re ever going to stop the deaths of these magnificent animals is to stop exploiting them for profit and shallow entertainment.”

There are only four race days left this season with closing day Sunday April 3.


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