Quarter horse trainers get back into routine for Rillito racing

Jesus Pinedo (left) and his brother Phil Pinedo are quater horse trainers that come to Rillito every year. Photo by Alexa Portillo/ Arizona Sonora News Service
Jesus Pinedo (left) and his brother Phil Pinedo (right) are quarter horse trainers that come to Rillito every year. Photo by Alexa Portillo/ Arizona Sonora News Service

 

Phil Pinedo and his brother Jesus have trained horses for over 50 years. Out of the 35 races they participate in a year, the races at Rillito are not only a yearly tradition for them but something they love to do in their hometown.

The Pinedo brothers are Southern Arizonan natives and grew up with horses.

Jesus says that the atmosphere at Rillito is like a family because all the trainers and jockeys pass down their knowledge and positions on to their children just as his father did for him and his brother. 

“It’s in our genes, it’s in our blood and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else,” said Jesus.

The Rillito Winter Meet started on Feb. 13 and races run on weekends until March 20.

Jesus and Phil train quarter horses and thoroughbred horses, and racing at Rillito Racetrack are something they’ve done for a long time.

A quarter horse is an American bread horse that is known for running fast speeds in short distances. They have large muscular back legs are the most popular breed horse in America.

According to Sarah Davisson from the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), this type of horse racing is particularly popular in the West, Midwest and South Western states.

Rillito is one of the oldest quarter horse racetracks in the country and is struggling to keep itself open with all the competing developments on the base of Foothills.

The new barns on the west side of the Rillito Racetrack. Rillito has been open since 1943, and is struggling to stay open. Photo by Alexa Portillo/ Arizona Sonora News Service
The new barns on the west side of the Rillito Racetrack. Rillito has been open since 1943, and is struggling to stay open. Photo by Alexa Portillo/ Arizona Sonora News Service

Pima County took down the barns on the west side of Rillito and built soccer fields. Since then, soccer fans and racetrack enthusiasts have bickered about he use of the land.

Recently voters showed up to a board of supervisors meeting to say the soccer teams and the racetrack can coexist.

In January, Rillito received a two-year extension on its contract to keep races going until 2017.

The possibility of the track closing up in a couple of years is something that is surreal to these brothers, especially with the number of times they have come to Rillito.

But the number of successes is not what brings them back to racetrack.

“The thrill of racing here at Rillito is very exciting because it’s our hometown, this is what we look for every year and we hope that we get many more and more years here racing. It’s very exciting, it’s very fun,” said Jesus.

Even though Rillito got an extension, the length they run their meets are only about six-weekends long.

“I just wish they run more quarter horse races and hopefully they can have longer months… what I’m looking forward to is hopefully they can run a meet where it’s four, five months where we can stable here, train our horses where we don’t have to haul back and forth,” said Jesus.

The Pinedo brothers are not the only quarter horse trainers at the track. Monica Ortega, the leading horse trainer for the last three years is back in the barns and at Rillito to try to keep her status as leading trainer for 2016. 

Ortega, a Tucson native, shoveled wood chippings into the stalls to make beds for her horses, before she brought the remaining of her horses to the track. 

In previous years Ortega was able to bring 40 horses but this year she was only given enough space to bring 18.  

Monica Ortega, Rillito's leading horse trainer for the last three years, watering her ponies. Photo by Alexa Portillo/ Arizona Sonora News Service
Monica Ortega, Rillito’s leading horse trainer for the last three years, watering her ponies. Photo by Alexa Portillo/ Arizona Sonora News Service

Ortega, like most quarter horse trainers was born into it.

“Every year since I can remember being little with my parents watching them run their horses and now I have my license we do this every year,” said Ortega about coming to Rillito.

Ortega won 26 races last year and her jockey was the leading rider for 2015.

There are only five other quarter horse racetracks in Arizona, and for Ortega, just like the Pinedo brothers Rillito is special to her.

“It’s my hometown it’s where I originally started, and it’s nice to keep going,” said Ortega.

Rick Oliver, a jockey and a water truck driver for the Winter Meet has been coming to Rillito for many years to participate and to help where ever he is needed.

“Right now we got the track all ready, and everything is going as normal, but like I said it’s been kind of hectic and moving the barns down here,” said Oliver.

Regardless, everyone is adjusting just fine to the move.

“You won’t see any better racetrack with the fans and the crowd we get here it’s unbelievable. This place looks like its Kentucky Derby Day,” said Oliver.

Although the sport of quarter horse racing has had a small decline is recent years, the sport is still very popular with participants, fans and racetracks.

“You just got to love the sport to be in it, it’s a pretty rough life but if you love it, it’s worth it,” said Ortega.

 

Alexa Portillo is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at alexaportillo@email.arizona.edu 

 

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