By Danielle C. Malka
Arizona Summer Wildcat
ith only a small horse track at Rillito Park and one dog track at Greyhound Park, Tucson seems to be an unlikely home for the most distinguished Race Track Industry Program in the country.
But think again.
UA's Race Track Industry Program (RTIP), which is offered as an option of the Animal Sciences major in the College of Agriculture, is one of only two such programs in the country, said William Schurg, an RTIP faculty member.
The other, at the University of Louisville, has followed UA's example, but is still a significantly different type of program, said Schurg.
"Ours is the program of choice," he said.
The UA program deals with various types of racing, from thoroughbred and quarterhorse, to standard-breed harness racing and dog racing, said Schurg.
It has been in existence for almost 21 years and attracts students from all over the country and the world, he said.
Approximately 60 students take the race track option each semester, and those students may choose either the "business path" or the "animal path," which focuses on taking care of the animals and learning their biology in order to understand how they operate.
And although many people associate race tracks with gambling and greasy food, there is much more to it than that, said Schurg.
"We approach it as the business of racing," he said. "At one time horse racing was considered the sport of kings. It was one of the primary spectator sports of America.
"But now it must compete with baseball, basketball and dozens of other sports. We must put on a show that will attract the attention of the people."
Today, racing is a multi-million-dollar industry with jobs in every area, from racing officials to secretaries to paddock judges to directors of operation. The Race Track Industry Program at the UA boasts a job placement rate of over 80 percent, Schurg said.
Each December, the RTIP hosts a Symposium on Racing which attracts race track industry professionals from all over the world. This student-run symposium is the largest and most prestigious racing conference in the world, said Schurg.
"It's a tremendous opportunity to get students aligned with people who are the movers and the shakers of the industry," he said.
Tucson is certainly no mecca of racing, but in a way it's a good place for such an influential race track program, because it's "neutral," said Wendy Davis, associate coordinator of the program. If it was in California or Kentucky, she said, it would seem to cater to those places, but here it's not associated with any particular market.
It is also nice that it is a comparatively small program because that allows it to be more personal, said Davis, who graduated from the program in 1982 and now serves as a student adviser.
"You're not just a face or a number," she said.
David Shoup, associate dean of the College of Agriculture, called the program "one of the most directed majors on this campus," adding that it is strongly supported by the industry.
And Davis said the program is excellent for anyone interested in racing or in horses because it allows one to "specialize in the business aspect of having horses."
"A race track is like an airport," she said. "You have to know more than just how to land a plane."
The RTIP is currently reviewing applications for a new coordinator, as the previous coordinator, David Hooper, has resigned.
Shoup said about 40 to 50 applications have already been received for the position. The search committee will probably make a decision this summer so the new coordinator can take part in the planning of the next symposium, he said.
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