Rillito Downs horse racing threatened by increased rent

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The Rillito Race Track has been around since the 1940s.

Tuesday, the future of horse racing faced a tough challenge from opposition saying they are paying too little in rent. But the Pima Board of Supervisors had the final say.

"I think there are two duties of the parks commission to be a good stewards to public property and to treat all property owners fairly," said Gary Davidson from the Pima County Parks Commission.

Gary Davidson is pointing his finger at the Pima County Horseman's Association, the ones running race day at Rillito Downs.

"I don't understand why horse racing should have most favored treatment," said Davidson.  "I think they should pay just like everyone else."

The board took up a new rent agreement put forward by county administrator chuck huckelberry. The consideration says the rent paid by horsemen's association at rillito downs will gradually increase from just under $4,000 to $14,000 in the next four years.

"We're happy with the decision based on what the other choices were, the other choices would have simply ended horse racing forever," said Patti Shirley from the Pima County Horsemen's Association.

The group will start paying $6,500 this year, and then rent will go up $2,500 each year until it reaches $14,000 in 2014.

Other recommended price structures include the same paid for the U of A spring fling and celtic festival, or even rates up to $100,000.

"We can't afford to pay 50,000 to 100,000," said Shirley.  "It is fair because we put money back in the facility and no other organization form the county does that."

Still, the parks commission was not happy when the board approved the rent proposal.

"We've had some people paying on one fee schedule much higher per day rates as others," said  Davidson.  "I think they should all be the same."

The number of races at the park will likely increase from 8 to 10 this season to help offset the increase in rent.

Horse racing kicks off at Rillito downs in January.