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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


A ‘Happy Minute’ in memory of alumni

Jesus Barerra

Professional jockey Fernando Gamez, 54, leads and later wins the eighth and final race of the day at Rillito Park racetrack on Sunday. A memorial race was held on Saturday at the racetrack in remembrance of UA alumnus Pete Selin who passed away on Jan. 27, 2006, from chronic leukemia.

Rillito Park Racetrack was home to the seventh annual “Happy Minute” memorial race for deceased UA alumnus Pete Selin on Saturday.

The seventh horse race of the day was dedicated to Selin, a UA graduate of the Race Track Industry Program.

On Jan. 27, 2006, Selin passed away due to chronic leukemia. A year later, three of his former classmates set up the “Happy Minute” memorial in his honor. Richard Scheidt, Scot Waterman and Michael Costanzo wanted to honor him, according to Douglas Reed, director of the RTIP. 

Rillito Park has reopened this year, after a brief stint being closed. A group of local businessmen started a nonprofit to secure the track and prevent it from being demolished. The group secured a year contract with Pima County, which has just been extended, according to Mike Weiss, general manager at Rillito Park and a UA alumnus.

Selin was a “second career” student, older than the rest of the freshmen attending UA. He used his degree to become a turf writer at several racetracks around the country. 

“He had a passion for horse racing,” Reed said. “He would bring any students who weren’t going home for Thanksgiving to his house for a turkey roast. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

While Rillito was a favorite hangout of his, Selin was also fond of the Buffet Bar and Crock Pot, Tucson’s oldest bar. The bar hosts a “Happy Minute” with drink specials that last a minute. It is for this reason that the memorial race was named, with the race originally set at six-and-a-half furlongs, which thoroughbred horses can run in about a minute at Rillito.

New management plans aim to keep the track open year-round, opening it up for use by other sports and activities. In addition to local races, Rillito simulcasts races from other tracks in the country, as well as soccer fields on the north side of the park. Just after the races ended, a boxing match was being set up in a tent on the west side of the stands.

For the RTIP, this is a valuable opportunity.

“They believed the community needed it, that Tucson needed it,” Weiss said.

He added that because of these close ties, the RTIP is able to use Rillito as a working lab for students.

“It’s a good experience,” said Francesca Le Donne, an animal sciences senior.

There are 15 to 20 students working at Rillito, fulfilling roles in every aspect of operating a race track. As time goes on, there will be even more interaction between Rillito and the RTIP. 

More students will be exposed to the exhilarating feeling of watching a live horse race. This memorial is both a way to remember Selin, and celebrate the sport he loved.


Follow Erik Kolsrud on Twitter.

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