At the University of Arizona, it's usually Arizona basketball and football that are grabbing all of the headlines. Here on campus, it might just be the Arizona Race Track Industry Program or RTIP, that is Tucson’s best-kept secret.
Last weekend, Arizona alum Bob Baffert, became 2nd in all-time wins at Churchill Downs. A year after another alum, Todd Pletcher, won in the run for the roses. A win on the track, but also for the most prestigious race track industry program in the country, which happens to be in Tucson.
“You don't have to be born in it to be successful,” says Director Wendy Davis, who oversees the program of about 30 students.
So, what exactly is the job of a horse trainer? “If you think about sports teams, and you think about managers that oversee all the details,” says Davis.
Nick Fanucchi, a junior in the RTIP, started attending the race track at 11 years old, specifically at Del Mar, in Southern California. “I actually did not know how to handle horses when I got to this program,” said Fanucchi. His family owns a share of Good Magic, who finished 2nd in this year’s Kentucky Derby, behind Baffert's Justify. His aunt, Barbara Banke, owns Stonestreet Farms in Kentucky. Good Magic was fathered by Curlin at Stonestreet Farms. Curlin became the all-time leading money earner in the history of American Racing, a title he retained until California Chrome’s campaign in 2016. Fanucchi added that they were not surprised to see Good Magic run well at this past weekend’s Derby in the mud due to rainy conditions, because Curlin loved to run in the mud.
Fanucchi also had the opportunity to spend time with Baffert over spring break at his barn. “He couldn't find the U of A game so I was helping him find the channel, and I got to spend 4-5 hours talking to him,” said Fanucchi. Adding, they never did find the game, but he was ok with that.
Todd Pletcher surprised some of the students about a year ago with an on-campus visit, too. “My best friend in the program, Mitch Gerson, actually got an internship from Todd Pletcher that day.” He offered it to him in the elevator, after some conversation.
“Everyone here is trying to learn, and when trainers are willing to step up and help people out to continue the process of learning about horse racing it's awesome,” said Fanucchi.
“When people find they're love, we can help them by bringing them here, educating them and then getting them introduced to the industry,” added Davis. Arizona’s RTIP is now able to offer a full-ride scholarship to the program, thanks to a donor. For more information, visit ua-rtip.org.