William Sanders is a man of very few words. When he does talk, it's worth listening.
Dr. Sanders, the head veterinarian at the Rillito Racetrack, started working as a vet in 1959. He's done it all at Rillito, everything from the starting gates to veterinary work, taking care of all the horses.
"I have seen some good horses here, I have seen some of the best quarter horses in the whole world get started right here in Arizona," Sanders said. "In the olden days, this is where quarter horse racing all started." He lists off a handful of horses off the top of his head, fliers like Miss Panama and Stormy Boy.
Sanders has seen the racetrack grow in popularity, and seen it close for a couple years at a time due to a poor economy. Now, he works in a time when the facility is in jeopardy.
His day consists of getting to the track on the weekends at about 7 a.m. to start his rounds of injecting horses with Lasix, a diuretic drug that lowers a horse's blood pressure to prevent the hemorrhaging of blood vessel in a horse's lungs, which could possibly rupture in the high stress and physical exertion of racing.
Sanders walks from the track to the showcase area. He inspects the horses before each race to make sure they aren't lame and are up to their full racing capabilities. Along his walk, co-workers and spectators all call to him.
"Hey Doc, good to see you," they say. Sometimes he stops to chat. To others, he smiles, waves, says, "good to see you, too," and continues on his way.
His walks are some times long. Other times he catches a ride in the passenger seat of a pickup truck from the starting gate to the finish line. The walking sometimes gets a little old, but each weekend of each season, "Doc" is out on the track.
"Oh, I just like it," Doc says. "I like the horses."
Liking horses is understandable for a person who grew up on a ranch in Duncan, Greenlee County, Arizona, about 40 miles east of Safford. On the ranch they raised cattle, grew hay, corn, tomatoes and peppers. He now resides on a ranch in Catalina, where he has an orchard, a garden and some chickens.
Over the past couple years, Historic Rillito Racetrack, Inc., has been attempting to gain historic status for the track and its surrounding facilities while others have attempted to have the property leveled and covered with soccer fields as an additional playing area to nearby fields.
Pima County Supervisors have chosen not to go forward with a 2010 bond election that, if approved, may have included funds for Rillito's demolition.
"In my personal opinion, the track should stay here," Sanders said. "It's the only thing left from this area being heavily populated with horses. I personally feel that they have enough soccer fields. I think in the short time the races are on, the people come out, enjoy it, and have a good time."
The facility, which has been open since 1943, now has about 7,000 to 9,000 people come out each race day.
This weekend's stakes:
Feb. 20 — The Howard King Handicap, for 3-year-olds and older. 870 yards. $5,000 guaranteed.
Feb. 20 — The Rillito Park Quarter Horse Derby, for 3-year-olds. 350 yards. $5,000 added.
Feb. 20 — The Rillito Park Budweiser Mile, for 3-year-olds and older. 1 and 1/16th miles. $5,000 added.
Feb. 21 — The Pete Selin Memorial, The Happy Minute, for fillies and mares 3 years and older. 5-1/2 furlongs. $6,000 guaranteed.
Feb. 21 — The Tom Clark Memorial, for 3-year-olds and older. 400 yards. $5,000 guaranteed.
Feb. 21 — The Hasta La Vista PCHA Shootout #3, for 3-year-olds and older. 220 yards. $20,500 estimated.