During the early 1970’s , a group spearheaded by the late Frank Vessels, Jr. of Los Alamitos Race Course, embarked upon the concept of a collegiate program to train young men and women to become future leaders in the racing industry. It was the desire of the group headed by Frank Vessels, and an NASRC group (now The Association of Racing Commissioners International) which included John K. Goodman of Arizona (a member of The Jockey Club, former chairman of the Arizona Racing Commission and past president of the National Association of State Racing Commissioners), that the program should be located in a state with year-round racing, with both horse and greyhound interests, and at a land grant institution.
Several universities around the country were contacted, with none expressing genuine interest, until The University of Arizona College of Agriculture consented to try it on a trial period of five years.
The late Dr. Darrel S. Metcalfe, then Director of Resident Instruction, later to become Dean of the College of Agriculture at the U of A, outlined financial arrangements that basically made the racing industry commit to provide funding to initiate the program. Vessels, who was also President of the American Quarter Horse Association at the time, employed the resources of the AQHA racing department, then headed by Don Essary, to help the University get the program started. Financial commitments by Los Alamitos, the AQHA, and Funks Greyhound Racing, later to become American Greyhound Racing, and the NASRC provided the seed money for the program to get started. The College of Agriculture placed the Race Track Industry Program in the Animal Science Department and so the Race Track Industry Program was established in 1974 with classes beginning in January.
The program began with about 15 students, 3 classes, no texts and little chance given for success.Within three years, the program’s student numbers had grown to approximately 25 and an additional class had been implemented. The beginning of two successful programs were begun by the program. One was the internship program for students as on-the-job training. The first student to intern and graduate was Alicia Pappas.
The second significant program implemented was that of an annual seminar, or “symposium”, designed to bring industry leaders to campus for exchange of information and to benefit the students’ understanding of racing. The first meeting in December of 1974 attracted approximately 45 people. In December of 1978, the annual seminar expanded to multiple topics. The attendees in 1978 had risen to 185 and it began the trend that has taken the meeting to its present place as the largest racing conference in North America.
In addition to other programs, the National Association of State Racing Commissioners formed a School of Racing Committee in an effort to help establish and advise the Program.
The current RTIP Advisory Council, composed of racing industry leaders, continues to direct and support the Program while identifying long-range needs of the industry that can be met by the Race Track Industry Program.
The Program enjoys broad funding support. Contributions from racing association’s trade organizations, racing commissioners, breed registries, service organizations, business interests, numerous individuals and alumni ensure that the Program remains on solid financial footing.
As the RTIP has grown in size and scope, the staff has expanded from a single instructor to four instructors, an administrative assistant, a marketing specialist and a number of student office employees.
Photo: Frank Vessels, Jr.