TDN: Trainer, Horsemen’s Advocate Violette Passes Away at 65

Sunday, October 21, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Back to: Today's EditionTop News

Updated: October 21, 2018 at 9:08 pm

Rick Violette Jr., who achieved success on the racetrack as a trainer and off the track as a tireless and influential advocate for horsemen and backstretch workers, died Sunday after a lengthy illness. He was 65 and passed away at his home in Delray, Florida.

To racing fans, Violette was known as a steady and long-time presence among the New York training colony. He began training in 1977 in his native New England. In 1983, he opened his own stable in New York and would go on to train major stakes winners such as Diversify (Bellamy Road), Upstart (Flatter), Dream Rush (Wild Rush), Read the Footnotes (Smoke Glacken) and Summer Doldrums (Street Cry {Ire}). But within racing circles he may have been even better known for his work on behalf of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. Before he stepped down in 2017, he had been president of that group for 10 years and a board member for more than 25 years.

“Watching Rick bravely battle this pernicious disease these last few years reaffirms what a fighter he was,” said current New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA) President Joe Appelbaum. “For three decades, he’s been fighting on behalf of backstretch workers and horsemen, both trainers and owners. We literally wouldn’t have the kind of infrastructure on the backside we have today, be that health clinics or scholarships, without Rick. They literally would not exist. He gave it all to the racetrack. He was ‘all in’ in a way we’re unlikely to ever see again.”

Violette had to engineer his organization through the New York Racing Association (NYRA)’s bankruptcy and reorganization, which had the potential to create numerous problems for horsemen. Violette was able to protect purse money that could have been lost during NYRA’s struggles and then proved to be a tough negotiator when slot machines came to Aqueduct. According to a NYTHA press release, Violette was instrumental in getting the share from the slots that went toward purses to rise from 5.5% to 7.5%. The difference adds up to about $15 million annually.

But Violette also took the time to look out not just for owners and trainers, but for backstretch workers and for retired horses. According to NYTHA, the organization had no money in reserve in 2007 when Violette took over, but would grow to be so financially healthy that in 2016 alone it donated nearly $2 million to benevolence initiatives.

“Rick was so much more than all he contributed to New York racing,” said NYTHA Executive Director Andy Belfiore. “He was a passionate advocate for the horsemen, the backstretch workers and the horses, and still served as co-chair of the BEST Board and President of the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program. He was an invaluable mentor and boss. But most of all he was incredibly thoughtful and giving, an amazing person I was so very lucky to call my friend.”

“We are profoundly saddened by the passing of our friend, colleague and leader, Rick Violette,” Alan Foreman, the chairman and CEO of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (THA), said in a statement. “There aren’t enough words to adequately describe Rick’s contributions to the racing industry. Simply put, he was a giant of our industry and a consequential force, both in New York racing and the industry as a whole. Horsemen’s leaders are often criticized. Rick was beloved. There is not a segment of our industry that has not been impacted by Rick’s work. He was consumed with the best interests of New York racing and the racing industry. He was a force behind the creation of the THA. He was, perhaps, the most consequential figure in New York racing over the past 20 years.”

Though he was often at the opposite end of the negotiating table from Violette, NYRA CEO and Chairman Chris Kay also expressed his admiration for everything Violette had done for the sport.

“Rick Violette embodied New York racing, and his commitment to the men and women who are the backbone of our sport was unparalleled,” Kay said. “As the longtime President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Rick was a powerful advocate in Albany for the interests of horsemen and women across New York. Knowing how hard he worked, and the determination he showed throughout his life, it was particularly fitting to see the success Rick enjoyed over the past year with multiple Grade I winner Diversify. On behalf of the New York Racing Association, we offer our condolences to Rick’s family, friends and colleagues. He will be missed.”

Though Violette had many good horses over the years, his last stakes winner, Diversify, very well could have been his best ever. At the beginning of his career, Diversify showed enough talent that it was clear he would be tough to beat any time he showed up in restricted New York-bred races. But Violette was able to take him to a much higher level. The gelding broke through with a win in the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup in 2017, and this year he won the Grade II Suburban H. and the GI Whitney H. Seeking a repeat in this year’s Gold Cup, he finished fifth and came out of the race with a strained tendon that knocked him out of the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“Over the years, Rick became family,” said Diversify’s owner, Ralph Evans. “He wasn’t just a trainer to us. His passing wasn’t a shock because we knew he wasn’t doing well. But for someone like me, a little guy who stuck with the same trainer for 25 years or so, it’s a blow. I shared Rick with the racing community for the 25 years because he spent a great deal of time as an advocate for owners and trainers, perhaps at the expense of his buisness. Rick knew his stuff. He had a splendid mind and worked very hard. It’s a huge loss for the Evans family.”

Evans said that Diversify has been turned out and he will also miss the GI Pegasus World Cup in January. The owner said his Grade I winner will definitely return to the races in 2019, but he has yet to decide who will take over his training career.