Posted: Aug. 4, 2018
For all of his accomplishments in advocating for New York Thoroughbred horsemen, Rick Violette Jr. is very low key. And perhaps that’s a big reason for his success, as well as for the heartfelt support he has gotten over the years.
Violette on Aug.1 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was honored by the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, its affiliates, and members of the New York racing community during an early-evening gathering. In 2016, after decades of serving as NYTHA President, he opted not to run for the position or the board, but in 2017 was voted the first Director Emeritus of the THA.
Violette performed his advocacy work while simultaneously overseeing a racing stable, which he continues to do. His resume includes heading the New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund; leading NYTHA through the New York Racing Association bankruptcy and reorganization; negotiating the horsemen’s revenue share from video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack for purses and backstretch improvements; reorganizing the Backstretch Employee Service Team; founding the TAKE THE LEAD and TAKE2 aftercare programs, and funding equipment upgrades for drug testing and research.
None of it was easy, and politics often made it more difficult. And on a personal level, Violette also had to battle cancer. But he remained committed to the cause.
“There are very few people in this industry I could call consequential,” THA Chairman Alan Foreman said. “Rick Violette is one of them. There is no award to honor integrity, the health and welfare of horse and rider, fairness of competition, protection of the betting public, and courage. I don’t think anybody epitomizes those things more than Rick Violette.”
Foreman said the THA has created the “Rick Violette Award” to recognize similar contributions to racing, as well extraordinary contributions in the best interests of horsemen. The award will be national, open to those who work on the backstretch or front side of a racetrack, and may not be given out every year.
“It will be for someone who needs to be singled out for special contributions,” Foreman said. “Rick has always had the courage of where he stood, and you never had to doubt it. Rick never backed down.”
Violette, humbled by the announcement, noted that early on, he and Foreman often clashed. That eventually changed and led to a strong working relationship that helped set the tone for the THA,
“I did not trust him 30 years ago,” he said with a half-laugh. “I would call it a tenuous relationship.”
Violette recognized many of those who stood by him over the years, both on the job and during his illness. He made of point of thanking those who offered support during difficult times.
“It’s really about more than one person,” Violette said. “This is totally overwhelming. There is nobody here that hasn’t left a significant impression on me.”
Jonathan McCardle and Jack Hardy, who have handled lobbying for NYTHA for many years, presented Violette with two framed resolutions from the New York State Assembly and Senate. They recognize Violette’s work on the legislative front as well as his advocacy for horsemen and backstretch workers.
One of them reads in part: “For the past 25 years, Rick Violette has rendered faithful, conscientious and valuable service to the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and in his capacity as President, Rick Violette served with loyalty, honor and distinction, earning the admiration, esteem, and affection of his colleagues.”
Three days later, Violette was in the winner’s circle with Laura Evans and Ralph M. Evans’ Diversify, a New York-bred who won the grade I, $1.2 million Whitney Handicap. The 5-year-old Bellamy Road gelding now has 10 wins in 15 starts and closing in on $2 million in earnings.
One of Violotte’s long-time clients, Evans and his daughter purchased Diversify for $210,000 at the Keeneland November sale in 2016 when the original owner partnership was dissolving. Violette had trained Diversify to two wins and recommended him to Evans, and since then they have won six stakes.
“I guess he’s got to be the best horse I’ve ever trained,” Violette said. “We’ve had some very, very talented horses. (Evans-owned) Upstart was a very talented horse, but he never won a grade I. Read the Footnotes never won a grade I and was a really, really talented horse. Between the talent and putting up the performances, he’s certainly at the top of the list. He’s a scary good horse.”
Diversify has been a blessing for Violette, who last fall was hospitalized for 10 days with pancreatitis. During that time Diversify won the grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup with Violette’s longtime assistant, Melissa Cohen, in charge.
“What we’ve gone through the last few years, I’m a very, very lucky man,” Violette said. “I can’t tell you how many people rallied behind me—people I didn’t know, people I knew very casually, my best friends, and my family has been outstanding. I didn’t know I had so many friends and so many real, caring people that literally took care of me the last three years. Melissa, she should be up for sainthood. That’s the real rock solid base, and this is all gravy. Fundamentally, I’m a pretty lucky guy.”
Saratogian column on Violette and the Whitney
(THA photo of John McCardle and Jack Hardy presenting legislative resolutions to Rick Violette Jr.)