Violette remembered for impact on people, horses, industry

Posted Oct. 21, 2018

Trainer Rick Violette Jr., who retired in 2017 after 10 years as President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and more than 25 years as a member of the NYTHA Board of Directors, died the morning of Oct. 21 at his home in Delray Beach, Fla., after a battle with lung cancer. He was 65.

Violette also was the longtime President of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and earlier this year was named Director Emeritus, the first member of the organization to hold the title. He won 870 races as a trainer, and his horses earned more than $44 million.

Violette was recognized, and will be remembered, as a dedicated advocate for horsemen and horses in New York and nationally.

“Today is a sad day for horsemen, backstretch workers and horse racing in general,” NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum said. “We have lost a leader. Rick Violette was one of a kind: smart, tenacious and indefatigable. His commitment to horse racing was unparalleled. From workers’ compensation to the racing program to the welfare of our workers, there was no area on track that Rick was not deeply involved in.

“The last four years have been a great education for me. Working with Rick, he taught me so much—the history of the game (both on and off track), the inner workings of the backstretch and the economics facing the modern trainer. I will miss him.”

“Rick was so much more than all he contributed to New York racing,” NYTHA Executive Director Andy Belfiore said. “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.”

NYTHA noted that accomplishments during Violette’s presidency were “truly historic.” The organization listed many of them:

  • Led NYTHA through the bankruptcy and reorganization of the New York Racing Association, protecting approximately $25 million in purse money that was left exposed during the process and would have been lost without NYTHA’s actions
  • Negotiated the horsemen’s share of video lottery terminal revenue, fighting to get the share for purses from 5.5% to 7.5%, which nets about $15 million in additional revenue to purses annually
  •  Led the reorganization and strengthening of NYTHA, which had no reserves in 2007, but is now financially stable. Because of that stability, the NYTHA has been able to contribute a record $1,996,200 to benevolence initiatives in 2016; taise its annual grants to the BEST Program to nearly $700,000; fonate more than $350,000 annually to equine aftercare initiatives; more than double the grants of its college scholarship program, which now distributes more than $200,000 annually to backstretch workers and their families; snf than triple the funding for the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America and its Backstretch Recreation Program, which now receives more than $150,000 annually
  • Was a founding member of the THA in 1995. The THA established the Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program, which is now the National Uniform Medication Program
  • Secured legislation that mandates NYRA must have the agreement of the NYTHA and the New York Thoroughbred Breeders in making any changes to Aqueduct racing dates, ensuring the protection of year-round racing
  • Secured a seat on the NYRA Board of Directors for New York’s horsemen, and fought to get back the voting rights for horsemen and breeders
  • Worked with the New York State Gaming Commission to establish a split-sample program in New York
  • Led the reorganization and strengthening of the Backstretch Employee Service Team, which was close to bankruptcy 10 years ago
  • Championed the Backstretch Education, which offers ESL courses, a language lab, the Groom Development Program and, with BEST, the Backstretch Bistro
  • Founding member of the Board of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Association
  • Founded the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program and TAKE THE LEAD Thoroughbred Retirement Program
  • Commissioned the Operational Risk Assessment sponsored by NYTHA and New York Jockey Injury Compensation Fund and conducted by Marsh Risk Consulting
  • Created the safety equipment voucher program to ensure that all exercise riders have helmets and vests that are up to code
  • Created the lunch voucher program at Aqueduct for backstretch workers
  • Spearheaded the $300 per start credit program to help defray the cost of workers’ compensation insurance

Violette in August was recognized by the New York racing community and legislature for his personal courage and many contributions to the industry.