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, passed away this morning at his home in Delray Beach, Florida, after a battle with lung cancer. He was 65.
In a statement Sunday, Rick’s family said, “We are deeply saddened to announce the death early this morning of horse trainer Richard ‘Rick’ Violette, Jr. After a long struggle with cancer Rick passed peacefully at home in Delray Beach, Florida, in the company of his family.
“We are overwhelmed by the outpourings of love, condolences, and well-wishes from his many friends and colleagues in New York and around the country. Rick lived a dynamic life passionately devoted to horse racing, tirelessly advocating for its athletes (equine and human), backside workers, and owners. As a family we could not be more proud of his many accomplishments, courage and heart.
“A funeral service is tentatively scheduled for this Thursday, October 25, at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in Delray Beach. A memorial will also be held in New York at a later date.
“In lieu of flowers, we respectfully ask for contributions to be made to one of two equine affiliated non-profit organizations to which Rick was a vital and proud contributor: TAKE2 (www.take2tbreds.com), which facilitates onward careers for thoroughbred horses, and Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.). (http://bestbackstretch.org).”
Current NYTHA President Joe Appelbaum remarked, “Today is a sad day for horsemen, backstretch workers and horse racing in general. We have lost a leader. Rick Violette was one of a kind – smart, tenacious and indefatigable. His commitment to horse racing was unparalleled. From worker’s 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.”
NYTHA’s accomplishments during Rick’s presidency were truly historic. Here are some highlights:
· Led NYTHA through the bankruptcy and reorganization of NYRA, 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 VLT revenues, fighting to get the share for purses from 5.5% to 7.5%, which nets about $15 million 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:
o Contribute a record $1,996,200 to benevolence initiatives in 2016
o Raise its annual grants to the BEST Program to nearly $700,000
o Donate more than $350,000 annually to equine aftercare initiatives
o More than double the grants of its college scholarship program, which now distributes more than $200,000 annually to backstretch workers and their families
o More than triple the funding for the RTCA 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 NYTB in making any changes to the Aqueduct racing dates, ensuring the protection of year-round racing
· Secured a seat on the NYRA Board for New York’s horsemen, and fought to get back the voting rights for horsemen and breeders
· Worked with the NYS 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 TAA
· Founded the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program and TAKE THE LEAD Thoroughbred Retirement Program
· Commissioned the Operational Risk Assessment sponsored by NYTHA and NYJICF, 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
“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.”