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Steps taken to improve horse safety after 17 deaths NY track

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) Additional safety measures are being implemented at Saratoga Race Course after the deaths of 17 horses on the grounds so far this year.

The New York state Gaming Commission announced Monday the enhanced measures include more veterinarians at the track during training hours.

The agency says the steps are being taken along with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and the New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct.

The 17 horse deaths as of Monday are one more than the 2016 total. This year’s deaths include eight on the main track or turf course and at the Oklahoma Track, the training facility.

Eight others have occurred during races since the season began July 21. The other death was a non-racing fatality.

Richard Violette Jr., horse trainer and advocate, dies at 65

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NEW YORK — Richard Violette Jr., a thoroughbred trainer who advocated tirelessly on behalf of racetrack backstretch workers and improved care for retired racehorses, has died. He was 65.

Violette died Sunday at his home in Delray Beach, Florida, after a long struggle with lung cancer, according to the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Violette had trained Diversify to victories in the Grade 2 Suburban and Grade 1 Whitney handicaps last summer, as well as last year’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The 5-year-old gelding has earned nearly $2 million, with 10 wins in 16 starts.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Diversify would not run in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3 because he had not been training well.

Violette began his career in June 1977 and less than two months later he saddled his first winner in Rockingham, New Hampshire. He had 870 career victories and purse earnings of $44,521,759.

Among his other Grade 1 winners were Dream Rush and Man From Wicklow, whom Violette also owned.

His final winner was Byself on Oct. 14 at Belmont Park.

“Rick Violette embodied New York racing, and his commitment to the men and women who are the backbone of our sport was unparalleled,” NYRA CEO and president Chris Kay said in a statement. “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 1 winner Diversify.”

Born Jan. 30, 1953, in Worchester, Massachusetts, Violette showed hunters and jumpers as a teenager. After graduating from Lowell University, he turned his attention to thoroughbred racing.

Violette later worked as an assistant trainer before going back out on his own in 1983.

He 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 its board. He oversaw the expansion of several initiatives, including the group’s college scholarship program and racehorse aftercare.

“Rick was a champion, plain and simple. His work, largely unnoticed and often unrecognized, made the lives of the backstretch workers better,” NYTHA president Joe Appelbaum said. “He was their promoter and defender – creating and solidifying programs that have real impact on people’s lives – health care, college scholarships, rider safety, substance-abuse counseling. These programs would not exist without Rick’s foresight and perseverance.”

Violette sought and secured funding for an education program for backstretch workers that offered English-language classes and a groom development program. He was co-chair of a nonprofit based at Belmont Park that provides free health and social services to backstretch workers at all New York Racing Association tracks.

Violette was a founding member of the board for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and co-created the Take the Lead Thoroughbred Retirement Program. In 2012, he co-founded TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program with a focus on providing an avenue for the retraining of retired racehorses for the show-horse world. He served as the organization’s president until his death.

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano rides 5,000th winner

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NEW YORK — Javier Castellano won consecutive races to give the Hall of Fame jockey his 5,000th career victory in North America.

The 41-year-old rider won the $200,000 Mohawk aboard Offering Plan in the third race at Belmont Park on Saturday and followed up in the next race aboard Runaway Lute in the $150,000 Hudson to reach the milestone.

Castellano is the 34th jockey in North American history to reach 5,000 wins.

He began his career in his native Venezuela in 1996 before moving to the U.S. a year later and riding his first winner at Calder in Florida.

Castellano is a four-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top jockey. He won the Preakness in 2006 and 2016 and has notched eight Breeders’ Cup victories.