Getty Images

Champion filly Songbird retired after 2nd loss in 15 starts

Leave a comment

Champion filly Songbird has been retired five days after she lost for just the second time in 15 career starts.

Owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm said Thursday that he made the decision after an examination showed an enlargement of both of the 4-year-old filly’s hind suspensory ligaments.

Porter said it would be dangerous for Songbird to continue training and veterinarian Larry Bramlage wasn’t optimistic that the situation would improve in time.

Last Saturday, Songbird lost by a neck to longshot Forever Unbridled in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Her season debut had been delayed while she recovered from bone bruising last winter.

Songbird had 13 wins and two seconds in 15 career starts and earnings of $4,692,000. She won Eclipse Awards as champion 2-year-old filly in 2015 and champion 3-year-old filly last year. She was trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and ridden by fellow Hall of Famer Mike Smith.

She won 11 straight races in her first two seasons on the track. She won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and finished second to Beholder by a nose in last year’s BC Distaff.

“She meant a lot to every single person in the stable, from the grooms and hot walkers on up to the trainer,” Hollendorfer said.

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

AP Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.