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.