April 20, 2019

Rick Violette Jr. was a voice of knowledge and meaning

Rick Violette won 870 races, with earnings of more than $44.5 million, and served on the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association board for 25 years

By Dick Powell

Trainer Rick Violette passed away at the age of 65 on Sunday at his home in Del Ray Beach, Florida. Even knowing that he was sick, it was still shocking and heart-breaking. He was a terrific trainer with Grade 1 winners as recently as this year’s Whitney Stakes at Saratoga with Diversify and a horsemen’s advocate in his many roles as the former President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA). But, he was more than that.

Rick was an advocate for all of American horse racing and everyone in it; whether they realized it or not. He was insanely smart but more importantly, willing to speak up. Over the years, I got to know Rick because of issues that some clients of my consulting business were dealing with. I always take pride in what I know but Rick was way ahead of me. Our discussions were always meaningful and what I loved was how candid he was – much of which I can’t repeat here.

For instance, there was nobody more knowledgeable or outspoken about the drive to ban race day Lasix. He understood the science and chemistry of medications as well as how Thoroughbreds racing on dirt are different than horses racing on turf. The stride of a Thoroughbred racing on dirt is almost violent on its body and causes capillaries to burst, resulting in Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhaging (EIPH). Lasix is the humane way to mitigate EIPH.

As various forces pushed for the elimination of race day Lasix, I would challenge any proponents of the ban to debate Rick on the issue. No contest. I remember him telling me years ago he would love to go to a major European race, draw blood on all the participants and then have it tested by our labs. We test for way more medications than they do but somehow, we have been portrayed as the outlaws.

Any time we would run into each other, it was always a half-hour and if you walked by us, you would see a very animated discussion. I didn’t agree with everything NYTHA did but understood that Rick was part of a board of directors and his voice was their consensus. It’s just that his voice was stronger than anyone else’s. He was never afraid to speak up no matter who the audience was.

Each August, trainers like Rick and Gary Contessa would give up part of their only day off and speak at Albany Law School’s Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming conference. Two years ago, we were on a panel together and without any prior consultation, both agreed that night racing at Belmont Park would not work. His appearance at this year’s conference was special since it was held on the first Tuesday after he won the Whitney and gave all of us the opportunity to congratulate him in person. (For the record, I am not an attorney but have spoken at all but one of the Saratoga Institute on Racing and Gaming conferences.) Rick was at most of them.

Rick was always polite and respectful but did not suffer fools easily.  If you ever read the book Confederacy of Dunces, you know what I am talking about. His voice will be sorely missed and I hope those that are praising him will try to be more like him.