SARATOGA SPRINGS — Andy Belfiore could see her friend Rick Violette’s legacy on full display Wednesday at Saratoga Race Course.
Belfiore, the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association’s Project Manager for the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities and executive director of the TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program, observed this just after Run Curtis Run’s victory in the Rick Violette Stakes, named in honor of the trainer who died at 65 in October 2018 after a battle with lung cancer.
But Violette’s pride, she said, wouldn’t be in a race named for him, but everything else occurring Wednesday at Saratoga as the track hosted the inaugural New York Thoroughbred Aftercare Day, organized jointly by the New York Racing Association, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and New York Thoroughbred Breeders.
Wednesday’s event highlighted Violette’s work as a NYTHA president who spearheaded the creation of the TAKE2 program and TAKE THE LEAD Retirement Program, and was a founding member of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA).
“He was never a person that was looking for a pat on the back,” Belfiore said. “But, seeing all these organizations getting together, all these horses that they’re helping, that would’ve meant the world to him.”
Belfiore’s relationship with Violette goes back nearly 40 years, when she had one of her first racetrack jobs as a groom and he was an assistant trainer working for Angel Penna Jr. That the inaugural New York Thoroughbred Aftercare Day took place on the day the race in Violette’s honor was the Saratoga feature was “not a coincidence.”
“When we talked about doing an aftercare day,” Belfiore said, “we said, ‘What better day to do it than the day of Rick’s race, and honor his memory and all the work he did for the horses?’”
In addition to the Rick Violette Stakes, the other eight races that took place on Wednesday’s card — the scheduled first race, the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes steeplechase, was canceled due to turf conditions — were all named in honor of various thoroughbred aftercare organizations.
Those organizations also brought a number of retired thoroughbreds back to the track Wednesday, including New York-bred graded stakes millionaire Zivo to lead the post parade for the Rick Violette and retired gelding Uncle Sigh to meet the public. Two aftercare groups, New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program — which has a facility in Gansevoort — and ReRun in East Greenbush, brought retired racehorses out to the track for a pre-race demonstration prior to Wednesday’s card.
“Everybody really stepped up,” said trainer Rick Schosberg, a long-time friend of Violette who succeeded him as president of TAKE2 and TAKE THE LEAD. “Logistically, I think it went off without a hitch. . . . It’s a good tribute to aftercare, and especially to Rick Violette, who essentially set aftercare up here in New York.”
More than 800 racehorses from NYRA tracks have been retired through TAKE THE LEAD.
“This is something that was so important to Rick,” Belfiore said. “His whole life was racing. He cared so much about the horses and the backstretch workers. To be able to create these programs and know he was creating a safe haven for all these horses, it meant the world to him.”
Events like Wednesday’s are vital to the aftercare cause, Belfiore said, as the biggest challenges to the initiative are spreading the word about the various aftercare groups and educating owners and trainers about the proper time to send their racehorses into retirement.
“Let’s not go one race too far, one work too far,” Belfiore said. “When it’s time, it’s time. Let’s get them retired.”
Run Curtis Run cruised to victory under jockey Jose Ortiz against a short field in the six-furlong Rick Violette. Breaking from the inside post against just three New York-bred 2-year-old rivals, Run Curtis Run led from the front, pulling away at the top of the stretch for a 3 3/4-length victory.
Filly Ready A. P. held on for second, with Coinage third and Surprise Boss rounding out the field.
It was a meaningful victory for Ortiz, who rode regularly for Violette early in his career and got his first two Kentucky Derby mounts — Samraat in 2014 and Upstart in 2015 — from the trainer.
“I walked in today with him on my mind,” Ortiz said, “and I wanted to win it.”
Ortiz said that Violette could be “cranky sometimes,” but was a tireless advocate for “his guys” and someone who was invaluable to have in his corner early in his career.
“He was tough on me, but he just wanted me to get better,” Ortiz said. “He wanted to ride me so he wanted to teach me the right way and how he liked it. I learned a lot of good things with him and I’m very happy to win this race. I’m sad he’s not here.”
Wednesday’s events spoke to the legacy that Violette left behind.
“No doubt about it, I know he’s smiling down on us,” Schosberg said. “He set up the architecture and the blueprint for TAKE2 and TAKE THE LEAD, and handed it to Andy and I. Without that blueprint, it wouldn’t be what it is today.”
More from The Daily Gazette: