06/17/2010 12:00AM

Q&A: Rick Violette

Barbara D. Livingston

New York-based trainer is president of the National Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, and a member of the board of directors of the New York Racing Association

Birthdate: Jan. 30, 1953, in Worcester, Mass.

Family: Single

Got into racing because . . . "I was showing hunters and jumpers. I didn't get into horses until I was 16, and then it was total immersion. I had clients who also owned racehorses. I started going to the racetrack on Saturday and Sunday mornings when I wasn't showing, and then I galloped horses at the racetrack right through college, at Suffolk and Rockingham. Then after I graduated from Lowell [Mass.] University, I had to make a choice between the racetrack world or the show world. I thought I'd get further in the racetrack business, so I jumped in with both feet."

When did you move from Massachusetts to New York? "Around 1980. I was an exercise rider and assistant trainer with David Whiteley. I went on my own about 1983."

This has been a tumultuous time in New York racing. Did the recent money fronted by the state give everyone a sigh of relief? "It's a short-term fix. There's still a tough issue concerning New York City OTB − their bankruptcy and, hopefully, a significant adjustment to their structure. That's not going to be a pretty issue. It's complicated. They have a huge debt. There's a lot of little fiefdoms, territorial stuff. They're in protection mode. None of that is good for our industry. We don't want them to be a competitor and a parasite to the industry, but a contributor.

"Hand in hand is getting the VLTs at Aqueduct up and running. That is income. It's a simple issue complicated by the insane politics in New York state. The state has been blowing $1 million a day net to them for education, and millions annually to us. It's been enabled by legislation for nine years, but the powers that be cannot get a grip around it. It's a simple issue. There are now six bidders. Select one. Do the due diligence. Move forward. Get going. The returns are significant. It will help more than racing. It will help education. They're talking about cutting $300 to $400 million from the education budget. Well, that's one year's revenue. OTB is much more complicated, much more ingrained. It hasn't worked the way it's set up. This is the best scenario to restructure things, so it makes sense for everybody."

Are you bullish on the future of New York racing? "I am. It still could be another ugly year. Politics are very frustrating. We do need a few good men or women without political agendas to do the right thing."

Is the current Monmouth model of less racing with mammoth purses hurting New York racing? That said, is it something New York should embrace? "Everything's pretty much going to be on the table. We're only a few weeks into it, but it has done well enough to justify doing it again. It's a great experiment. I'm the last one to argue against bigger purses for owners, even if it makes our life more difficult in New York. One thing we are finding out is that there's only so many quality horses out there. There's a lot of racing days in the Northeast this time of year. There has to be some kind of correction, whether it's out and out collaboration, or tracks going by the wayside. The horse population is going to get smaller in upcoming years. Some dates have to go by the wayside. There's not enough quality horses to go around."

What was your original impetus to get involved in horsemen's issues? "I had an employee falling between the cracks health-insurance wise. I went to the leaders of the New York HBPA at the time. If you weren't part of the inner circle, you were ignored. It was for someone who had worked in the industry for 25 years and needed financial aid. It was disgraceful how callous it was handled. I got pissed off. I got on the ballot and got elected to the board. I try not do anything half-assed. I jumped in and gradually became more and more involved."

Do you find it gratifying? "I do. You don't make a whole lot of friends. You certainly can't keep everybody happy all the time. Obviously there are some very good people in our industry. But we have some people who would rather complain on the rail and sip coffee and wouldn't take three minutes out of their time to help. Rather than do something concrete, they'd rather bitch. Someone will complain about the track, but then the track superintendent comes up, asks how everything is, and they say, 'It's terrific.' That frustrates me. I'm single. I don't have a family to support. Sometimes politics in New York is very dangerous, as I found out when I was banished from Belmont to Aqueduct by Kenny Noe. But that's okay. I can eat Spaghetti-O's for a year and no one will know. A guy with a family and kids in school can't take those liberties. He has to keep his head down. I understand that. Someone has got to do it, and I raised my hand."

Does being a horsemen's advocate, as well as a member of the NYRA board, give you insight into both sides of issues, or do you have people fearing that it's a conflict of interest? "My best answer is, I can't be bought cheaply! I'm always an issue-oriented person. I'm your best friend if it makes sense. I'm your worst enemy if you're doing something with no rationale behind it. I can be a NYRA supporter or its biggest critic. I always try to do my homework. There are times when tracks have to make tough decisions that horsemen don't like, usually because of finances. But I'm first and foremost the horsemen's representative on the NYRA board, and they are aware of that."

What are the most pressing issues for the national horsemen and the New York horsemen right now? "We sink or swim with NYRA. We need it to be a real successful racing association. We're married, and as married people tell me, even married people can disagree occasionally. Some national issues, like medication and safety, are all intertwined. Whether you are in Delaware or New Jersey with the THA, we all have similar problems and issues. Unfortunately, right now, there's not a lot of good news out there for the industry. But there's not a lot of good news for a lot of businesses out there. We're not isolated. But we are an easy target. It's perceived as wanting to help wealthy people with hobbies, but it's much more than that. It's thousands and thousands of jobs and green space. There's a lot of ripple effect. Sometimes it's treated as if it only involves the elite, and it's far from that."

Greatest moments of career: "Man From Wicklow winning the McKnight, his first graded stakes win. He was very, very good to me. He kept me afloat for a long time. Nijinsky's Gold beating Lure in the Kelso. Read the Footnotes winning the Fountain of Youth off a long layoff. And winning the Test at Saratoga with Dream Rush."

Best horses trained: "Dream Rush and Read the Footnotes. Read the Footnotes could compete from five furlongs to 1 1/8 miles in top company. He was probably the best horse."

Best horses seen: "Cigar jumps out. I saw Spectacular Bid. He was just a freak. His walkover at Belmont Park gave me goosebumps. I was a huge Personal Ensign fan, especially winning the Breeders' Cup the way she did."

Future ambitions: "To get the most out of every horse I train. We pride ourselves on taking care of every horse in the barn like it's the best horse in the barn. And certainly to win as many good races as I can."