Rick Violette called his Saratoga barn near the 6-furlong gap on the main track "as close to a home as you could have." He's been there for, as he put it, 50 years. It's probably not quite that long, but he did work there for David Whiteley and Angel Penna before becoming a trainer.
Tuesday morning, the place was settling down at the end of training. Two-year-olds cooled out under the trees, a gray horse got dirty - really dirty - in the round pen, Dino the dog made his visits and Violette made plans. The squad includes 30 in the main barn, and another 20 in a rental barn at the harness track.
He used to leave some horses downstate, but gave up a few years ago.
"I bring everything up, because you never get back down to Belmont or Aqueduct," he said. "You think you have time, but you don't. It rains three days here, everything gets backed up and you have 20 horses to breeze in one day, or you have owners coming and the horses you left down there become strangers."
Known first for its work with 2-year-olds, the Violette barn struck early at Saratoga with an Opening Day win by first-time starter Lemon Liqueur for My Meadowview Farm. Early success by 2-year-olds at Saratoga can help a trainer gauge the depth of his barn, and Violette has plenty more juveniles behind his webbings.
Coming off a $3 million year in terms of purses, Violette talked about a few of his horses with The Special's Joe Clancy.
Upstart: In the midst of this conversation, Violette was mulling the Jim Dandy and the Haskell. Wednesday, it sounded like the latter. "I still don't know what happened in the (Kentucky) Derby. He cooled out in 10 minutes. Jose (Ortiz) swore that he didn't handle the racetrack, but I hate to blame the racetrack and usually when they can't handle the racetrack they come back blowing and are tired. He wasn't blowing, he wasn't tired, wasn't anything. He will run in the Jim Dandy or the Haskell this weekend, depending on where Competitive Edge goes. He's doing great."
Lemon Liqueur: "She was well-meant. I love when 2-year-olds run like older horses. They get covered up, take dirt, come out around horses. The best compliment for me is when a jock comes back after riding a 2-year-old for us, especially a first time starter, and says 'She acts like an older horse.' That means we did our job."
Silky Girl: "She was fourth here (Opening Day). I had to try her on the dirt because she breezed well enough, but she's pretty stone-cold turf. We'll run her back on the grass, she's got a pretty nice pedigree, by Scat Daddy out of a Military mare (Beau Dare) who did some nice things. She ran well, had a pretty eventful trip, and was a good fourth. It's not a stretch she could run on the dirt, but I'm not going to push the issue. I'd rather find out now before it's November and we've got no place to go."
Made In Detroit: "He's an a-other-than, turf, who is stakes-placed. He will probably run back in an allowance race, but he's nominated for the Hall of Fame and if that ended up coming up light we'd go in there. He's a cool horse. He's fun. Sometimes the stakes for horses like that are the same as allowance races. He's pretty speedy, and if we look at the race and there's no speed in there we'll take a shot at the Hall of Fame. If it doesn't come up that way, an 80-some-thousand-dollar pot for an allowance race is not a smack in the face."
Stock Selection: "Stone-cold grass. He looks like he has serious talent. He'll be end of the meet, maybe."
Nolo Contendere: "I ran her on dirt (at Belmont), she was a little disappointing. I think she'll be a pretty nice turf filly and her pedigree says that."
Dave's Gone Bananas: "The owner (Stuart Grant of The Elkstone Group) is an attorney and he had a case where he was interrogating a guy and the guy's name was Dave and he got under his skin on the stand and the guy blurted out 'You're driving me bananas,' so he named the horse after that guy. He's a New York-bred, by Summer Bird, and he can run a little bit. He's all right."
Noble And A Beauty: "She won her first start (last fall at Aqueduct) and then won a little stake. She got herself in a knot in her last race at Belmont. I almost wish they had scratched her. She half went over and just acted badly. I gave her an easy month and I'm not sure what I'll do with her. She's got some talent, she's worth a little bit of money already because she's out of a half-sister to Tapit."
Apostrophe: "He's a pretty nice horse, third his first time out (in June) and he'll run here. He tried to get a tendon on me last year so we stopped on him. I think he's got a future."