We lost some great horsemen in 2018 and I thought a column of tribute at the end of the year would be appropriate.
Trainer Rick Violette, 65, died at his home in Del Ray Beach, Florida, on Oct. 21 due to complications from cancer. Violette was among the biggest and high-profile trainers on the New York circuit and conditioned some great horses, including Read the Footnotes, Samraat, Upstart and Diversify. He saddled 13 graded stakes winners to 36 graded victories in his career and accumulated $44.5 million in earnings.
While Violette was a very accomplished trainer, he might be better remembered for his industry work away from the racetrack. He was an advocate for N.Y. horsemen and served as president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association for 10 years, retiring in 2017 after serving 25 years on the NYTHA board. He was also a great advocate for retired racehorses, serving as a founding member of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and aiding several other second career and horse retirement programs. Violette was a stand-up guy and will be severely missed around the N.Y. tracks.
John Asher, voice of Churchill Downs
John Asher, who was an ambassador for the Kentucky Derby and the face and voice of Churchill Downs, died at the age of 62 on Aug. 27.
Asher died of a heart attack while vacationing in Orlando with his family. Asher was an award-winning journalist and publicist for over 30 years. He joined Churchill Downs in 1997 and served as vice president of racing communications since 1999. As a radio journalist, Asher earned five Eclipse Awards for “outstanding national radio coverage of thoroughbred racing.” Asher was also known for his community service outreach and volunteerism. He was well known, well respected and will be thoroughly missed around the historic Kentucky oval.
Terry Wallace, voice of Oaklawn
Terry Wallace, the voice of Oaklawn racing for 37 years, died Dec. 6 after a lengthy illness. He was 74. Wallace began calling races at the Arkansas track in 1975 and called a remarkable 20,191 consecutive races without missing a beat before ending the streak on Jan. 25, 2011.
Originally from Cincinnati, Wallace started calling races at River Downs in his hometown and also called races at Great Barrington, Louisiana Downs, Ah-Sar-Ben and Horsemen’s Park. He was inducted into the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2012. He served on the board of several charities, including The American Cancer Society and The United Way. Wallace is survived by his wife, Alice; two sons; a daughter; and four grandchildren.
Jerry Bozzo, oldest trainer to win race
Trainer Jerry Bozzo died at the age of 98 on Nov. 11. He will be remembered as the oldest winning thoroughbred trainer in history. Bozzo became the oldest trainer to win a race at 97 years old, on June 3, 2017 at Gulfstream Park when Cotton Tooyah crossed the wire first.
Bozzo was a retired aeronautical engineer and a World War II veteran who had been breeding and training horses since the early 1970s. Bozzo lived a remarkable life and was known as a gentleman around the Florida ovals.
Luke Myles, jockey
Former jockey Luke Myles, 67, passed away on Nov. 11 in Harrah, Oklahoma, due to an undisclosed illness. Myles was a leading rider at Los Alamitos from the 1970s to the early ’90s and won 687 Quarter Horse races and 29 Stakes races at the California track. Myles was a top rider in an era in which the local jockey colony was perhaps the best ever in the history of Quarter Horse racing. Myles was known as quiet and unassuming and was highly respected by his peers for his professionalism and riding ability.
Odanis Acuna, exercise rider
Exercise rider Odanis Acuna, 42, died after a training accident at Churchill Downs on Nov. 10. Acuna was aboard a 2-year-old named New York Harbor when the horse broke down about 1/16th-mile from the finish. Acuna, a native of Cuba, had worked for trainer Kenny McPeek for about 10 years. He was well known and well liked around the racetrack and known as “Cuba.” Acuna is survived by a wife and three sons.
Jose Flores, jockey
Veteran jockey Jose Flores died on March 22 as a result of injuries sustained during a spill in the ninth race at Parx on March 19.
Flores won 4,650 races in his career from 28,683 mounts, resulting in over $64 million in earnings. The 57-year-old native of Peru had a long and successful career in Pennsylvania and was well liked and admired around the racetracks.
These are just a few of the good people we’ve lost this year. I wanted to acknowledge them and wish peace to all the families that will be missing a loved one at the table this holiday season.
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