Upstart’s half-brother Practice Squad wins Rick Violette

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Practice Squad (inside) digs in and holds off Dakota Gold to win the $125,000 Rick Violette Stakes Thursday at Saratoga. Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo.

By Tom Law

Rick Violette left an indelible mark all over the Thoroughbred industry.

Take your pick between the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Take2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program, Take the Lead Thoroughbred Retirement Program or any number of advocacy groups and initiatives for backstretch workers, horsemen, horseplayers. Don’t forget trainer of Grade 1 winners like Diversify, Dream Rush and Man Of Wicklow.

Add the 2022 edition of Rick Violette Stakes to the ledger.

Even without all the family and friends who turned out and scores of others for the second annual New York Thoroughbred Aftercare Day, Violette’s stamp was all over the race named in his honor as a former claimer narrowly edged the heavy favorite in the $125,000 stakes. Maybe Violette would have scoffed at the almost Hollywood outcome after Practice Squad, a half-brother to a colt that got the late trainer to the Kentucky Derby for the third time, edged a colt running out of his former barn still decked out in his signature turquoise and black albeit for another conditioner.

That’s how it shook out, Practice Squad winning by a determined head over 2-5 Dakota Gold in the third renewal of the Rick Violette. Claimed by Joe Sharp for $30,000 in late February at Fair Grounds, the 3-year-old Malibu Moon gelding ended a string of five defeats dating back to New Year’s Eve in New Orleans.

“We are big into aftercare and he was definitely on the forefront of that,” Sharp said of Violette. “We’re proud to win it, of course. He was a wonderful horseman, so it’s an honor to win a race like that, especially with a New York-bred.”

Bred by Joanne Nielsen and out of the Touch Gold mare Party Silks, Practice Squad was a $100,000 purchase at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Showcase – which featured yearlings that would have sold at the Saratoga Select and Saratoga New York-bred sales – during the Covid-19 pandemic. A half-brother to New York-bred champion, multiple graded stakes winner and Kentucky Derby starter Upstart, Practice Squad started his career for Bill Parcells’ August Dawn Farm and trainer Robbie Medina before being claimed in his second start for $40,000.

Sharp and Jordan Wycoff reached in to claim him for $30,000 after he won a maiden special weight and finished sixth in an off-the-turf optional for Larry Romero and Chris Hartman.

“The pedigree was definitely there,” said Carl Fiebig, a partner with Wycoff. “We thought he fit our program pretty well. The day we claimed him was a Monday at Fair Grounds. We probably should not have been watching races and handicapping but Jordan is a shrewd guy in the claim box and found a diamond in the rough.”

Freshened for two months after the claim, Practice Squad returned to the races in his home state and placed in three straight starts against older horses on the grass for his new connections. He returned with 3-year-olds for the Rick Violette, which had been run for 2-year-old New York-breds and known as the Rockville Centre from 2014 to 2018 when run at Belmont Park before being renamed and move to Saratoga.

Sent off as the 5-1 third choice in the field of five behind multiple stakes winner and 2-5 favorite Dakota Gold and Grade 3 winner Coinage, Practice Squad and jockey Flavien Prat lingered in fourth in the early stages as longshot Stop The Spread set the pace. Stop The Spread led Coinage through the opening splits of :24.59 and :50.02, with Dakota Gold and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. keeping tabs about 2 lengths back up the backstretch.

Coinage made the first run at Stop The Spread just past 6 furlongs in 1:14.91, taking a narrow lead as the field rounded the far turn. Coinage led into the lane with Stop The Spread trying to stay on at the rail, while Dakota Gold ranged up three paths off the rail.

Prat guided Practice Squad between a Stop The Spread and Coinage at the eighth pole and Dakota Gold passed Coinage at the sixteenth pole. The two raced almost on even terms from there, with Practice Squad never giving up his advantage to the wire. He won in 1:44.69 over the inner turf labeled good after being softened up a bit with a few quick rainstorms Thursday afternoon.

“(Coinage) came out and floated him, but that’s horse racing,” said Dakota Gold’s trainer Danny Gargan, who trains in Saratoga out of Violette’s former barn near the Morning Line Kitchen on the main track. “Sometimes, you have to overcome things. He didn’t overcome it. We’ll come back later on in the meet, there’s another stakes race. He ran his race, but we lost the head bob. We took a little bit of the worst of it. I don’t know particularly if he’s a soft turf horse, but it is what it is. I’m happy he ran and showed up. You can’t win ‘em all.”

Sharp’s history with the Wycoff family goes back to his days as an assistant to Mike Maker.

Practice Squad is the first horse he claimed for Jordan Wycoff, who watched the race with his wife and daughter at home in Philadelphia. Fiebig and Jordan Wycoff’s parents, Kirk and Debra Wycoff, stood in with Violette’s family that included his sister Patricia and brother Chris, former assistant Melissa Cohen and others for the winner’s circle photo.

Practice Squad is the seventh foal out of the unraced Party Silks, who is also the dam of the stakes-placed $126,480-earner New York Hero, four-time winner Party On and Party Season, a New York-bred son of American Pharoah who sold for $1 million at the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Sale and was a winner in Ireland in the fall of 2020.

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