Trainer Gary Contessa Wins 2000th Race
By Jon Forbes | 02/07/2013 05:46 PM ET
Trainer Gary Contessa won his 2,000th race when he saddled Al’s Rosie to victory in the seventh race on Thursday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
With jockey Eddie Castro aboard, Al’s Rosie closed along the inside to win the $35,000 maiden claiming race by a half-length for owners Pines Stables, Magis Thoroughbreds, Mark Valentine, W. Sam Chandoha, and William F. Coyro, Jr.
“I thought the gods of racing were going to torture me for a couple of weeks before I won this one, so I’m glad I got it behind me,” said Contessa. “It’s great. Honestly, I can’t believe I won 2,000 races, looking back it’s unbelievable to me. Rick Lang called me one day and said, ‘You know you have 1900 and whatever races’ and I said, ‘You’re kidding! When did I win 1,000?’ I’m very pleased. It’s a great milestone and I’m honored and humbled to win 2,000 races.”
Contessa, 55, said it’s appropriate the milestone came at Aqueduct, where he has won 12 meet titles. He has garnered 16 total NYRA meet titles and four year-end training titles on the circuit.
“Most of my wins came in the winter at Aqueduct,” said Contessa.
Contessa was born in Merrick, N.Y. and first gained experience with horses by working with standardbreds at Roosevelt Raceway during his childhood and adolescence. He switched to thoroughbreds in 1980.
“My biggest mentor was [Hall of Fame trainer] Frank Martin,” said Contessa, who assisted Martin in the 1980s. “I came up under Stanley Hough and all the Harbor View Farm trainers and Jimmy Picou and Dave Sazer, who brought me to this place. But Frank Martin beat the daylights out of me and made me a horse trainer. [It’s apt] that I’m in his [old] barn, his office and his world. We sat here many days in the freezing cold at Aqueduct, winning two or three races in a day, so it’s great.”
In 1985, Contessa took out his trainer’s license, winning his first race on June 25, 1985 with Legendary Wealth at Monmouth Park.
“When I first went out on my own, Johnny Campo said, ‘Let me tell you something, Contessa. Whatever you do, you make sure the first horse you run, wins. I don’t care if it takes three months of being on your own, do not run a horse until it’s going to win because then they will remember you,’” Contessa recalled. “I remember I went to Monmouth Park and the first horse I won with in my career, Legendary Wealth. Owner, John Campo. It really worked out well and I thank John, who was a big supporter when I first started out.”
Contessa’s first Grade 1 victory came in 1991 when Do It With Style captured the Ashland at Keeneland. Some of his biggest wins on the NYRA circuit in recent years include the 2006 Grade 2 Bed o’ Roses Handicap (Magnolia Jackson), the 2007 Grade 3 Fort Marcy (Woodlander), the 2007 Grade 3 Saranac (Mission Approved), the 2008 Distaff Handicap and Bed o’ Roses Handicap (Rite Moment), the 2008 Grade 3 Discovery Handicap (Wishful Tomcat), and the 2010 Grade 3 Bay Shore (Eightyfiveinafifty).