Trainer Gary Contessa won his record-setting 157th race of the year at NYRA tracks in Aqueduct's opener Dec. 29 when Silver Prospector wired the field to score by two lengths. The previous record of 156 victories was set in 1974 by Frank Martin.
“Other than the birth of my children and marrying my wife, this is the best day of my life,” Contessa, 50, said from his home in Saratoga Springs, where he watched the race with his family. “This is certainly the greatest thing that has ever happened to me in this business.”
Ironically, Contessa worked for Martin for five years before going out on his own and he credits the Hall of Famer with teaching him much of what he knows about training.
“Frank made me my future,” Contessa said. “I would have been happy just tying his record. I saw Frank yesterday and we talked about the record and he was very happy for me.”
Contessa’s record is related, in at least some part, to the sheer size of his stable. His 157th winner of the year was his 1,122nd starter. Such a large operation requires sure-handed help.
“I really have to thank my assistants Marcelo Arenas, Arty Groeschel, and Scott Acker, all my exercise riders, grooms, and foremen,” Contessa said. “This really was a team effort.”
Of Contessa’s 157 winners, 108 of them have been owned by Steve Sigler’s Winning Move Stable, which is having a remarkable season of its own. “I couldn’t have done this without Winning Move,” Contessa added. “They took me to this plateau. I especially have to thank them.”
Contessa, now married with five children, began his training career in 1985 after a five-year association with Martin. He came close to the record in 2006 with 151 victories from 885 starters. The Merrick, New York, native may add to his record with numerous starters through Dec. 30, the last day of racing for the year in New York.
Contessa will easily repeat as NYRA’s leading trainer for 2007 and owner Winning Move Stable will be leading owner for consecutive years.