New York-based trainer Gary Contessa secured the 2,000th victory of his career on Feb. 7 when Al's Rosie prevailed in a maiden claiming race for fillies at Aqueduct Racetrack (VIDEO).
Contessa, 55, led the New York Racing Association in victories four straight seasons, 2006-2009, including a record 159 wins in 2007. Contessa boasts 16 training titles at NYRA tracks. After the victory, Contessa responded to many well wishes from fans through Twitter.
"Thank all of you for the kind words," Contessa said on Twitter. "I am honored and humbled by this and I owe everything to my owners and especially the beautiful horses."
On Feb. 7, Al's Rosie rallied from fifth at the quarter pole to win the one-mile race for three-year-old fillies by a half-length and give Contessa the milestone win in the day's seventh race. Eddie Castro guided the daughter of Harlan's Holiday, who secured a win in her third career start.
Contessa thought he may have to wait a few days to notch the big win.
"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," Contessa said. "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 1,900 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 said it's appropriate the milestone came at Aqueduct, where he has won 12 meet titles.
"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 said. "I remember I went to Monmouth Park and the first horse I won with in my career was Legendary Wealth, owned by 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 I victory came in 1991 when Do It With Style captured the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Some of his biggest wins on the NYRA circuit in recent years include the 2006 Bed o' Roses Handicap (gr. II) with Magnolia Jackson, the 2007 Fort Marcy (gr. III) with Woodlander, the 2007 Saranac (gr. III) with Mission Approved, the 2008 Distaff Handicap and Bed o' Roses Handicap (Rite Moment), the 2008 Discovery Handicap (gr. III) with Wishful Tomcat, and the 2010 Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) with Eightyfiveinafifty.