David Cassidy (black hat) after Sweet Vendetta took the 2008 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico Race Course

David Cassidy (black hat) after Sweet Vendetta took the 2008 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico Race Course

Anne M. Eberhardt

Contessas Recall Friendship With Late David Cassidy

Actor and singer was a longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder.

Trainer Gary Contessa and his wife Jennifer lost a close friend when David Cassidy died Nov. 21 at age 67.

Although Cassidy was known to the general public as an actor and singer who achieved fame early on with the hit television series "The Partridge Family" in the early 1970s, the Contessas knew him as a longtime Thoroughbred breeder and owner who had a passion for horses—and as a caring and thoughtful friend.

"It is going to be a void in our lives," Contessa said Nov. 22. "He is going to be missed dearly. He was a good friend and he had a great heart for people. He was a great friend of my family. He would reach out to my mother-in-law on her birthday. He called my sister-in-law on her birthday, because he knew it meant something to me. He would always reach out to me when something good would happen in my life."

Cassidy, who bought his first horse in 1973, was a longtime breeder within the New York program and resided in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in the summer. Among the best horses he bred and/or owned individually or in partnership were 2008 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) winner Sweet Vendetta, five-time stakes winner Half Heaven, and stakes winners Doll Baby, Jenny's So Great, and Citrus Kid. Although not a stakes winner, Mayan King was among the best-known horses campaigned by Cassidy and partners, as he won or placed in eight of 12 starts and was a hyped horse early on the Triple Crown trail in 2005 before being sidelined.

Contessa said Cassidy had to back off on his horse ownership recently following his third divorce, but still enjoyed calling the trainer to discuss horses, even if they weren't his own.

"I spoke to him about a week ago," Contessa said. "I had run (Leonard Green's) Oldfashioned Style in a grade 3 stake (the Tempted) and she ran second, and David called to discuss her pedigree. He was telling me she would get better going two turns, and she had a lot of turf depth in her pedigree, and she might get better as a 3-year-old.

"We had a long conversation. The horses were his escape from the crazy life he had in rock and roll. He was the consummate student of pedigrees. I don't think anybody's smarter than him when it came to pedigrees and breeding. He was an incredible student of the game."

Contessa said Cassidy liked to breed and race and would take on partners once the horses began to run, but those partnerships would sometimes not work out.

"No matter where you went, if it was a David Cassidy-owned horse, the other owners would be overshadowed whenever we got to where we were going," the trainer said. "When we won the Black-Eyed Susan with Sweet Vendetta, he had a half partner and the partner grabbed the Black-Eyed Susan wreath they put over the horse's neck. David said, 'No, no, no I'm taking that.' We wound up cutting it in half."

Cassidy bred Sweet Vendetta in partnership with Edward Lipton and campaigned her with Team Penney Racing.

Contessa, who plays bass guitar, said Cassidy invited him to join the singer on-stage to perform at some of his concerts when the trainer was in attendance.

Jennifer Contessa said Cassidy enjoyed the friendships with her and her husband and others in the horse business, because it was a departure from the norm for a star.

"We never treated David like a star, but treated him like a person, and I think that's why we were such good friends," Jennifer Contessa said. "We had mutual respect for each other. He had so many people in his life he thought were his friends, but they weren't real friends."

According to reports of his death, Cassidy battled substance abuse throughout his life and died as a result of liver failure.

"We were always worried about David in that light," Jennifer Contessa said. "He wasn't perfect and he didn't try to be perfect, but he had a big heart. I know if we were in trouble, he would help. And if he was in trouble, he would call us and we would help out."

Cassidy was the featured speaker during the 2005 Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the National Museum of Racing.

"Through the years there have been tens of thousands of people who have been in the game as trainers and jockeys, so it's such an honor for these individuals, as well as the equine athletes, to have achieved the Hall of Fame," Cassidy said during the ceremony that had Nick Zito among the inductees. "It's one of the highlights of my entire adult life and career to be asked to speak at the induction ceremony and articulate my passion for racing. To say I'm flattered would be a gross understatement."

Cassidy was born April 12, 1950, in New York City to actors Jack Cassidy and Evelyn Ward, and moved to California during his youth. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1970, and his 1972 solo album, "Cherish," went gold.