In a profession often passed from father to son or held tightly within generations who have handled thoroughbreds, Contessa’s entry point into the thoroughbred game came solely from his own interest in horses in the 1970s. “I grew up in the age of sex, drugs and rock and roll,” the trainer quips, “but my thing was always horses.”
In 2007, Contessa set a NYRA record of saddling 159 winners, eclipsing mentor Frank Martin’s mark of 156 set in 1974. Contessa had 183 total winners at all tracks in 2007 with $7.9 million in earnings
Contessa, NYRA’s leading trainer by wins for four consecutive years (2006-2009) averaged 150 NYRA wins and change over those four campaigns, with 12 training titles for individual NYRA meets over that same span. Heady stuff until he fields a question about whether any of his and his wife Jennifer’s five children are considering careers in the thoroughbred business.
The 55-year-old trainer now calls Hoosick Falls, NY, home.
The trainer has proudly served as president of the Exceller Fund for several years. The organization’s mission is “Providing a future past the finish line,” and it currently takes care of about 100 retired thoroughbreds.
Over the last decade, Contessa has resold 36 two-year-old purchases for substantial profits for their owners, led by Peace Rules, who went on to run third in the 2003 Kentucky Derby behind Funny Cide and Empire Maker. Peace Rules retired with over $3 million in earnings and graded stakes wins in the Louisiana Derby, Toyota Blue Grass, Haskell Invitational, and Suburban Handicap.