'I've Had Enough': After 35 Years, Contessa Leaving Training Game - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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‘I’ve Had Enough’: After 35 Years, Contessa Leaving Training Game

Gary Contessa at his barn in Saratoga

After 35 years, New York-based Gary Contessa said he is getting out of the training game.

“I've had enough,” said Contessa this week. “It's virtually impossible. Lots of people are going to continue to try, because that's what we have in our blood, but I've been doing this for 35 years and it's become increasingly impossible with the protocol put in place by the Department of Labor, among other things, to stay in business.”

Contessa said he had contemplated an exit from training since around 2012, but after becoming one of several New York trainers to battle an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor around time-keeping and record-keeping regulations, he began to take the idea more seriously. Contessa said the extra costs incurred by trainers to pay worker's compensation insurance, as well as the expense of staying ahead of federal and state labor regulations (which, he said, don't take into account bonus structures or other perks for grooms and hotwalkers) have made it impossible to make ends meet. Add that to the federal visa program, which has become more complex in recent years, and Contessa said he'd have to either raise his day rates or cut corners around the barn to offset the extra costs — and he's not willing to do either.

“When I had 100 horses, I could absorb this, but when I have 40 horses and 20 of them are so-so, it's not enough to overcome what the Department of Labor is expecting of us,” said Contessa. “There was a time when I was a 'super trainer' and I did very well. When you had the occasional owner who defaulted on you, you had the horses you got stuck with, you had Department of Labor audits, winning would overcome all of that stuff. But when you have a smaller stable — unless you do everything yourself — I don't see how you can do this.

“It's just time.”

The announcement comes on the heels of news that fellow New York establishment trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is retiring to become an agent for rider Luis Saez.

Contessa is in the process of working with his owners to get his horses transferred to new trainers. Many will go to his longtime assistant Amira Chichakly, who is opening her own barn. He anticipates the transition will be complete by the end of March.

Contessa said he isn't leaving racing, however. He hopes to pursue a career in racetrack management, and is also open to becoming a jockey's agent.

“I love sharing this game with people, and I love bringing racing to the common people who want to learn more about it,” he said. “I've been successful doing that, and I really enjoy it.”

Contessa said the timing is also influenced by his wife, who has been ill for some time. For the moment, he said he's going to take a break, take care of her, and see if the telephone rings.

“I'm very confident that I will end up on my feet,” he said.

As of March 5, Contessa has saddled runners in 18,142 races and has 2,363 career wins. His top horses include Grade 1 winners Sippican Harbor and Do It With Style, Kentucky Derby runner Uncle Sigh, and multiple graded stakes winners Rite Moment, Mission Approved, and True Affair.

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