01/03/2007 12:00AM

Contessa and Sigler build New York's No. 1 stable

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - When owner Steve Sigler dissolved a partnership and moved three horses to Gary Contessa in November 2005, Contessa didn't think he was meeting his next big client.

"Two of the three I couldn't get to the races," Contessa said. "I thought he'd be gone soon."

Instead, Sigler and Contessa formed the most successful trainer-owner combination in New York in 2006. With 43 wins from 234 starters, Sigler led all owners on the New York Racing Association circuit in victories in 2006. Contessa was New York's leading trainer with 151 wins, the second-most by a trainer on this circuit since 1935.

From a stable of three, Sigler's Winning Move Stable - unmistakable with its fluorescent orange silks - is now up to roughly 30 horses, including stakes winners Accountforthegold and Successful Affair. Successful Affair was claimed for $16,000 and has gone 4 for 4 since, including two stakes scores.

"Did I ever see this happening? Of course, no," Sigler said. "My highest gratification is that my family has been able to share this with me. My sons love it; they're here every weekend. My wife, Connie, comes all the time or she watches the races on television.

"If it was only me, I would never get nearly the gratification. As my family shares the passion, my family shares the successes."

In addition to sons Adam and Brian, Sigler's family includes the actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who plays Meadow on "The Sopranos." She owns a piece of a couple of horses and has been seen at Belmont and Aqueduct from time to time.

Steve Sigler, who heads the national Men's Senior Baseball League, gives most of the credit for his success to Contessa.

"We've made some really good purchases, we've claimed some really good horses," Sigler said. "What never gets written and what never gets noted is the claims that you don't make. I'm looking and I'm discussing with [Contessa] and 9 out of 10 times he's right and we stay off those horses, and that really contributes to your success."

"We have a good rapport," Contessa said. "He picks some of these claims, I pick some of these claims. He's understanding my principles, which is great. We're like best friends; we talk the same language when it comes to this business."

Though he enjoyed a banner year in 2006 - and won two of the first four races run here in 2007 - Sigler doesn't intend to change his strategy much in 2007.

"The most important thing for me in business is maintenance - maintain what you have, take care of what you have, and your business will be successful and it will grow," Sigler said. "Am I looking for bigger and better things? Honestly, no. If they come that's wonderful, but I don't aspire to be at the Kentucky Derby one day with my 2-year-old. Those thoughts are not even on my mind."

Still, Sigler will be represented in Saturday's Count Fleet Stakes with Here to Please, a 3-year-old son of Cat's at Home that Contessa convinced Sigler to buy from one of his other clients after his last start. In that race, his first for Contessa, Here to Please finished third behind a loose-on-the-lead Believeinmenow.

"I thought the track was a little biased and he ran green and he scoped dirty," said Contessa, referring to an endoscopic examination that showed crud in the colt's throat. "The horse trains as good as any 3-year-old I have in the barn."

Marquis Diamond points to Ruthless

One aspect of the business that Sigler was somewhat reticent about was selling horses. In a span of about two weeks, he sold open-length winners Barcola and Marquis Diamond to California-based owner J. Paul Reddam, who kept those horses on the East Coast with trainer Mark Hennig.

"I had a pit in my stomach," Sigler said. "I could not sleep both of the nights on the day of the sale. Two days later, I felt good that we did it. [Contessa] said, 'I know why you're in the game, for the passion, the love and the enjoyment, but every once in a while you got to remember this is a business.'"

While Barcola finished second in an allowance race at Gulfstream on Wednesday, Marquis Diamond is scheduled to run here Sunday in the $65,000 Ruthless Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

After finishing second in her debut for maiden $75,000, Marquis Diamond led gate to wire winning a maiden special weight race by 10 3/4 lengths on Dec. 17. She ran six furlongs in 1:10.43 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 83.

"It was a pretty good race she ran that day," Hennig said Wednesday from south Florida. "We feel like she was a filly that was trying to improve. She had a troubled first race when she came from off the pace and then she handled that group pretty easy the other day."

Marquis Diamond, a daughter of Yonaguska, worked an easy half-mile in 51.29 seconds on Dec. 31.

Others expected for the six-furlong Ruthless are Deep Dish Wildcat, Dorm Fever, Golden Dreamer, and Small Lies. Possible starters include Bedside Story, Special Dream, and Unstoppable Me.