12/03/2009 1:00AM

Contessa a force again, but not a juggernaut


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - By sheer volume, trainer Gary Contessa has been the dominant force in New York the last three winters. He has won more races (210) during the last three inner-track meets than any other trainer in large part because he has had more than twice as many starters (1,293) as any other trainer.

But Contessa said he believes that dominance could come to an end this winter. Sure, he will have roughly 70 to 75 horses based in New York, but that might put him on a little more equal footing with the likes of Bruce Levine, who has been runner-up the last three years.

"This may be the year I pass the torch to somebody else," said Contessa, who has won the inner-track training title seven times the last 10 years. "I have enough horses for sure to do very well, but I don't have the incredible numbers that I've had. I'm about two-thirds what I used to have. I was well over 100 horses, now I'm less than 80 horses. All things must end. If it's time to pass the torch to one of the younger guys, that's okay, too."

Contessa said he is sending 10 or 12 horses to Gulfstream Park for the winter for the first time since 1993. Part of the reason for that is he has more 2-year-olds than he has had in years past. One he is particularly high on is Eightyfiveinafifty, a son of Forest Camp who finished third to Dublin in his debut at Saratoga on Aug. 1. Contessa said that Eightyfiveinafifty bucked shins in that race and has only recently returned to training.

"I think he is the real deal, the best 2-year-old I ever trained," Contessa said.

Contessa said he sold four or five 2-year-olds this year but still has four or five that he hopes to run in New York and Florida. Aside from Eightyfiveinafifty, Contessa is high on Castaneda, a 2-year-old New York-bred who finished sixth in his debut when trained by Steve Asmussen at Keeneland in April.

"I would say Castaneda is my next exciting colt," Contessa said. "If I had two more weeks, I'd run him as a maiden in [Sunday's] Damon Runyon. I think that much of him."

While he'll probably wait for a maiden race for Castaneda, Contessa may still have a horse to run in the Damon Runyon. He is debating whether to wheel Fortunate One back following a five-length maiden score Nov. 25.

Contessa said he does plan to run Primed to Be Ready in Sunday's $65,000 East View Stakes for New York-bred juvenile fillies. Primed to Be Ready won a maiden race Nov. 19 by 11 lengths.

"She might be good enough to win the East View," Contessa said.

If Contessa does come back to the pack this winter, who are the candidates to dethrone him?

Here's a summary:

Bruce Levine: A distant second to Contessa the last three years, Levine figures to have about 80 horses in New York. Like Contessa, however, Levine is going to have horses in south Florida. Also, like Contessa, Levine has more 2-year-olds than he has ever had.

"You can't run them as often, and you spend more time developing them. That slows me down a little bit," said Levine, who trains Remsen winner Buddy's Saint. "I'm like Contessa in that I probably don't have the numbers. I don't think anybody has the numbers that they had."

When the Meadowlands closes this weekend, Levine's New Jersey-based horses will ship over to New York.

Bruce Brown: Last year, Brown won 22 races over the inner track when his stable consisted of 36 horses. This year, his stable has 56 horses. Brown got off to a good start when Embrace Change won Wednesday's sixth race.

"I'm going to have plenty of bullets," Brown said. "I got a lot of maidens and cheap maidens that should be able to [win]. I have a lot of horses that fit the same categories. The hardest thing is keeping them separated. But with the maidens, if you don't run them this week, you're pretty much guaranteed the next race will be the next week."

Steve Asmussen: Last year, this barn won with 37 percent of its starters (29 for 78) over the inner track. Toby Sheets, who runs Asmussen's New York operation, is hoping for the same success with about 35 horses on the grounds. Sheets said Asmussen is still deciding which ones to keep in New York and which ones to ship out.

The barn had its first inner-track starter, Magic Tiger, on Wednesday, but had only one horse entered for Friday and none for Saturday.

"That's how it was last year," Sheets said. "It took us a little bit to get going, then we got in a groove. Hopefully, we can do that again."

Kiaran McLaughlin: This stable has averaged 26 wins the last three years over the inner track. The numbers might be skewered this year as McLaughlin will be serving a 30-day suspension to begin the meet and the horses will run under his assistant Art Magnuson's name.

Magnuson said the stable will probably have 40 to 45 horses for the winter, including a large number of horses that raced in New Jersey during the fall.

"We've hung on to some horses that might not have been able to compete in New York in years past," Magnuson said. "If the game's going that way, we'll adjust."

Cody Autrey: The new shooter in town, Autrey, Delaware Park's leading trainer, may not have the numbers to compete for the trainer's title, but he figures to grab his share of winners.

Autrey, who figures to have 25 to 30 head here this winter, went 1 for 10 during the main-track meet but figures to be more active at the claim box for owner Michael Dubb.