12/23/2007 1:00AM

Contessa one win shy of mentor's record

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - Barring an unforeseen slump or unpredicted cancellations, Gary Contessa will at some point this week set a one-year record for wins by a trainer on the New York Racing Association circuit.

Entering the final five days of racing this year, Contessa has 155 wins, one shy of the record 156 set by Frank "Pancho" Martin in 1974. That it is Martin's record he is about to break brings about mixed emotions for Contessa, who worked as an assistant under Martin for five years before going out on his own in 1985.

"To break his record, I almost don't want to do it," Contessa, 50, said over the weekend. "If I didn't break Frank Martin's record, it would be okay. It's a great achievement. I'm sure he's very happy for me."

Contessa said he owes a lot to the Hall of Famer Martin, who at the age of 82 is still an active trainer on this circuit.

"Frankly, without Frank Martin, I'd never be a trainer today," Contessa said. "When I went to work for Frank Martin, I thought I knew how to train racehorses. . . I didn't know anything. That man is my mentor, my teacher, he is responsible for almost everything that I've learned in being a trainer."

If he is fortunate enough to break Martin's record, Contessa believes the mark will stand for a long time because "most people don't want to have the number of horses I have just to run in New York," meaning that large outfits are usually stabled in more than one jurisdiction.

Contessa, who maintains about a 90-horse string during the winter, has started 1,102 horses in New York this calendar year, and has won the Aqueduct inner-track trainer's title as well as both the Belmont spring and fall meet titles. His 13 wins at Saratoga put him in a four-way tie for second behind Bill Mott.

Contessa has five horses entered Wednesday and seven more entered for Thursday.

Honeymooning, whom Contessa runs in Wednesday's opener, looks like his best shot on the day as she drops slightly to the $10,000 claiming level after finishing second for $12,500 last out. In the second, Press Only steps up to maiden special weight company after finishing third for maiden $60,000 on Dec. 7.

In the sixth, the coupled entry of New York Citi and County Leitrim meet $15,000 open claimers. In the nightcap, Fiddlers Warrior, winless in 17 starts, returns to New York-bred maiden $35,000 claimers, a level he has finished second at three times.

Two shots at Gallant Fox

If Contessa doesn't get the record by Saturday, he will have two opportunities to do it in the $75,000 Gallant Fox Handicap. Contessa plans to run defending Gallant Fox champion Successful Affair as well as Malibu Moonshine in the 1 5/8-mile race.

They are expected to meet Nite Light, who beat Successful Affair by a neck in the Coyote Lakes on Dec. 5, and Angelic Aura, who comes off a fourth-place finish in the Coyote Lakes.

In the Coyote Lakes, Successful Affair was boxed in along the rail and his late rally fell a neck short. Contessa was pleased with the performance, considering it was Successful Affair's first start since May.

Coa to winter in Florida

Eibar Coa, who will finish 2007 as this circuit's leading rider for the second straight year, will ride this winter at Gulfstream when that meet begins Jan. 3, his agent Matt Muzikar confirmed.

Coa will ride at Aqueduct on Wednesday through Friday and Sunday. He will be at Calder on Saturday.

Muzikar said he and Coa didn't want to risk losing the mounts on such top-flight horses as Lear's Princess, Dream Rush, Tale of Ekati, Grand Champion, Elusive Lady, and Saratoga Russell, all of whom will be in south Florida this winter.

"More and more, we were realizing that our high-quality business was heading south and we really didn't want to let those horses get away from us," Muzikar said. "We appreciate our New York business with Bruce Levine, Dominic Galluscio, Gary Contessa, and Tom Bush and many others, but it was a joint decision we had to make either way. Hopefully, when we get back from Florida, we can pick up where we left off."

In 2006, Coa won 303 races, becoming just the fourth jockey to win 300 races on this circuit. This year, he is the leading rider with 255 wins and won both the Belmont fall and spring titles.

* Giant Moon, the undefeated New York-bred 2-year-old, worked four furlongs in 48.67 seconds Saturday morning over the Belmont training track. He is pointing to the $75,000 Count Fleet Stakes on Jan. 5.

* Evening Attire, the 9-year-old gelding who won the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap on Dec. 8, worked four furlongs in 49.16 seconds Saturday morning. His connections have not announced when Evening Attire will make his 10-year-old debut, but his two options in January are the $75,000 Aqueduct Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 19 or the $65,000 King's Swan Stakes at 1 5/8 miles on Jan. 24.