01/28/2004 12:00AM

Contessa's cutbacks suit him fine


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Gary Contessa won the training title at the last two inner-track meets at Aqueduct, but a three-peat appears unlikely.

Through Sunday's card, Richard Dutrow Jr. held a commanding lead with 27 winners, 15 more than the runner-up, Scott Lake. Contessa had eight winners, good for a fifth-place tie with Dominic Galluscio. Contessa missed the first 10 days of the inner-track meet, which began Dec. 3 and is scheduled to end March 10, because of a suspension for a medication positive. In his absence, Contessa's assistant, Frank Amonte Jr., was credited with saddling three winners. Contessa also didn't start the meet with the support of owner Maggi Moss, who is usually very active at the claim box. Moss switched trainers in November and gave her horses to Lake to train. She has since returned to Contessa.

Contessa said the changes he made in his stable this winter, plus Dutrow's incredible hot streak, have prevented him from mirroring the success of the last two inner-track meets. A year ago, Contessa had nearly double the 30 horses he currently has in his Aqueduct barn. Last winter, he had 30 at Aqueduct and another 25 at a training center in Colt's Neck, N.J.

"I considered it more efficient for my stable operation to cut back on that number," Contessa said. "I thinned out some clients and didn't say 'yes' to every single person that wanted to give me a horse. I knew coming into this meet I wouldn't be the force I had been."

Contessa said now that his focus is on quality, rather than quantity, his stable features several exciting unraced prospects. He also envisions a promising future for the first-time starter he unveiled last Sunday, Wild Cee, a 3-year-old Wild Again filly who was a 6 1/4-length winner. Contessa is pointing another recent runaway winner, Mr. V., to the $75,000 Hollie Hughes Handicap on Feb. 15. Mr. V., bred by the late Alfred Vanderbilt, won an allowance race on Jan. 19 by 7 1/2 lengths. Contessa said Unswept, a stakes-placed runner, also is headed to the Hollie Hughes. Golden Damsel, a stakes winner for Contessa last year, will run in either the $75,000 Rare Treat Handicap on Feb. 16 or an allowance race a week earlier.

"I've got a very live operation, and I'm very satisfied with where I'm at," Contessa said. "It took me 20 years to figure out that I could still make money with less horses and be in the standings. Instead of going absolutely nuts 16 or 17 hours a day, I can now spend more time with my wife and children."

Prunetti retiring after 33 years

Mike Prunetti, a 33-year veteran of the New York Racing Association, will retire on Saturday. Prunetti, 57, is currently an assistant to the stewards. He began his career at NYRA in the racing office on March 8, 1971 and since then worked under six racing secretaries, including Kenny Noe, Lenny Hale, Bruce Lombardi, and Howard Battle.

Prunetti's first job at NYRA was as an entry clerk for Tommy Trotter, then the racing secretary. Later he served as an assistant racing secretary to Lombardi and to NYRA's current racing secretary and handicapper, Mike Lakow. Prunetti, a native of Pennsylvania, also worked as a paddock and patrol judge at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga.

"Mike was my assistant for a while when I first became racing secretary," Lakow said. "You can talk all you want to about how dedicated he is and how professional, but to me, he is just an incredible person. You won't find a more sincere, honest, and caring person than Mike. We are all going to miss him."

Receivership goes for four straight

Receivership will look to keep her winning streak alive over the inner track when she heads a field of six fillies and mares in Friday's feature.

The allowance/optional claimer will be run at six furlongs, the distance at which Receivership has won her last three starts. Quippy is the only horse in the field eligible to be claimed for $65,000.

Receivership began her winning streak for trainer Lou Meittinis in her inner-track debut on Dec. 4. She won the $35,000 claimer by 5 1/2 lengths. Four weeks later, she won a $50,000 claiming race by 2 1/4 lengths and was claimed by Dutrow on behalf of Sullivan Lane Stable and Lawrence Roman. Dutrow wheeled Receivership back four days later in a second-level allowance race, which she won by 3 1/2 lengths as the heavy favorite, a role she likely will assume again Friday.

Earlier in her career, Receivership was all about speed, but in her most recent starts, the 4-year-old has come from off the pace. Apprentice Tim Thornton rides Receivership, who drew post 3.

The likely pacesetter is It's Spooky, who finished third at 13-1 in a third-level allowance race on Jan. 14 in her first start in 46 days. The Silver Ghost filly set the pace and tired late and was beaten 2 3/4 lengths. Chirimoya and She's Zealous, the winner and runner-up in that race, are nominated to Saturday's $75,000 Correction Handicap. During the last year, It's Spooky's trainer, Jim McMullen, has done well with a small number of horses he has saddled who were making their second starts off a layoff.

Virgin Voyage did well on the inner track last year, including a close-up third in the Busher Stakes, but six furlongs is probably too short for the filly.

We'll Sea Ya and Dancen in the Sun complete the field.