“We like to win”: Contessa, Bell Gable building a future
Last October 23 was a good day for Nick and Delora Beaver’s Bell Gable Stable.
Their stable star, onetime claimer Somekindofmagician, rallied late to win the Maryland Million Turf for his, and the Beavers’, second career stakes win.
And that same afternoon, Bell Gable sent out Trustyourinstinct to a maiden victory at Delaware Park. The win was Bell Gable’s 16th of the Delaware meet and turned out to be the victory that secured the meet’s owner title; Bell Gable finished with one more win than the 15 recorded by Jagger Inc.
It was also perhaps the highest point to date for the partnership between the Beavers and Gary Contessa, who, after a long career as a public trainer, now is Bell Gable’s exclusive conditioner.
And it has both Contessa and the Beavers looking for more.
“I’d love to find that two-year old stakes winner. Find a graded stakes winner. I’d really like to win a Grade 3 or a Grade 2, but especially a Grade 1,” Nick Beaver said.
For Contessa, who has been where Beaver wants to go, his objectives are simple: “My goals are to keep Nick winning and to try and get him to a different level where he’s enjoying the fruits of this game at a higher level.”
Currently, Bell Gable has four yearlings, four weanlings, and six broodmares in their breeding program, at both Country Life Farm and Sycamore Hall near the Beavers’ home in Maryland. With mares in foal to stallions like Golden Lad, Central Banker, and other Maryland stallions, both the Beavers and Contessa have great hopes for Bell Gable’s future.
Bell Gable has six wins at the current Delaware meet, tying it with Runnymoore Racing LLC for the meet lead by wins and nine wins overall on the season.
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All of which makes it hard to remember that Contessa actually stepped away from training a couple of years ago.
In early 2020, after more than three decades, Contessa called it quits, citing his wife’s health concerns and what the trainer called “the nonsense of training in New York. The drama. The politics.”
He went to work for the broadcasting arm of New York’s Capital OTB betting service and worked as a bloodstock advisor to New York owners. It was yet one more twist in the road in Contessa’s long love affair with racing.
Growing up in Merrick, on the south shore of New York’s Long Island, Contessa did not come from a family of horsemen like many trainers do. His father was a mail carrier, and his mother drove a bus.
Young Gary, though, gravitated toward horses early. He said he was begging for pony rides as young as three years old and exchanging mucking stalls for time in the saddle as a preteen. A stint at the New York harness track Roosevelt Raceway as a teenager convinced him that he wanted to work with Thoroughbreds rather than Standardbreds.
After high school, Contessa started as a hotwalker at Aqueduct Racetrack and moved up through the ranks to assistant for trainers like Frank “Pancho” Martin, who conditioned stakes winners like Sham and Outstandingly, and Harbor View Farm’s Stanley Hough.
Contessa opened his public stable in 1985, immediately finding success. He earned two NYRA Trainer of the Year titles and won more than 20 graded stakes. He found Grade 1 glory in the 1991 Ashland, with Do It With Style, and in the 2018 Spinaway with Sippican Harbor.
The demands of running a public stable increasingly took him away from doing what he loved most, though, developing horses, and finally in 2020 he closed up shop.
But not for long. In fact, It was Contessa’s decades of experience developing young horses that prompted Bell Gable Stable’s Nick Beaver to seek out the trainer’s expertise.
Beaver essentially grew up at Waterford Park, now known as Mountaineer Park Racetrack in Chester, West Virginia. His mother worked as a server in the track’s clubhouse, often bringing Nick and his siblings to work with her. This led to chances to work on the track’s backside with trainers like Dale Baird and Ronald Nolan. He even contemplated being a jockey, but eventually Beaver moved to Florida, where he took a job in construction and met his wife, Delora.
From there, the Beavers built multiple contracting businesses up and down the East Coast, allowing them the opportunity to dip their toe back into the sport that had been such a huge part of Nick Beaver’s youth: horse racing.
“We started by claiming one horse,” Beaver recalled. “By the end of the week, we had four.”
With that, they started Bell Gable Stable in 2017, their black with teal and white silks designed by Delora.
Based primarily in the Mid-Atlantic, the couple initially had horses with trainers like Jamie Ness, Anthony Farrior, and Jesse Cruz. They won their first race in February 2018 with Premier Event (JPN), increasing their investment in the sport each year.
In October 2020, the couple purchased a colt by Flatter at the Fasig Tipton Fall Mid-Atlantic Yearlings Sale for $250,000 and soon realized that they needed help understanding what to do with this new purchase.
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“Once I had him and we got him, what do I do with him? He was by far the most expensive horse we’d ever bought,” Beaver reflected.
That is when he reached out to Contessa.
Contessa said he could help with this colt, registered as Maryland Brando. Conversations about developing the colt led the Beavers to strike a deal with Contessa, bringing the trainer out of retirement as Bell Gable’s private trainer in late 2020. The relationship is an ideal one for the Beavers.
“A private trainer like that is great because he has time to talk and explain everything there is,” Nick said. “Gary has taught me and Delora so much… We care about the sport and we care about the horses. We were willing to invest in it. We like to race. We like to win.”
Contessa echoed the advantages of working as Bell Gable’s private trainer:
“Being a private trainer allows me to be 100% a horse trainer,” he said. “I can think about my horses and build my program to suit the horses I have.”
At the stable’s home at Delaware Park, the trainer has set up shop, planting flowers and painting the barn, making his new office a homey one for him and for the stable’s twenty-three horses in training.
More than a year into his new job as private trainer, Contessa’s partnership with Bell Gable brings him back to what he loves: developing horses.
“I start from scratch. I plan the matings. I get to see the babies after they’re born,” he said. “I get to watch them develop. I get to see them through the breaking and training process. They’re part of the family. Right now, I really love what I do.”
For Nick and Delora Beaver, they look forward to what’s next for their Mid-Atlantic stable. They are considering sending their new racehorses down to South Carolina for training while also trying their hand at winter racing in Tampa with their current stable, including Somekindofmagician.
For a trainer once driven out of the game by “the drama, the politics,” the opportunity to focus on the horses brings him back to first principles.
“When all of the worldly things have you down and out, the horses pick you up,” Contessa says. “They’re kind animals and they do so much for humans.