Elmont resident Amira Chichakly, a longtime assistant to recently retired trainer Gary Contessa, said she is looking forward to saddling her first starter when live thoroughbred racing is able to resume at Belmont Park in June.
The veteran horsewoman spent 10 years working on and off with Contessa in addition to a one-year stint as an assistant for trainer Wayne Catalano in Kentucky.
Chichakly is currently overseeing a bustling stable of 17 horses at Belmont Park, mostly inherited from Contessa's stock, which employs up to 11 staff at any given time. Rather than dreaming of Triple Crown glory, Chichakly said she has set her sights on a more attainable goal.
"I would just like to race. Can we start there?" laughed Chichakly. "My first goal is to get in the paddock to saddle a horse.
"Beyond that, it's hard to think too far ahead right now," she added. "I'd like to always have a tight barn. I'm not looking to become a big trainer right away. I'd like to keep my stock around the number it is right now and know that I'm doing everything right with those horses and watch them grow to their potential. I'd like to see each horse I work with perform to the best of their ability."
The New Hampshire native comes by her horsemanship naturally. "I grew up around horses,” she said. "I did a lot of dressage riding. But I also did a lot of breaking younger horses, getting them started so they could be bomb-proof horses."
A trip to Saratoga inspired Chichakly to consider trying her hand with thoroughbreds. She started out as a hot walker and eventually began to gallop horses, climbing the ladder up to assistant trainer.
"I grew up running barefoot in the fields next to Arabians and thoroughbred-crosses and quarter horses, so I never hesitated...thoroughbreds just seemed like the next step," Chichakly said.
Chichakly enjoyed great success with the Contessa barn, including a special score with Sippican Harbor in the 2018 Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga Race Course. Chichakly said she learned a lot of important trainer traits from working with Contessa and Catalano.
"Being patient is a big one," said Chichakly. "Every horse is different and there are some horses where you have to stop yourself and realize they're not going to move at your pace on your schedule. And there are others that will make you realize you're babying them too much and they're ready to move on.
"Horses have good days and bad days, just like people do. They aren't machines," she added.
The hard-working trainer boasts a wide array of talents and has worked as a photographer during the past two Belmont Stakes while assisting NYRA's Adam Coglianese. She also is handy with a paint brush having created a wonderful portrait for Lady Sheila Stable of their 2015 Eclipse Award-winning Champion Female Sprinter La Verdad with her 2018 Tapit foal.
"When I'm not at the barn, I don't like to sit idle. I've done paintings on commission of horses we have in the barn and of famous horses too," Chichakly said. "I'll paint horses that are appealing to me because of their action or motion. I also do a lot of anatomical drawings. I think it helps me as a trainer to keep my mind on things, just thinking in the rhythm of the everyday, but from a different angle."
- Compiled by NYRA Communications