Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Jamie Ness nears 8th consecutive Tampa Bay Downs title

OLDSMAR — The more things change for Jamie Ness, the more they stay the same.

His horses are often on the move, the result of a claiming game that Ness said accounts for 90 percent of his success. That approach has him on the verge of his eighth consecutive conditioning title at Tampa Bay Downs.

Ness, 39, will tie Don Rice for most crowns since 1980, when the track began documenting records. Rice's titles were from 1994-2005. Ness entered Friday with an 18-win lead over Gerald Bennett. Only 10 dates remain in the meet, which officially ends June 30.

Flexibility has led to Ness' fame. This season, he has claimed 21 horses at the Downs totaling $215,750. His new runners have combined to finish first in 10 of 35 starts, a 28.6 winning percentage similar to his 29.3 percent meet win rate (49 victories from 167 starts). Ness has lost 20 horses at the claiming box.

"It's just taking the best horse out of the race," Ness said. "I've got my program that I put them on. Most of the times, they do good … sometimes they don't.

"There's so much (work) you put into it. You've got to take care of your horse, and make sure he comes over fit, sound and ready to go. You've got to have the horse to do it, too. It's a very complicated process."

The decline in the foal crop and smaller race fields have made claiming more challenging to Ness, who has undergone personal growth in the past decade.

When Ness arrived at the Downs in 2004-05, the only year he hasn't won or shared a title, the Heron, S.D., native was single, lived in an apartment, and had career totals of less than 170 wins and $1.5 million in purse earnings.

Now he is married, lives in a 3,000 square foot house in Odessa, and is closing in on 2,100 victories and $30 million in purse money. Ness and his wife Mandy are parents to 18-month-old daughter Hannah and expect another girl in June.

The apex of Ness' career came in 2012, when he captured a national title with 395 victories for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds.

The Ness-trained Flashy Eyed Pearl gave Midwest its 2,000th win on April 12 at Pimlico in Baltimore, two hours before Guam Typhoon, one of Ness' top claims, won at the Downs. "I probably have 1,500 wins (for Midwest)," he said.

Ness will be based this summer at Bowie Training Center in Maryland and race the Mid-Atlantic circuit.

"It was a great decision for me to come (to Oldsmar)," he said. "But at first, it was kind of iffy."

Mandy, a former jockey, said Jamie has changed her life, too.

"He's a great father, he's a great husband — very supportive," she said. "I get to come to work and do something that I love with the person I love."

EASTER SCHEDULE: Tampa Bay Downs and greyhound track Derby Lane will be closed on Easter Sunday. Tampa Greyhound Track will be open, beginning at 10 a.m.

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