OLDSMAR — Have horse, will travel.
Jamie Ness can be as challenging to keep up with as many of his thoroughbreds. On the final day of March, he won the $50,000 Shine Again Stakes with Sneaky Lil at Pimlico in Baltimore. Two weeks later, he was at Charles Town, W. Va., where his Lady of Greatness finished fourth in the $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes.
Ness, an Odessa resident, calls Tampa Bay Downs his home track. But when the Oldsmar meet ends May 6, Ness will focus on having horses in the right spots at tracks up and down the East Coast.
Ness, 37, will win an unprecedented sixth consecutive training championship this season at the Downs. This one will be particularly special. Entering Friday, the Midwest Thoroughbreds conditioner had a record 75 victories from 162 starts, smashing his previous mark of 68 wins in 2007-08. His closest competitor, Jorge Navarro (29 wins), wasn't close. Ness' win rate was a surreal 46 percent with an in-the-money percentage of 77. His horses had earned $830,686.
"I'm actually surprised (by the win margin)," Ness said. "We stuck to our guns and ran a conservative meet. You can't run hard year-round or the horses won't hold up. If a horse gets tired or a little ouchy, I can take them to the (Midwest) farm (in Anthony) and give them a break. The key to my help is I don't have any turnover. Mandy (Ness' wife) runs the show when I'm not (at the Downs)."
Ness' career began to take off on Jan. 5, 2007, when he claimed Lookinforthesecret at the Downs. A $12,500 purchase, the sprinter won eight stakes races under Ness and put the Heron, S.D., native on the thoroughbred map. Ness later was hired by Midwest co-owners Richard and Karen Papiese of University Park, Ill. Midwest will be the Downs' leading owner for the third straight year.
Last year, Midwest topped the nation in wins and purse earnings, finishing a close second in Eclipse Award voting for the sport's best owner. Ness and his wife attended the Eclipse ceremony in Beverly Hills, Calif. After it was announced that Ken and Sarah Ramsey had beaten Midwest by a 66-60 vote, Ness told the Papieses, "We want to be first next year."
They are well on their way. Midwest ranks first this year in wins and purse earnings by wide margins. Ness, second nationally in victories the past two seasons behind Steven Asmussen, is No. 1 this year.
Ness is always looking to upgrade his stock. Entering Friday, he had been involved in 24.3 percent of the 259 claims at the Downs. Ness had claimed 34 horses (totaling $432,000) and lost 29.
"When you're claiming horses, it takes a lot of background work," he said. "It's very time-consuming from morning to night."