Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness nears national crown

OLDSMAR

The proverbial horse-racing carousel seldom stops. Some get off early. Jamie Ness often is the last one aboard. • The Odessa resident has a motor that runs as fast as his thoroughbreds. He trains, he claims, he manages, he researches, he travels … and he wins. • Ness, 38, has captured the past six training championships at Tampa Bay Downs, dominance not seen since the late Don Rice won eight titles from 1994-2005. • "It's hard work," Ness said, "but if I can do it, anybody can. I would slip a little bit if I cut corners."

In less than three weeks, the Heron, S.D., native will claim his first national wins crown, beating powerhouse conditioners Steven Asmussen and Todd Pletcher. The blue-collar horseman is having a white-hot year with career highs of 383 victories and $6,580,797 in purse earnings through Thursday. He leads Asmussen in wins by 105.

Ness also has the horse with the nation's longest current winning streak, sprinter Guam Typhoon. Claimed for $25,000 in February, the son of Distorted Humor has won his past eight starts, the past three in stakes.

And Ness' client, Midwest Thoroughbreds, has eclipsed a 38-year-old national season record for victories by an owner with 519. Dan Lasater held the previous mark of 494. Owned by Richard and Karen Papiese of University Park, Ill., Midwest is going for its fourth consecutive owner's title at the Downs, and it appears to be a top contender for its first Eclipse Award. It finished second in 2011, the year Ness was hired.

"(The national title) is not something I need to have," Ness said. "It is very important to stay humble, and I am. I'm still the same as I was in 1999 when I was 0-for-41 (beginning his career at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.). I'm just a better trainer now. Obviously, I have crafted my skills tremendously since then.

"I take pride (in knowing) I started with nothing. Being from a small town in South Dakota — living in a run-down shack house — to being leading trainer in the country is pretty cool."

Ness was introduced to the sport by his father, John, and his late grandfather, L.A. Larson. Ness' dynamite season started at the Downs, where he finished the 2011-12 meet with a track-record 79 victories from 168 starts, a surreal win rate of 47 percent.

He won the title outright after sharing it the previous two seasons with Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O'Connell. Racing mainly on the East Coast, Ness also finished first at Delaware Park in Wilmington, and he leads at Laurel Park (Md.) and Penn National in Grantville, Pa.

Ness and Richard Papiese talk regularly about claiming horses.

"That's what we like to do," Ness said. "I think our business is profitable in that middle range. We don't claim for $50,000, and we don't claim for $5,000."

Guam Typhoon, sidelined with a slight injury after winning the $100,000 Changing Times Stakes on Sept. 22 at Penn National, is one of Ness' two best claims, he said. The other was Lookinforthesecret, a sprinter picked up for $12,500 in 2007. Lookinforthesecret won eight stakes, highlighted by the $250,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Championship in 2008 at Calder in Miami Gardens.

"That put me over the hump," Ness said. "Ever since I took (Lookinforthesecret), everything has been good."

Ness oversees 120 horses and 60 employees, including five assistant trainers. He has stalls for the first time at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. Odessa is home to Ness and his wife, Mandy, who own a 3,000-square-foot house 4 miles from Barn 14, where Ness has 40 stalls. "There is no way I could function without Mandy," Ness said. "She grew up in the business, so she understands."

On Oct. 18, Ness witnessed the birth of his first child, Hannah Annmarie. "I was right there and got a tear in my eye," he said. "I don't know the last time I did that."

GREYHOUNDS: The $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge finale is Race 10 (10:11) tonight at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.

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