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Three Tampa Bay Downs grads in Kentucky Derby

OLDSMAR — For Jamie Ness and the other trainers at Tampa Bay Downs, it is time to look ahead. Time to clear out the stalls. Time to try different venues.

It is moving weekend at the Downs, which ends its 87th season of thoroughbred racing Sunday. The Downs season officially won't end until June 30, when it will hold one extra day of racing.

"Everybody is in the same deal," Ness said. "They've got an addiction for the horses. You're always glad to get here from another meet. Then when the meet is over, you're ready to get to another one. It's more of a gypsy lifestyle, and it breaks up the long year."

Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day. But today is a special one for the Downs. For the first time, the top three finishers in the Tampa Bay Derby — undefeated Verrazano, Java's War and Sam F. Davis winner Falling Sky — will start in a Kentucky Derby.

The first jewel of the Triple Crown will be simulcast from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., to the Oldsmar oval, Derby Lane in St. Petersburg and the Tampa Greyhound Track. All three area sites open at 10 this morning. The Run for the Roses is Race 11 at 6:24 p.m.

Ness said it will "be cool" to see the Tampa Bay Derby trio in the Kentucky Derby, but he doubts any of them will become the third Oldsmar graduate to win the 1¼-mile classic. "I really like Orb," Ness said. "He seems like a horse that is getting better every time he runs. He's bred for longer distances, and all I hear in the backstretch is how good that horse is and how good he's coming into this race. I think Verrazano is going to be a little bit short."

Ness, 38, will leave the Downs with his seventh consecutive training championship (he shared it twice, with Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O'Connell). He didn't overpower his rivals the way he did in 2011-12, when he set a track record for victories with 79 (47 percent win rate). Ness leads with 46 wins from 134 starts, 13 ahead of Jorge Navarro. The Odessa resident leads in purse earnings at $490,397.

"I didn't even have a clue (it was seven titles in a row)," Ness said. "It seems like yesterday when we got our first one. We had another solid, consistent year, and it worked out. It was just a grind. We won two, three or four races every week."

Some of the horses Ness usually runs at the Downs competed this year at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, where the Heron, S.D., native won 11 races. Ness, who captured his first national wins crown in 2012, will consolidate his operation this summer. He will have 75 horses at Delaware Park in Stanton and 25 at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. Ness' client, Midwest Thoroughbreds, will be the Downs' leading owner for the fourth straight season.

DERBY LANE DOGS: Venus Espinosa of Patriot kennel goes for his 60th career win today in Race 6 (1:54 p.m.). … The $20,000 Gold Trophy Juvenile Stakes begins tonight in Races 4, 6, 8 and 10.

Three Tampa Bay Downs grads in Kentucky Derby 05/03/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 10:41pm]
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