OLDSMAR — He has a mind of his own, the heart of a warrior and the legs of a frisky thoroughbred.
Stumbling Block is a Midwest Thoroughbreds marvel. At 9 years old, he may have lost a stride or two. But the gelding trained by Jamie Ness has found the fountain of youth at Tampa Bay Downs.
"(Stumbling Block) is 9 going on 3," Ness said. "He does not look like a 9-year-old, nor does he act like a 9-year-old. He's big and strong. The last time I ran him (March 25), I must have had five other trainers in the race comment on how beautiful he looked."
Bred in Illinois by Team Block, Stumbling Block can take possession of the track's win lead today in Race 2 (12:55 p.m.). He is tied with stablemate Kitty City, each with five victories. Stumbling Block's lone loss this meet was by a nose on Tampa Bay Derby day.
A lifetime earner of $372,824, Stumbling Block is a distance runner with uncanny durability. He has 72 career starts with 20 wins, all at distances between 1 and 1 3/8 miles. Only once in his seven-year career has Stumbling Block missed substantial time. A suspensory ligament issue in 2010 sidelined him for nine months.
Racing against predominantly allowance, claiming and handicap company, Stumbling Block has started at eight tracks in five states, won on three surfaces (dirt, synthetic and turf) and been ridden by 29 jockeys.
He has been claimed eight times (ranging from $5,000 to $35,000), and had 11 owners and eight trainers. Richard and Karen Papiese, the Illinois-based owners of Midwest, have purchased him three times, most recently in October for $5,000. Daniel Centeno, who has more wins than any jockey on Stumbling Block, goes for his seventh victory in 12 tries today.
Ness has served two stints as Stumbling Block's trainer. Together they have 14 wins from 29 starts.
"Of all my horses, he is the hardest horse to ride," Ness said. "He does not like to be down inside of horses. He always races out in the middle of the track and comes for home, flying on the outside. If he would run inside, I just don't know how many races he would have won."
Stumbling Block is by 1991 Grade III Clark Handicap winner Out of Place and from the Prized mare Taxable Deduction.
"Most older horses have physical issues that hamper their training style," Ness said. "They don't get as good because they don't have the young, sound legs.
"But actually (Stumbling Block) does. He is a warrior and is as solid a horse as I've got in the barn. I've got him on a routine that he does the same thing every day. I think that's why he does so good with us."
When he retires, Stumbling Block will reside at the Papieses' farm in Anthony. "He is one of my favorites," Ness said.