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A sizzling start to the 2013-14 meeting has resulted in Jamie Ness receiving the inaugural Zerillo’s Trainer of the Month award.
Ness saddled six winners from his first 10 starters, with two seconds and two thirds. He was 6-for-6 in races on the dirt until today, thanks in part to the efforts of current Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Fernando De La Cruz.
Ness is seeking his eighth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training title, which would move him into a tie with the late Don Rice for the most in track history. Ness saddled his 2,000th career winner on Nov. 28 at Laurel in Maryland.
“Everything kind of went right (the first two weeks). When you enter races around the $10,000 claiming level, they are all pretty evenly matched, and it’s the little things you do in between that get your horse across the line first,” Ness said.
The detail-oriented Ness has 40 horses at Tampa Bay Downs and another 30 or so at Laurel, all for his sole client, Rich and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds. Even with a 25-person staff (consisting of hot walkers, exercise riders, grooms and assistants), the size of his operation requires Ness to remain diligent staying on top of each horse’s situation.
“There are a lot of variables in a race, and we do the most we can to minimize the bad things that can happen,” Ness said. “I don’t like to leg a jock up and be thinking ‘I wish I would have done this’ or ‘I wish I would have done that.’ So much goes into it. You don’t just feed a horse, enter it in a race and it runs.
“My job is to bring them up to a race in the best condition possible. You have to treat every horse as an individual. Just like human athletes, some are long-distance runners and some are sprinters, and you need to recognize that and put it into your training methods. You don’t want to under-train and you don’t want to over-train. There is a fine line you have to float to bring them to a race in peak condition,” Ness added.
Since the 2006-07 meeting, no Tampa Bay Downs trainer, and perhaps only a handful in the nation, has performed as well as Ness in that regard. He has averaged 58 winners per meet here the last seven seasons – 14 more than Rice’s highest single-season total. Ness saddled a track-record 79 winners here during the 2011-12 meeting, then proved it was no fluke everywhere else he went, finishing the 2012 calendar year with a North America-leading 395 victories.
Although the Ness express shows little signs of slowing, he has cut back somewhat to make more time for his family. Last year at this time, he was training about 100 horses at six different racetracks. The birth last year of his daughter Hannah, now 14 months, has led to a subtle shift in his priorities.
Wife Mandy, a former jockey and trainer, is expecting another daughter in June. “Having (Hannah) just shows you there are more things in life than your job,” said Ness. “I can have a bad day and lose 10 races in a row, and when I come home to see her smiling at me, that makes a huge difference. I have something every day to go to work for, and it’s her and Mandy and the family.”
Five-time leading jockey Daniel Centeno is scheduled to return to Tampa Bay Downs on Friday after spending the fall at Laurel Park in Maryland, where he ranks ninth in the current standings with 19 victories. He was third at Delaware Park earlier this year with 66 winners.
Centeno posted 90 victories during the 2012-13 meeting, 15 more than runner-up Fernando De La Cruz. His 22-percent victory rate was the best of any jockey with more than 100 mounts. From 2006-10, Centeno strung together four consecutive TBD riding crowns while averaging 1.48 winners per card.
Centeno set a Tampa Bay Downs record during the 2007-08 meeting by riding 144 winners. He has 1,884 victories in North America after a successful 14-year career in his homeland of Venezuela, mostly at La Rinconada. He is named on one horse here Friday and three Saturday.
Trainer Barbara McBride was 2-for-2 on today’s card. McBride saddled the winner of the first race, 5-year-old mare Learn the Lingo, for owner Wendi Diton (Learn the Lingo was claimed for $5,000 by Herman Wilensky for new owner Amaty Racing Stables). Angel Serpa rode Learn the Lingo.
In the fifth race, McBride sent out 4-year-old gelding Rasta Friend, who won for the second time in three starts. Owned by Neal Allread, Rasta Friend was ridden by Ademar Santos.  
Jockey Ronnie Allen, Jr., rode two winners. He piloted 2-year-old filly Strollingintherain in the sixth race for owners Marie Maelfait and Marvin Cain and trainer Joan Scott. Allen also won the eighth on 4-year-old filly Dress the Part for owner Glen Hill Farm and trainer Tom Proctor.
Thoroughbred racing resumes Friday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. There will also be racing Saturday and Sunday. Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Christmas, Dec. 25, and there will be no simulcasting Dec. 24. Otherwise, the track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

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