Count Jamie Ness among those surprised by his 6-for-6 start this season in races on the Tampa Bay Downs dirt course.
Ness, who has won or shared the track’s training title seven consecutive years, added two winners to his total Friday. The 39-year-old conditioner saddled 4-year-old gelding Favorite Patriot to win the second race and 5-year-old mare File Gumbo in the third, both for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc.
Ness, who has posted a pair of thirds in his two starts on the turf course, moved two victories up on Dale Bennett and Jason DaCosta through the first six days of the 91-day meeting.
His quick start “absolutely” exceeds his expectations, Ness said. A master at claiming horses and producing positive results, Ness lost File Gumbo to new owner Angel Perez Gonzalez and trainer James Chapman for $6,250 but claimed race runner-up Lil Escape Artist for Midwest for the same price from the barn of trainer Dane Kobiskie.
“We bring a horse over ready to run, and everything is going right,” Ness said after File Gumbo’s come-from-behind, length-and-a-quarter victory in the six-furlong event. “We’re getting good trips, good rides and good breaks and we’re in the right spots. When you put a lot of good things together, good things will happen.”
Both Ness winners were ridden by Fernando De La Cruz, who won three races for the fourth consecutive card and has 14 winners for the meeting, 11 more than his nearest pursuers.
“That’s another bonus – I’ve got Fernando De La Cruz on my horses,” Ness said. “We’ve won a couple of races by a head or a neck, and he probably made that much difference both times. So without him, I would probably be sitting here 3-for-6 instead of 6-for-6.”
Ness said he spent a month before the meeting resumed last week studying the condition book and pointing specific horses for races that filled. But no one expects to go 6-for-6. He said he did not think File Gumbo would reel in Lil Escape Artist, but strong urging from De La Cruz produced the mare’s best effort and she was easily best through the stretch.
De La Cruz won the first three races, starting the card with a seven-length romp on 3-year-old filly Indian Runner for owner George Isaacs and trainer Lynne Scace. That streak gave De La Cruz five victories and a second over a six-race span dating to Wednesday’s card.
Scace sent out two winners on the card, improving to 3-for-4 for the meeting. In addition to Indian Runner, she saddled her 4-year-old homebred gray gelding Gray Tailored Suit to win the fourth race for herself and co-owner Elsie Medeiros. Harry Vega rode Gray Tailored Suit.
Aldana Gonzalez scored her first training victory at Tampa Bay Downs in seven years in the seventh race on the turf with 4-year-old gelding Vacation Time, bred and owned by Bruno Schickedanz and ridden by Scott Spieth. Gonzalez spent the past five years as an assistant under Joan Scott.
Saturday’s 10-race card begins with a first-race post time of 12:25 p.m. The feature is the eighth race, a $25,000 conditional allowance for fillies and mares 3-years-old-and-upward. The eighth race is one of three carded for the turf course and drew a field of 13, although only 10 will start.
The morning-line favorite at 9-5 is Pin Oak Stable’s Cloud Scapes, a 4-year-old who ran second in her previous start on Keeneland’s synthetic surface on Oct. 18. Erick Rodriguez will ride Cloud Scapes for H. Graham Motion, renowned as the trainer of Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom.
Second choice at 5-2 is 4-year-old Miss Dayna Lee, owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., and trained by Jamie Ness. Miss Dayna Lee will be ridden by the white-hot De La Cruz. The Florida-bred is 7-for-29 lifetime but a sketchy 1-for-11 on the turf.
Another to keep an eye on is 3-year-old Summon the Rain, owned by Jack Reisz and Robert J. Brown and trained by William Bradley. Angel Serpa will ride Summon the Rain, who broke her maiden on the turf at Ellis Park on July 14 and added a main-track victory in claiming company at Churchill Downs on Nov. 10.
Former jockey Dr. Eddie Donnally, who competed at Tampa Bay Downs in the 1970s, worked for a short time as the track’s publicity director and won an Eclipse Award for journalism with the Dallas Morning News, will appear from noon-4 p.m. on Saturday to sign copies of his book “Ride The White Horse: A Checkered Jockey’s Story of Racing, Rage & Redemption.”
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Tampa Bay Downs Division of the Race Track Chaplaincy of America (RTCA). Donnally is a former Director of Development for the RTCA. Now an ordained minister who lives in Clearwater with his wife, Sandi, Donnally works as a staff chaplain for Suncoast Hospice and Mease Dunedin Hospital and as a trauma counselor.
Mouse the Miniature Horse will make her debut appearance of the meeting Saturday. The 6-year-old track mascot has her own Facebook Fan Page and loves children, peppermints and pats on the neck. She will be available for pictures with her fans during her stroll around the grandstand apron and the Backyard Picnic Area. Tampa Bay Downs is open every day except Christmas, Dec. 25, for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.