If trainer Jamie Ness has a sentimental attachment to his horses, he keeps it well-hidden during the races.
On three occasions during the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs meeting, Ness has had a horse claimed from his stable following its fourth local victory of the season. Losing a steady breadwinner is never welcome, but the victories – and the outside interest – come because Ness is a master at grasping a horse’s ability and value.
“Horses like Kitty City (9-for-9 lifetime at Tampa Bay Downs), King Rock and Favorite Patriot are hard to replace,” Ness said of his four-time winners at the meeting that now reside in new barns. “But that’s how I got them, too, by claiming them, and maybe they weren’t doing very good when I got them. They all won for me, so they go out on top.
“Good luck to the next owner, and we’ll be looking for the next ones down the road,” he added. “The reason we win multiple races is because we run horses in the right spots – which makes them more likely to be taken.”
His success through the claiming box is approaching legendary status, with about 32 percent of his claims winning in their first race for Ness in recent years.
The 39-year-old Ness – who has all but clinched an eighth consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training title with 44 victories, 15 more than current runner-up Gerald Bennett – scored his first stakes triumph of the meeting Saturday with 8-year-old gelding Sneaking Uponyou, who blew the doors off the competition in winning the Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint for Florida-breds.
Ridden expertly by Huber Villa-Gomez, Sneaking Uponyou's time was 1:09.08, .41 seconds off the six-furlong track and stakes record. The modestly-bred son of Snuck In-Chestnut Game is owned by Jamie and his wife Mandy’s Jagger Inc., outfit.
If there were a horse one might expect Ness to get misty-eyed about, it’s Sneaking Uponyou, who he claimed from his third lifetime start as a 2-year-old in October of 2008 at Hawthorne for $25,000.
“He had worked out three furlongs in 33 seconds and change, and that caught my eye,” said Ness, a virtual around-the-clock student of the game. “He was a good-looking horse in the paddock (at Hawthorne), so I dropped a claim.”
Sneaking Uponyou did not break his maiden until the following July at Presque Isle Downs (when he ran for a $22,500 claiming price; lucky Jamie) and did not really flourish until arriving at Tampa Bay Downs for the 2009-10 meeting, as he was about to turn 4. “He was a late-maturing horse, but he always had a lot of ability,” Ness said. “Putting it all together was the hard part.
“He’s pretty special,” Ness adds, but that is about as close as he’ll come to unveiling emotion. “Yesterday’s win? Oh, I don’t know, it’s right up there, I guess. It’s been four stakes races he’s won here over the years (the Pelican and Turf Dash in 2010 against open company, and his first Hilton Garden Inn Sprint triumph in 2011), so I don’t know how high this one ranks.
“It is a good season-topper, but we’ve still got another month to go and we’ll keep running hard at them.”
Sneaking Uponyou – 10-for-46 lifetime, with $459,959 in career earnings – will get a well-deserved rest, and Ness plans to start him infrequently from his Maryland base so he is well-rested for his favorite racetrack come the 2014-15 Tampa Bay Downs meeting.
Similarly, Ness – who trains primarily for Rich and Karen Papiese’s Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., operation, but it beginning to branch out – has taken little time to reflect on the significance of his ongoing domination of the Tampa Bay Downs training championship.
“Eight in a row – wow. I guess it’s a good accomplishment, but it’s not a goal when we come back every winter,” he said. “We just do our best with what we have, and if at the end of the meet our name is on top, that’s great.”
“Ness wins Tampa Bay Downs training title” may be old news, but keeping a horse like Sneaking Uponyou going strong at 8 deserves plenty of recognition.
Sneaking Uponyou’s victory was the third for Ness in Florida Cup competition. In addition to Sneaking Uponyou’s victories, Ness won the 2008 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore with Repenting. Here are the Florida Cup’s category leaders by victories through 12 runnings:
BREEDERS: Glen Hill Farm, 6; Rustlewood Farm, 3; Haras Santa Maria de Araras, 3; Live Oak Stud, 3; Jacks or Better Farm, 3. OWNERS: Glen Hill Farm, 6; Haras Santa Maria de Araras, 3; Live Oak Plantation, 3; Jacks or Better Farm, 3. TRAINERS: Tom Proctor, 6; William Mott, 5; Edward Plesa, Jr., 5; Lynne Scace, 4; Jamie Ness, 3; Manuel Azpurua, 3. JOCKEYS: Daniel Centeno, 8; Elvis Trujillo, 5; Eddie Castro, 5; Ronnie Allen, Jr., 4; Leandro Goncalves, 4.
ODDS AND ENDS. Lael Stables’ 3-year-old Kentucky homebred colt Hertzalot lived up to his potential in today’s fourth race, and then some. He rallied from near the back of the pack early to win the mile-and-three-eighths maiden special weight on the turf by a length-and-a quarter from Diamond Heist in track-record time over the grass course of 2:16.35.
Ricardo Feliciano rode the winner, who is trained by Arnaud Delacour. Hertzalot, who had two thirds and a fourth entering the race, is by top sire Smart Strike out of Megahertz, a grass-loving, multiple-Grade I winner who earned more than $2.26-million.
“He is bred to go long, but it’s hard for a horse to go a mile-and-three-eighths for the first time, especially when he is lightly-raced,” Delacour said. “Ricardo did a great job getting him to relax.”
“He did it pretty easy,” Feliciano said. “Every time I asked him for a little more, he gave it to me.”
Lael Stables is the stable name of Mr. & Mrs. M. Roy Jackson, the breeders and owners of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.
Jockeys Ronnie Allen, Jr., and Daniel Centeno each rode two winners today, with Allen extending his lead atop the Tampa Bay Downs jockey standings to 93-91 over runner-up Antonio Gallardo.
Allen captured the sixth and seventh races back-to-back. He first won on the turf on 5-year-old mare Double Ante for owner George Krikorian and trainer Tom Proctor, then scored on 4-year-old filly Georgetownstyle for owner Laramie Racing Stable, LLC and trainer Darien Rodriguez.
Centeno took the first race on 8-year-old gelding Whiskey Tap for owner Amaty Racing Stables and trainer Herman Wilensky and the third on 5-year-old gelding Shanty Bay for owner Judy Attard and trainer Rick Slomkowski.
The Krikorian-Proctor combination struck again in the 10th race on the turf with 6-year-old horse Guest Star, who rallied to win under jockey Brian Pedroza. Krikorian bred the Storm Cat-Starrer offspring.
The 10th was also the final riding assignment at Tampa Bay Downs this meeting for Angel Serpa, who finished second on Azure Dragon. He is moving his tack to Pimlico in Baltimore and departs with 36 victories, tied for fifth in the standings.
Today’s ninth race, a seven-furlong claiming affair, resulted in a dead-heat for win. The photo-finish camera was unable to separate 5-year-old gelding Tazz Time – trained by Bernell Rhone and ridden by Dean Butler – and 4-year-old gelding Give Me Liberty, trained by Carlos Garcia and ridden by Fernando De La Cruz.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a nine-race card beginning at 12:42 p.m. The track is open every day except Easter Sunday, April 20 for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.