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Published Mar 29, 2024
by Mike Henry
Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Jamie Ness

With the Dubai World Cup, the Arkansas Derby and the Curlin Florida Derby on Saturday’s international racing schedule, the second race at Tampa Bay Downs will be generally overlooked.

Which matters not in the least, it can be presumed, to 5-year-old chestnut mare Paper Mansion, who already has rewarded her backers in Oldsmar with a meet-high four victories from four starts.

The last three have come in the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test, a starter handicap series of four races for horses 4-years-old-and-upward which have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less since Jan. 1, 2023.

Paper Mansion will go for the sweep against five rivals in Saturday’s fourth and final leg, a mile-and-three-eighths race on the turf, course conditions permitting (the prospects for keeping it on the turf appeared promising at the finish of today’s card).

Turf or dirt, Kevin Gomez will be aboard, as he has been for all four local triumphs. If Paper Mansion wins, she’ll be the first horse of either sex to sweep the series since Brother Pat in 2015.

Jamie Ness, who owned and trained Brother Pat when the 6-year-old gelding swept the series, trains Paper Mansion while owning her under his Jagger Inc., banner, in partnership with Longball Stables. He expects her to put forth another excellent effort, but knows the 11-furlong distance could be an obstacle – especially considering her weight impost of 127 pounds.

It’s the most she has ever been asked to carry. Brother Pat’s biggest impost in his four-race sweep was 124 pounds. Paper Mansion will be giving 9-to-13 pounds to her opponents, including 6-year-old mare Inanna’s Quest, who won last year’s fourth leg of the Fillies and Mares Division of the Tampa Turf Test.

Ness, who has been selected as the Boot Barn Trainer of the Month after climbing to sixth in the Tampa Bay Downs standings with 21 winners, knows Paper Mansion’s record isn’t built on a flimsy foundation. Her career has gone in an entirely different direction since being moved to the turf, with six victories and a second from seven starts skipping along the surface old-time bettors used to refer to as “Dr. Green.”

The daughter of Tu Brutus-Gymnast Jadie, by Concord Point, enters Saturday’s race with five consecutive victories.

Her conditioner is as concerned as any owner and trainer might be about the added weight, but accepts the race conditions as written and is excited to see if she can draw upon her wellspring of determination and talent to win again.

“The extra pounds are (designed to be) an equalizer – that’s what makes it hard. The better you do, the more weight you carry and the longer you go,” Ness said. “She is up against it, but I’m looking forward to seeing her run again. She really likes the turf course there, she has speed and she can carry it a long way.”

Ness, who also maintains stables at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania and Laurel Park in Maryland, will watch Paper Mansion compete from Aqueduct in New York, where he has four horses entered Saturday. His cousin and Oldsmar-based assistant, Cory Jensen, will saddle Paper Mansion.

A Chesapeake City, Md., resident, Ness is the leading trainer at both Laurel and Parx, where he is bidding for his fifth consecutive title (Parx runs its meet from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, so stay tuned, but not really; his margin from the runner-up at Parx each of the last four years has made Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont romp look like a photo finish). Ness has won the last nine titles at Delaware Park.

The 49-year-old South Dakota product had 4,270 career winners at press time. He ranked first in North America in 2012 with 395 victories, second in 2010, 2011 and 2023 and third in 2021 and 2022.

From 2006-2007 through 2014-2015, Ness won nine consecutive Oldsmar training titles – tying Kathleen O’Connell for first in 2009-2010 and Gerald Bennett in 2010-2011 – and returned here last fall for the first time in seven years with horses such as Paper Mansion, the good Florida-bred sprint gelding Spikezone and two-turn specialist Passage of Lines, a 6-year-old Florida-bred gelding, among the top contributors to the Oldsmar division’s success.

“We’re just trying to get better every year. The mid-Atlantic tracks are close (geographically), so we’re able to move our horses around a lot, which helped us be the leader at three different tracks last year,” he said.

Wife Mandy Ness, a former jockey and trainer, runs the family’s St. Augustine Farm in Chesapeake City, foaling the couple’s 20 broodmares and handling the bookwork. “This wouldn’t work without her,” Jamie noted. The 3-year-old gelding Speedyness (by Great Notion out of Hartigan, by Include) is a product of the Ness breeding operation under its Jagger Inc., banner and is 5-for-10, including a victory on Feb. 24 in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel.

“You can see we have a lot of irons in the fire, and our girls, who are 11 and 9, just got done with basketball and are going into volleyball and flag football, plus one is into pony racing and the other is into theater,” Ness said. “I don’t want to miss out on any of that stuff, and some day I’m going to slow down, but I don’t know when because when you love your job, it’s hard.

“We’re up to 65 employees and we have a nice infrastructure in place with good people, so we’re going to keep pushing hard. And with Cory at Tampa, I don’t have to worry about anything there. We’ve always been close and we usually think alike.

“I guess I’m just getting better at delegating,” he added.

So Paper Mansion is a small cog in a big wheel, yet her efforts aren’t overlooked. Assistant Jensen, on the ground in Oldsmar, says she has two additional factors working in her favor.

“She’s fast, and if she doesn’t go too fast (early) she has no excuse to get in trouble. And Kevin fits her real well. He’s got great hands, and he puts his hands down and lets her do her own thing and get comfortable,” Jensen said.

Around the oval. Ness also has the highweight and probable favorite in the Males Division of the Tampa Turf Test in 6-year-old gelding American Unity, who dead-heated with Irwani in the third leg on Feb. 24. American Unity, who will carry 121 pounds and be ridden by Antonio Gallardo, is part of a nine-horse field in the sixth race.

Saturday’s 10-race card begins at 12:15 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs will be closed Easter Sunday, then reopen Monday for simulcasting, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.

The next day of racing will then be Wednesday.

In addition to the usual slate of simulcast action Saturday, headlined by the $1.5-million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park and the $1-million Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa at Gulfstream Park, Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast the last three races of the Dubai World Cup card from Meydan Racecourse in Dubai upon the gates opening here at 11 a.m.

Those races are the Dubai Turf Sponsored by DP World, the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic and the $12-million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline, which has drawn a field of 12 including defending champion Ushba Tesoro, Saudi Cup winner Senor Buscador (who beat Ushba Tesoro by a head in that race) and the improving Newgate from the barn of trainer Bob Baffert.

Earlier on the card, two-time Tampa Bay Downs Pelican Stakes winner Sibelius, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Jun H. Park and Delia Nash and trained by Jerry O’Dwyer, will try to repeat his victory in last year’s Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Nakheel. Ryan Moore will ride Sibelius, as he did last spring in Dubai.

Boot Barn Trainer of the Month Jamie Ness

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