NESS HITS STRIDE; CUP CHAMP HEADS TURF DASH LIST; GALLARDO WINS 4

by Mike Henry

Order has been restored to the Oldsmar oval, at least for the time being. With two victories from two starters today, nine-time leading Tampa Bay Downs trainer Jamie Ness sits atop the 2015-2016 meeting standings with 10 victories.

There was no visible change in his demeanor from Saturday, when he went 0-for-5, with a second and a third. “I thought I had five live horses yesterday and won nothing. Today I didn’t know, and I won two,” Ness said. “If they were consistent all the time, we wouldn’t be betting because it would be the same outcome every time.”

Enough bettors dug deep on 5-year-old mare Indy Breeze before the third race to drive her odds to 4-5, but as the field turned for home, it appeared the Florida-bred would be hard-pressed to run down long shots Spanish Concert and Fiesta Rose. But the track’s top jockey, Antonio Gallardo, found a pair of openings – one between horses at the eighth pole, the other along the rail in deep stretch – to pull out victory in the six-furlong affair by a half-length.

Ness and Gallardo also teamed to win today’s second race with 4-year-old Florida-bred colt Tree Fire.

“It was (Gallardo’s) second time riding both horses, and that always helps,” Ness said. “When it comes down to those close photos, little things matter. Over a period of time cream will ride to the top, and there is a reason he is on top (of the jockey standings).”

In the case of Indy Breeze, Ness was feeling good after claiming her for $20,000 for owner Midwest Thoroughbreds from a runner-up effort at Parx Racing on Sept. 29. But she was thrust into limbo a couple of days later, when a 2-year-old filly at the Philadelphia-area track tested positive for the equine herpesvirus, resulting in a quarantine of the stable area.

Indy Breeze didn’t join the Ness stable until four weeks later, but managed to keep her form, winning her first start locally on Dec. 9 for the same non-winners of 2/other-than condition. “It looks like the month off worked pretty good,” Ness said. “Older fillies and mares like this, the key is keeping them happy. You train them lighter than you would an older gelding and it keeps them fresh. Whatever we are doing in our program, she seems to relish.”

Yet there are never any guarantees. Ness had a good feeling Saturday about Babe’s Ruler, the 4-year-old filly he’d claimed two starts back, but she showed little in the second leg of the Tampa Turf Test after debuting in his barn with a four-and-a-half length victory here Dec. 12. “I have no excuse. She trained good into it, but she didn’t have that snap,” he said.

Ness, who is fourth in North America in 2015 with 232 victories, is excited about the potential of his 2-year-old colt One More Shot, winner of a mile-and-40-yard maiden special weight contest here Wednesday by eight lengths in his career debut. “He looks like he is going to be a good one,” Ness said. The West Virginia-bred is owned by Niall J. Brennan.

All in all, it has been a good December for Ness, setting him up for a run at a 10th consecutive track training title while perennial contenders Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O’Connell perform their Sisyphean labors.

“Over a year’s period, the ups and downs make it all even. I usually start off a little slow here because a lot of my horses are up north,” said Ness, who trains a string at Laurel in Maryland. “We get better as time goes on, so I think it was an unusually good month for our stable.”

Mongolian Saturday heads Turf Dash nominees. The 5-year-old gelding Mongolian Saturday, who won the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland on Oct. 31, heads an impressive list of 29 nominees for the $100,000, five-furlong Turf Dash at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 9.

Mongolian Saturday is owned by Mongolian Stable and trained by Enebish Ganbat. He had finished in the money in 11 consecutive starts before a recent fifth-place effort in the Longines Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin. The international traveler has competed at 14 racetracks in his 32-race career.

Other top Turf Dash nominees include 2015 winner Bold Thunder, who set the Tampa Bay Downs course record of 54.63 seconds in last season’s renewal; 2014 Turf Dash winner Ancil; Fast Flying Rumor, who won the Turf Dash Prep on Dec. 11; and the 4-year-old filly Richies Sweetheart, who won the Lightning City Stakes on Dec. 19 against members of her own sex.

Down the stretch. Veteran Jose Ferrer continued his early-meeting success, riding two winners for the second consecutive day to give him 3,994 for his career. He won the fifth race on 3-year-old gelding Saturdaywhataday, owned and trained by Saul Matos. Ferrer scored in the eighth race on the turf on 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding Stirling Castle, who paid $26 to win. Stirling Castle is owned by Hot Scot Racing Stables and trained by Dennis Ward.

The 51-year-old Ferrer has 12 victories during the current meeting, second to Antonio Gallardo’s total of 30. And while a two-victory day for Ferrer, or any jockey, is news, Gallardo posted a “quiet” four victories for the fifth time during the meeting.

In addition to his two victories for Ness, Gallardo won the ninth race on 4-year-old filly Fionetta, owned by Equiforce and Joanne Patten and trained by Dale Bennett. Gallardo then seemed to manufacture a victory from thin air in the 10th, rallying 3-year-old gelding Hard Thunder on the far outside on the turf course.

Hard Thunder is a homebred racing for Mercedes Stables and trained by Keith Nations.

The biggest surprise of the afternoon occurred in the fourth race on the turf, when 4-year-old gelding Chicks Dig Bodie and jockey Gary Wales stole a long lead and held on for a head victory from Quieter America. Chicks Dig Bodie, bred and owned by Stacy Sandbothe and trained by Joseph Arboritanza, paid $83.60 to win as the longest shot in the race following his first career victory in five starts.

Arboritanza said Wales has been working the horse and was confident he belonged in the field of maiden claimers. “Gary has been a great help. Having a great team makes a huge difference,” Arboritanza said.

The Cody’s Original Roadhouse Race of the Week, the seventh race on the card, produced a whirlwind rally by Kinsley, which got up in the final jump to defeat Street Song by a head. The winning 3-year-old filly is owned by Cheyenne Stables and trained by Todd Pletcher and was ridden by Manoel Cruz. The time for the mile and 40 yards was a good 1:41.37.

Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Wednesday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:25 p.m. The feature is the third race, an allowance/$32,000 optional claiming event for horses 3-years-old-and-upward going seven furlongs. The morning-line favorite at 2-1 is the 5-year-old gelding Purple Egg, winner of the 2012 Inaugural Stakes locally and now in the barn of Ness.

Tampa Bay Downs will be open New Year’s Eve for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility. The Thoroughbreds return to action Jan. 1, all a year older.