NESS CLAIMS TRAINER OF MONTH
OLDSMAR, FL. – A few railbirds did a double-take today when they spotted Arnaud Delacour, the trainer of Grade III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes entrant No Dozing, schooling the colt in the paddock between races.
With six workouts on the Tampa Bay Downs main dirt surface since Dec. 31, the Lael Stables-owned No Dozing could possess an important advantage against the other main contenders. But Delacour is leaving nothing to chance in his effort to determine where No Dozing fits in the 3-year-old picture.
“He was a little bit nervous, so we need to paddock-school him again (Thursday),” Delacour said. “He’ll be fine, but he hasn’t raced for a while so he was a little bit edgy.” No Dozing, who finished second to Mo Town in his final start of 2016, the Grade II, mile-and-an-eighth Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 26, drew the outside No. 9 post for the 37th edition of the Sam F. Davis, which will be the 10th race on a 12-race Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card beginning at 12:12 p.m.
The Sam F. Davis is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” event, awarding points to the first four finishers toward qualifying for the May 6 Run for the Roses on a 10-4-2-1 basis.
Saturday’s stakes slate begins with the 37th running of the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, to be contested as the eighth race at a mile-and-40-yards on the main dirt track. Nine horses are entered in the Suncoast.
The ninth race is the 31st edition of the Grade III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf course. There are 10 entered in the Tampa Bay Stakes.
The 11th race, the 18th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, attracted a larger field of older fillies and mares than originally expected, 11 all told, due to the defection of last year’s winner, two-time Eclipse Award-winning Champion Grass Female Tepin. The 6-year-old mare was withdrawn from consideration Sunday by trainer Mark Casse after being treated for a mild case of colic.
Back to the Sam F. Davis, in which No Dozing and seven other 3-year-olds will face the unbeaten McCraken, who is ranked second to Irish War Cry in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top 3-Year-Old Poll. A victory by No Dozing would elevate him into the top tier.
“It’s been as good as it gets, so far,” Delacour said of No Dozing’s preparations for Saturday. Top Oldsmar jockey Daniel Centeno, who rode him in the Remsen, has the assignment. “He has developed very well physically and he’s been breezing well. I’m excited to be able to test him, because it’s going to be a very good race and those are the kind of horses you need to be able to compete with in order to get to the Kentucky Derby.”
Delacour, and for that matter all the trainers in the race, can’t quantify what it means to No Dozing to be stabled and training locally while the others, with the exception of Inaugural Stakes winner Chance of Luck and Six Gun Salute, ship in for the race.
“I think it always helps, not especially to work on the track but to be familiar with the scenery,” Delacour said. “You’re paddock-schooled, you’re there every day and you don’t have to ship, so there is a little bit of a stress factor that is more controllable.”
McCraken, who drew the No. 8 post, will ship in the morning of the race from trainer Ian Wilkes’ Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach. The Whitham Thoroughbreds bred-and-owned colt, who will be ridden by Brian Hernandez, Jr., concluded his 3-for-3 juvenile campaign with a victory in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.
“He’s right where I want him,” Wilkes said earlier today. “He’s a little stronger and bigger than he was last year and he has trained very forwardly, and he’s sharp. He’s ready to run.
“Any time you’re in a Kentucky Derby prep, it’s not going to be an easy race,” said Wilkes, an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger for Kentucky Derby victories by Unbridled in 1990 and Street Sense in 2007. “I expect my colt to run well, but it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t win. He’s got to face a little adversity.
“As long as we get a good race and are moving forward, that’s the important thing. The Kentucky Derby is where I want to have him at 110 percent. Is he 110 percent now? No, but he’s ready to run, he’s doing well and I’m happy with him.”
The full Sam F. Davis field in post position order, with trainers and jockeys:
Ness earns Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of Month honor. When Tampa Bay Brewing Company Trainer of the Month Jamie Ness parted ways with major client Midwest Thoroughbreds last year after a fantastic seven-year run, he was left with 25 horses and worries about keeping his stable at its accustomed level of profitability.
“I lost about half my horses at this time in 2016, and a lot of them were my better horses,” said Ness, who won nine consecutive Tampa Bay Downs training titles from 2007-2015. “If you had asked me then, I would have hoped to win 50 races last year.”
Instead, the 42-year-old conditioner returned to the basics that had launched him to success before hooking up with the Midwest operation of Rich and Karen Papiese. The son of trainer John Ness delved deeply into the claiming game, rebuilding his stable in a manner similar to a pro football general manager whose Super Bowl-winning squad is depleted by free agency.
“It was just getting back into the grind, claiming good horses, doing the work,” said Ness, who says he knew something about every horse at the Oldsmar oval before marriage and becoming a father carved new demands on his time. “Back then, I would see who caught my eye in the morning (workouts) and take notes in the afternoon on every horse that raced, how they warmed up, all that stuff.
“I don’t have the time to do that anymore, so I mostly look at a horse’s form and the Thoro-Graph Sheets numbers and watch the replays to see how a horse traveled in its previous race (before deciding whether to make a claim). We’re a blue-collar barn that makes money for ourselves and our owners by claiming horses, so that is what I have to do well to keep the business strong,” Ness said.
It didn’t take long to restore Ness Racing Stable to its familiar perch in the standings. Although he was dethroned by Gerald Bennett as the leading Oldsmar trainer last season, Ness and his wife Mandy won the Tampa Bay Downs owners title under their Jagger, Inc., banner – ending Midwest Thoroughbreds’ six-year reign.
After leaving Oldsmar, Ness won the training crown at Delaware Park with 38 victories, en route to saddling 172 winners for the year, 12th best in North America. It was a steep drop-off from a continent-high 395 winners in 2012, but it reaffirmed that Ness possesses the necessary acumen and skills to crank out winners at a prolific rate (his career strike rate is 25.5 percent).
“To win that many races last year after starting off with half the number of horses I had before, that was probably my best year ever as a trainer,” said Ness, who was especially gratified he was able to retain more than 90 percent of his full-time employees. “That’s a lot of wins for anybody after basically being cleaned out.
“I just dug back into the claiming game with my own money that I had nest-egged, and we got back to rolling pretty good. I’m thankful for the opportunity Midwest gave me, but I proved I can do it without someone else’s bankroll,” he said.
Ness, who has sent out eight winners over the last 13 racing days to move into second place in the trainer standings with 18 victories, has been as busy as any trainer on the grounds when it comes to claiming, having made seven claims while losing four at the claims box.
Four of the new additions have raced since, with three winning in their next start and another winning in its second start off the claim.
Also stabled at Laurel in Maryland and Parx Racing outside Philadelphia, Ness prefers to claim horses bred in those states because of their lucrative state-bred awards programs. Mandy and assistant Kasey Jean handle the duties locally whenever Ness travels north.
“It’s not the Dallas Cowboys, but I have my own little sports franchise right here in Ness Racing Stable,” said the trainer, who keeps about 30 horses at Tampa Bay Downs, 30 at Laurel and a half-dozen at Parx. “I’m always trying to strengthen my stable, and when I’m looking for something to claim, I’m looking for a horse that will fit in my barn and be profitable for my owners.
“If you’re not trying to get stronger, you’re going the wrong way,” he continued. “You can’t stay the same because horses depreciate over time; they are like pro football players in that they’re athletes, so they don’t last forever.
“The claiming game is good for the sport because it creates new enthusiasm among owners,” said Ness, who estimated he owns about half his stock in various partnerships. “A lot of times, it’s the only way for a blue-collar, mom-and-pop owner to get a horse. They aren’t in it to lose money, but they aren’t looking to make a million dollars. They’re invested for the action and the love of the sport.”
Ness has made a number of notable claims over the years. He claimed Lookinforthesecret for $12,500 at Tampa Bay Downs in January of 2007, winning the (then)-$75,000 Turf Dash Stakes four starts later. Lookinforthesecret won seven additional stakes over the next 14 months, including the 2008 Turf Dash, and compiled career earnings of $553,456.
Other highly successful Ness claims include Sneaking Uponyou ($25,000 claim), who won the Pelican and Turf Dash Stakes here in 2010 and set a Tampa Bay Downs record of 1:08.69 (since lowered) for six furlongs in the 2011 Florida Cup Hilton Garden Inn Sprint; Repenting ($25,000), a subsequent two-time stakes winner who finished second in the 2008 Iowa Derby; and Guam
Typhoon ($25,000), who won six races in a row, including three successive stakes, after Ness claimed him in February of 2012.
Ness estimates 75-80 percent of the horses he claims “come out on the plus end.” Trainers don’t know if a horse entered for a claiming price might have unspecified physical issues or be training poorly, but risk abounds in racing and that is part and parcel of the claiming game. “Sometimes you get one that is on a down cycle,” Ness said.”But no matter how much you claim them for, you have to assess every horse and figure out what their value is.
“It’s a falsity to think we look at them as chess pieces. They are all part of our stable and we have to treat them right and take good care of them to make them run well. It’s not like it’s a revolving door. I have to put my horse in the right spot to win, and if he’s in the right spot, there is another trainer looking at him.”
Around the oval. Daniel Centeno and Fernando De La Cruz each rode two winners today. In the sixth race, Centeno’s mount Lime Beach, a 4-year-old filly, crossed the finish line second, but was moved to first after being interfered with in the stretch. Lime Beach is owned by Alpha Delta Stables and trained by Arnaud Delacour.
Centeno added the ninth race aboard Gone Astray Kiss, a 3-year-old gelding owned by Metro Thoroughbreds and trained by Derek Ryan.
De La Cruz won the fifth race on Hoosier Boy, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Somer Hart and trained by Joan Scott. He added the seventh on Sheza Ruler, a 6-year-old mare owned by Anthony Granitz, Ron Venturini and Jeremiah Stables and trained by Granitz.
Thoroughbred racing at Tampa Bay Downs resumes Thursday with an eight-race card beginning at 12:55 p.m. The track is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
“Live It Up Challenge” set to begin. Handicappers looking to travel to Las Vegas next winter and chase a jackpot of about $800,000 will get that opportunity through the fourth annual “Live It Up Challenge” handicapping contest sponsored by Tampa Bay Downs beginning Feb. 11.
There is no cost to register for the online competition, which runs through April 2. Players must register by 10:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Feb. 11 at http://www.liveitupchallenge.com to participate.
The Grand Prize for the “Live It Up Challenge” is a seat in the 2018 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship and $1,000. Second prize is $1,000 and third prize is $500.
Ray Arsenault of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada won the recently concluded DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship from 65 other qualifiers at Treasure Island Las Vegas, collecting $800,000. The contest offered prize money totaling $2,900,600.
All wagers in the Tampa Bay Downs “Live It Up Challenge” contest are mythical. Once registered, players log on each racing day and select one horse from either of that day’s randomly selected “Challenge Races.” Each day’s winnings are based on the win, place and show pari-mutuel payouts on a player’s selection.
Each player begins the contest with a lifeline, to be used if their choice finishes out of the money. A player is eliminated from the contest when they lose all their lifelines (said player remains eligible for the “Most Winners” prize). Lifelines can be purchased upon sign-up and on Feb. 17 and March 10.
Full rules are available on the contest website. The Grand Prize is a seat in the 2018 Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship and $1,000. Second prize is $1,000 and third prize is $500.
There is also a $500 prize for the individual selecting the most winners over the duration of the contest.