OLDSMAR — After Jamie Ness won his first training title at Tampa Bay Downs in 2007, he said he was so surprised, he wouldn’t have bet on himself to do it if he got a million-to-1 odds.
Now, after winning seven consecutive training titles in Oldsmar and a national title in 2012, it seems that everybody wants to bet on Ness.
The 39-year-old former aspiring sportswriter originally from Wessington Springs, S.D., is entering the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Downs meet, which resumes today at 12:30 p.m. in pursuit of an eighth title in a row. That would tie the late Don Rice for the track’s all-time record.
Ness won 46 times at TBD during the 2012-13 meet, 13 clear of Jorge Navarro and 14 ahead of Kathleen O’Connell. He did so despite ranking fifth in entries at the track.
Nationally, Ness’s 211 wins this year are tied for fourth, five ahead of Todd Pletcher and 80 behind leader Steven Asmussen (who has 573 more entries). Ness’s 26 percent win percentage is fifth among those in the top 20 in wins.
On Thanksgiving at Maryland’s Laurel Park, Ness won his 2,000th career race — a remarkable achievement considering he’s had his training license for only 15 years. Yet he remains humble, and hungry for more success.
“It’s tough every year,” Ness said in a release. “Trainers like Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O’Connell always do well here, and there are always some new shooters looking to knock you off when you’re on top. When I won the first time (the 2006-07 meet), no one even knew who I was.”
His operation is a lot bigger now than it was when he rallied to win his first title. That year he started at Tampa Bay Downs with just eight horses but claimed, and won, his way to a much bigger presence.
Now he reserves the maximum 40 stables allowed by any one trainer at Tampa Bay Downs. He does it all for his lone client, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., which hired Ness in 2009 to be its primary East Coast trainer. Midwest is TBD’s reigning top owner, and has led all owners in wins nationally each year since 2010.
Ness has three entries and an also-eligible on today’s nine-race card. The Wednesday re-opening is something new for TBD, which converted to a “year-round” racing schedule for the first time with a two-day meet June 30 and July 1. That served to end the 2012-13 meet and begin the current one, allowing for additional simulcast revenue, which has in turn led to purse boosts this season.
Most of the faces around the track are expected to be the same, with one notable exception. Reigning jockey champion Daniel Centeno is not expected to return, according to TBD vice president of marketing and publicity Margo Flynn.
Centeno, a favorite jockey of Ness during his rise to prominence, has won five TBD rider’s titles and like Ness, holds the track record for single-season wins.