Yes, Mr. Wolfe, You Can Go Home Again

by JIM WELLS

Yes, Barney, it’s true. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Check it out with Jamie Ness for the facts on the matter.

Ness is the third leading trainer in the country right now, and he’s camped out at Canterbury Park awaiting the call to post for Saturday’s 12th annual Claiming Crown. In fact, Canterbury is where Ness fell in love with racing, where he cut his teeth in the sport as a young pressbox intern just out of college and contemplating a career in maybe marketing, journalism or the like.
There was an unseen hitch in that initial plan, however. Ness had no idea at the time that he would wind up training thoroughbreds rather then simply watching them run, but that’s precisely what happened. He studied the sport inside out and _ being the hands-on guy that he is _ actually got down and dirty in the stalls for a spell. He became a trainer and climbed fast enough that he left Shakopee altogether two years ago for the East, where he keeps strings at three different racetracks _ Presque Isle Downs, Penn National and Thistledown _ shuttling horses from one location to the next on a regular basis.

“I’ve got a van constantly rotating horses around the three tracks, moving them all the time,” Ness said Thursday morning. “It’s a 365-day, 24-7 job with this many horses, and I love it.”
It was also good to come home again. “It’s really good to be back,” Ness said. “I really love this place.”

Ness used to work in simulcasting at Canterbury, too. He he took a stroll through the grandstand the other evening and discovered some things haven’t changed. “I saw a lot of familiar faces,” he said. “They were sitting in the same places they sat in years ago and I think they were even wearing the same clothes.”

So much for formalities. Ness is hunkered down in his former quarters in barn B5, with stalls right next to his cousin, Cory Jensen, who picked up the trade from….you guessed it.
Ness crammed constantly while learning the business. According to stall superintendent Mark Stancato, Ness used to study the Racing Form as if it were a schoolbook and the test were tomorrow.

Stancato went one step further in analyzing Ness’s presence for the 12th annual Claiming Crown. “Scott Lake isn’t here (this year),” he said. “He’s been replaced by Jaime Ness.”
Lake, for the unaware, is the all time leading trainer with eight Claiming Crown wins.
With Ness are five thoroughbreds he will saddle in three of Saturday’s Claiming Crown races.
Ness was a hands-on guy while learning the business. His lifestyle and workload have changed tremendously, but his hands-on approach hasn’t.

“You have to have good help, good assistants with this many horses,” he said. “That’s the key. But you could talk to them and I’m sure they’d say I’m too much involved. But you have to let your assistants make the decisions from time to time. You learn as you go in this business.”

Hands-on?

Ness hauled his horses here himself for the Claiming Crown.

Saturday’s event isn’t new to Ness. He ran horses in the Claiming Crown when he was stabled here. “They were usually overmatched. They weren’t looked at as all that live,” he said. “We were taking a stab.”

He will cut a larger swath with the “stab” he takes on Saturday.
He will saddle My Irish Girl, a 3-1 favorite, in the $75,000 Glass Slipper for fillies and mares, 3 and older, at a mile and 1/16.

My Irish Girl is trained by Brad Cox but is under Ness’s supervision on Saturday.
Ness has two horses in the $75,000 Rapid Transit, for fillies and mares 3 and older at 6 1/2 furlongs, Max Ahead, 8-1 in the morning line, and Sweeten With Gold, 9-2 second choice.
Max Ahead is the speed horse, Sweeten With Gold the closer. Ah….take it from there.
Ness has two starters in the $150,000 Claiming Crown Jewel, For All Who Conga, 5-1 in the morning line, and My Friend Nev, 7-2 second choice to Racing Bran. The Jewel is for fillies 3 and older at a mile and 1/8.

“Distance is the only question here,” Ness said. “Neither one has gone a mile and 1/8. “I think they can do it. If they’re good enough, they’ll be there.”

In the meantime, Ness will spend any spare moments he has in the stands, mingling with old friends and acquaintances. “What I really miss about this place are the people here,” he said. “My fellow trainers, the cronies in the stands. Coming from the East Coast to the Midwest, I can really tell the difference in people.”

Ness’s sentiments clearly lie with the Midwesterners. He is one himself, raised in east central South Dakota, in Wessington Springs, later graduating from South Dakota State. It didn’t take him long to realize that journalism was not what he wanted to pursue despite the degree in marketing/journalism. “I worked for the local paper when I was in college,” he recalled, “from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Everybody else was out having fun and I was working.”

Then again, what he’s doing now doesn’t leave much time for fun.

Ness, now 35, handles the nomadic lifestyle he leads routinely. “You know, it’s a gypsy lifestyle. I had to sell my house here in Shakopee,” he said. “You can’t put roots down anywhere, but I’m still young and single. It’s easier for me than for people with families.”

All of the horses Ness will saddle Saturday are owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, the leading owners in the nation. The principal guy in the ownership is Rich Papiese from Chicago. “He’s a blue collar guy who built a business doing store displays for AT&T as I understand it,” said Ness, whose 90-horse stable includes around 60 for Midwest Thoroughbreds. “He just burst on the scene in the last couple of years.”

Sort of like the fellow who trains for him.

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