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Ness Arrives in Shakopee (5/9/2008)

BY JIM WELLS Trainer Jamie Ness was back on the grounds Wednesday evening and pleased to have reached his destination.”It’s good to be home,” he said.Even though the trip from Tampa, Fla., was a bit pricier than a year ago.”I guess I’ll start out about $40,000 in the hole,” said Ness, who is undergoing the same gas pains that other trainers are experiencing this year.Ness figures the trip cost him about $1,000 a horse. (Do the math to determine the size of his stable!)That was up about 10 grand from last year.Ness arrived in Shakopee with a smile on his face just the same.A year ago, one of his owners put a sign outside Ness’s barn informing passersby that Ness had just won the training title at Tampa Bay Downs.The sign is out-of-date now. Ness won the title again this year _ in convincing fashion.Last year, Ness claimed the title with the very last horse he saddled, his 38th winner. It wasn’t so dramatic this season. He made 68 trips to the winner’s circle, 35 in front of the man in second, Dale Bennett.Ness’s total eclipsed the previous record at Tampa Bay. Don Rice, an eight-time training champ at Tampa Bay, had 44 in 2001-2. Ness’s horses won nearly $1 million this season, also a record at the track.Despite his grand winter, Ness doesn’t plan to update the sign in front of his barn. “No, I’m going to take it down,” he said. “One of my owners put it up, but I want to stay humble. I’m the same guy I was when I went 0-for-56 one year.”Ness prefers to avoid the highs and lows that are a part of racing whenever he can. “I just aim for consistency,” he said. “If you have good horses, good owners, good help and ride the good jockeys…whenever you put those things together, good things usually happen.”Ness likes to surround himself with solid, hard-working people, not necessarily home-run hitters, but people who produce day-in-and-day-out and enjoy what they’re doing. “You know, the best thing about the last two years,” Ness added, “is that we’ve had consistency month to month, track to track. That’s what I like — consistency.”Jockey Paul Nolan will have first call at Ness’s barn. Ness likes Nolan’s consistency, of course, but the two developed a relationship for other reasons.”When I was first starting out I didn’t have very good horses,” Ness recalled. “I couldn’t get many jockeys, but Paul always came over and helped me out. He rode my first winner _ Blue Rocket, the only horse that won for me the entire meet.”Nolan’s helping hand opened the door to the relationship, but he had to prove himself nonetheless, something he’s done time and time again for Ness.”We have a very good rapport,” said Ness. “Paul is about as competitive as you can get.”Competitive to a fault. If Ness has more than one horse in a race and Nolan isn’t on the winner, Ness hears about it.”Paul’s very competitive and if one of my other horses beats him, he gets pissed. He’ll ask me why he wasn’t on the winner. That’s something I like about him.”Ness is glad to be back in Minnesota, but he’ll be tuned in to a race in Pennsylvania Saturday night.He has a three-year-old named Repenting running in a $100,000 six-furlong stakes at Presque Isle Downs. “He looks good in there,” said Ness. “I’m thinking big things with this horse. We claimed him for $25,000 in Tampa.”The horse will catch a van to Canterbury on Sunday, but Ness says there’s nothing for him here in the short term and he might send him to Iowa for a race. In the meantime, Ness has horses here to watch as well.He has four horses entered on Saturday’s card and thinks they’ll be just fine in spite of the long trip. “They should be OK,” he said. “But a lot of them had a tough winter and are a little tired. I try not to run them too hard.”At the same time, he sure could use a couple of winners to get the meet here under way.Something about his latest gasoline bill.