05/02/2008 12:00AM

Centeno, Ness shatter meet records


OLDSMAR, Fla. - The Tampa Bay Downs meet that concludes Sunday has been an interesting one from the start. It has produced record-breaking performances, heartwarming comeback stories, and a massively disappointing effort from a superstar who fell from grace here in less time than it takes to go to the fridge for a beer.

The two biggest stories around here this meet are those of leading trainer Jamie Ness and leading jockey Daniel Centeno. Dangerous in their own right, the two were deadly when they teamed up, winning 48 times from 130 starters, a 37 percent clip.

Coming into Saturday's card, Centeno had won 141 races, eclipsing his own record of 125 set last season. He did this while racing against one of the deepest jockey colonies in the history of this track. Facing jockeys like Jose Velez Jr., Rosemary Homeister Jr., and Willie Martinez, along with talented newcomers Irwin Rosendo and Pablo Morales, Centeno moved to the front at the beginning of the meeting and just continued to widen his lead, often winning two or three races a day.

Ness was equally amazing, racking up 66 wins coming into closing weekend, twice as many as runner-up Dale Bennett. Ness's total is 21 higher than the previous record of 44 set by the late Don Rice during the 2001-02 season. Ness won with horses ranging from Lookinforthesecret, who capped off his winter by winning the $250,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint at Calder, right down to the lowliest maidens.

In the midst of the Ness juggernaut, there were some newcomers who quietly had good meetings. Included in that group is Jennifer Bramblett, who won 4 races from 14 starters for a 28 percent winning average; Michael Simone, who won with 15 of 68 (22 percent); and Michael Catalano Jr., who won 10 races from 47 starters (21 percent).

Veterans make comebacks

Two veterans, one a rider and the other a trainer, overcame adversity to return to racing with success this meeting.

Ron Allen Jr., who hadn't ridden in more than four years while battling personal problems, got his life in order, returned to the saddle in the middle of the meeting, and rode as well as anyone during the final 10 weeks of the meeting. He won 37 races, cracking the top 10 in the standings.

Rick Slomkowski, who was critically injured when he was struck by an automobile last spring and spent a month in intensive care as doctors battled to save his leg, had a good season, winning with 12 of 52 starters.

Memorable Tampa Bay Derby

The single race that most people will remember from this season is the Tampa Bay Derby, where then Kentucky Derby favorite War Pass suffered a crushing defeat as the 1-20 choice. While there was no excuse given for the poor showing that day other than comments to the effect that he may not have liked the racing surface, War Pass raced only once more before being sidelined with a fracture.