05/19/2016 8:46AM

Ness enters Delaware meet with new challenge

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Tom Keyser
Jamie Ness enters the Delaware Park meet without his main client of past years, Midwest Thoroughbreds.

Batman without Robin? Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson? No way.

But then again, who in Hollywood in the 1950s would have thought Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would split up and go on to successful solo careers?

As Delaware Park launches its 79th season of racing, Jamie Ness, the leading trainer in three of the last four years, is without his powerhouse partner, Midwest Thoroughbreds. After winning nearly 1,600 races together since 2009, Ness and Midwest Thoroughbreds separated early this year.

Can Ness be successful at the suburban Wilmington, Del., track without Midwest’s supply of horses? He believes so.

“We will continue to enter our horses and see how things play out,” Ness said. “If at the end of the year we are leading trainer, that is an accomplishment. As long as we run at a percentage we need to run at and we have a good meet, that is all that really matters.”

In truth, Ness was less reliant on Midwest runners in the past two seasons at Delaware. After winning 57 races locally for Midwest in 2012 and 50 more the following year, with back-to-back trainer titles, Ness saddled just 15 winners for the stable when he finished third in the 2014 standings and 20 of his meet-high 40 winners for Midwest a year ago.

Ness has four horses entered on Saturday’s opening-day card, including Ghost Hunter in the $40,000 feature, a third-level optional $50,000 claimer at a mile and 70 yards. The 6-year-old Ghost Hunter returns to the main track, where he has recorded six of his 10 victories, following a nose defeat on turf in early April at Tampa Bay Downs.

His five opponents include horse-for-the-course Ain’t Got Time, who is 4 for 5 locally but went 0 for 5 during Oaklawn Park’s meet, and Starry Moon, a deep closer who has been first and second in his two most recent starts.

As usual, Delaware’s biggest races will take place during back-to-back Saturdays in July. The Grade 3, $300,000 Delaware Oaks and the Grade 3, $200,000 Robert Dick Memorial headline the July 9 program. A week later, the Grade 1, $750,000 Delaware Handicap and the Grade 3, $200,000 Kent will be contested.

The $100,000 Obeah, formerly a Grade 3 race and a local prep for the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap, will be run June 11.

The meet’s other big day takes place Sept. 10, when six stakes worth $75,000 apiece will be held on Owners’ Day.

There are also a pair of Grade 1 and a Grade 2 stakes for Arabians.

For trainers of blue-collar horses, Delaware has created a pair of starter-allowance series, the Belle Gallantey for fillies and mares going six furlongs and the Stymie for 3-year-olds and up in races at a mile and 70 yards and 1 1/16 miles. A $10,000 bonus will be divided among the trainers of the top three horses based on points earned in each series.