04/26/2010 12:00AM

Ness gets close to O'Connell


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Kathleen O'Connell must feel like a Nascar driver in the final laps of a 500-mile race, checking her fuel gauge and asking for her chief competitor's lap times, as she attempts to hold off the late surging Jamie Ness stable in the battle for leading trainer in the closing days of the meet at Tampa Bay Downs.

O'Connell enjoyed the best year of her training career in 2009 and carried over that momentum to this season, leading the standings for much of the meeting.

But Ness, who started a bit slower than usual and started fewer horses here than usual, continued to win races at a high percentage and caught fire recently, sending out 9 winners from his last 27 starters.

Heading into Wednesday, O'Connell had won 48 races from 242 starters at the meeting. Ness was 47 for 137.

With just four racing programs left, Ness admits his chances of catching O'Connell are slim.

"Truthfully, I think Kathleen may have an edge the last week because we're a little thin on horses we want to start the rest of the meeting," Ness said. "She probably will send out more starters the last couple of days."

O'Connell has horses entered in six races on both Wednesday and Friday. In contrast, Ness has just two horses entered for Wednesday and one on Friday.

"If we should get lucky and catch her it would be great, but if we don't that's still okay," Ness said. "We've been attempting to concentrate more on quality than quantity, and to that end we've won more quality races this meeting than any time in the past.

"I applaud Kathleen and her crew," he added. "They're a hard-working group and she's a dedicated horsewoman I have a lot of respect for. If she wins the title, it will well earned."

Ness has won four straight training titles locally and also was the leading trainer at Presque Isle Downs last summer.

Allen holds a hot hand

Trainer Gerald Bennett and jockey Ronnie Allen Jr. headed to Miami on Saturday and teamed up to upset the $50,000 Carterista Stakes at Gulfstream Park with J's Sundance Halo ($29.80).

Allen, who along with Pablo Morales has been among the hottest riders on the track the past month or so, has won 11 races in April to give him 49 for the meet. He trails Luis Gonzales by two wins and is one win behind Morales and Huber Villa-Gomez in the battle for third place in the jockey standings behind Daniel Centeno and Rosemary Homeister Jr.