01/03/2009 1:00AM

Ness's hot start last year proves tough to repeat


OLDSMAR, Fla. - After 11 days of racing at Tampa Bay Downs, through Friday, trainer Jamie Ness had four wins, which put him just one from the lead in the trainer standings. But the common comment heard among horseplayers thus far this season has been, "What's wrong with the Jamie Ness outfit?"

When one gets off to a blistering start and sets a record for races won at a single meeting, as Ness did during the 2007-08 Tampa meeting with 68 wins, it's only normal that people will wonder if it's possible to keep up such a pace again. Relax, folks - according to the man in charge, things this season may be different, but they'll be just fine before all is said and done.

"Yeah, I've heard some of the comments, but folks on the outside don't know how things change in a stable from year to year," Ness said. "It just so happened we came in with quite a bit more horses who were fit and hadn't been on the farm or out of training when last year's meeting started, and we got off to a flying start. We had a big first six months of the year, then tailed off more than I would have liked the last six months, so we are trying to pace ourselves a little better this season."

Another factor is that Ness has his barn split between Tampa and the Midwest for the time being.

"You have to remember, I've got almost half the stable still at Hawthorne, and they'll be there until the meet's over on January 11," the trainer said. "Then I've got a number of horses turned out or being given a rest right now, including several good ones, so while I'm confident we're going to do well this meeting, people should understand that we're starting slower than last season.

"In this day and age, with the economy like it is, you have to plan long term as much as you can and cycle your stock - otherwise you wind up dead in the water."

Several of Ness's top runners are currently on the shelf, including Lookinforthesecret, a bargain $12,500 claim who ran up some 14 wins and earnings of more than $500,000 during the past two seasons.

"We had originally planned to bring him back later this meeting and shoot for some of the turf-sprint stakes here, but he's had some issues with his feet, so those plans are on hold for now," Ness said. "We're also bringing Repenting back and hopefully he'll be ready to run later in the meeting. He won the Sophomore Stakes here on Florida Cup Day and I'm still high on him.

"Then there's Tytus, who set the track record here for 6 1/2 furlongs last season; he's also on his way back, so we're going to be all right. It's a long meet."

Dee's Rose notches a win for Bennett

The Dale Bennett barn, another classy outfit that has been a bit quiet in the early days of the meeting, sent out two winners on Wednesday's program, including an eye-catching victory by Dee's Rose, who was making just her second start since April.

Dee's Rose contested the pace from the outset of a 6 1/2-furlong allowance, then drew off smartly when asked by jockey Andrew Ramgeet and pulled away to an impressive 6 1/2-length victory. She was timed in 1:10.94 for six furlongs and 1:17.60 at the wire, just more than a second over the track record of 1:16.20.

Bennett was pleased with the effort by Dee's Rose, who had to go to the sidelines this past summer with a small shin problem. He is now thinking about middle distance and turf for the daughter of Straight Man.

"She's got some turf blood on her dam's side and she worked well over the Polytrack at Arlington, so we're hoping she'll take to the grass," he said. "There are more opportunities on turf and middle distance, and horses like her seem to carry their speed better over the grass, so we're going to give her a try and see what happens."

The win aboard Dee's Rose was one of three on the Wednesday card for Ramgeet, who is having his best start ever here.

* Ronnie Allen Jr. and Daniel Centeno each posted a riding triple Friday. Centeno leads all riders through Friday's program with 17 wins, and Rosemay Homeister Jr. is second with 12, one more than Allen.