01/23/2012 1:35PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Jeffries still in the game


OLDSMAR Fla. – There were a number of smiling faces at Tampa Bay Downs last Friday when Robert Jeffries sent out Cover Price to upset a tough field of allowance rivals in the ninth race to the tune of $71.40.

While a few of those happy folks may have had tickets on the winner, a number were just pleased to see the 66-year-old Jeffries hit the winner’s circle. Jeffries has been running horses at Tampa for 36 years. He is one of the few local trainers who has managed to stay in the business and win races through a period where Tampa Bay Downs has evolved from a sleepy Southern track with modest purses and a number of mom-and-pop breeding and training farms to an operation with bigger purses that now attracts high-profile owners and trainers. Progress always has its victims, and in the case of Tampa Bay Downs a number of small outfits fell by the wayside through the years.

Jeffries is one of the survivors. His stable isn’t a big one – he has nine stalls – and he will probably never challenge for leading trainer, but year after year he plugs away, and 2010 was his best season ever, with 14 wins.

Willie Martinez, who began his career at Tampa in 1989 and has won over 3,000 races, was aboard Cover Price for his third win on the card. Martinez has won more than 100 races a year 12 times, with his best season coming in 1998 when he won 218 races and $7.3 million in purses.

Glass Bottle in right spot

Trainer Robert Smith gave some thought to starting the maiden 4-year-old filly Glass Bottle in the Manatee Stakes last Saturday, but instead he decided to run her that day in a seven-furlong maiden race. Glass Bottle had finished second in her only previous start after breaking a bit awkwardly going 5 1/2 furlongs. She appreciated the added distance of Saturday’s race and rolled by the leaders from the outside to post a 1 3/4-length victory, covering the seven furlongs in 1:24.12.

Glass Bottle, who was the workmate for graded stakes runner White Merlot last year before being sidelined with an injury, is eligible for the $50,000 Wayward Lass on March 17. White Merlot, who finished second in the Grade 3 Azalea at Calder last summer, worked five furlongs in 1:02 20 Friday and is expected in the entries soon.

Ness stays hot

Trainer Jamie Ness had another big week. Ness ran his win total for the meeting to 27 after winning eight races here from Wednesday through Sunday. The highlight of his week came on Thursday when Ness sent out four winners on the 10-race program. If he continues at the current pace, Ness stable could end the meeting with more than 90 winners. That would smash the meet record of 68 set by – who else? – Jamie Ness during the 2007-08 meeting.

Gerald Bennett, who is second in the standings, tied Ness for the title last meet, and Kathleen O’Connell, who is third, tied Ness in 2010.

Dennis Ward and Leigh Delacour are winning at a 30 percent clip, while Joan Scott, Jorge Navarro, Bernell Rhone, Charles Harvatt and Ian Wilkes are all winning at 20 percent or better.

◗ Deshawn Parker, who led the country in races won in 2011 with 400, is in town for a busman’s holiday and won his first race of the meeting last week. He is riding a light schedule to keep fit until his home track of Mountaineer opens on March 2.

◗ Adamar Santos had a big day on Saturday with three winners.