03/28/2011 2:28PM

Tampa Bay Downs: Ness will be tough to catch in trainers' race

Tom Keyser
Trainer Jamie Ness holds a 10-win advantage over Gerald Bennett in the Tampa Bay Downs trainer standings.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – With the meeting moving into its final six weeks, the trainers’ race is basically a two-stable affair, with Jamie Ness holding a 10-race edge over Gerald Bennett. Ness has won or shared the training title the last four seasons, and he tied with Kathleen O’Connell for leading trainer last season.

Through Sunday’s program, Ness had saddled 44 winners, while Bennett had sent out 34 winners. On Friday, Bennett posted a training triple, but Ness came right back Saturday with a double.

Ness is in Lake Tahoe on his honeymoon with his new bride, the former Mandy McKeever, and is enjoying some well-deserved time off from overseeing three divisions of horses at Tampa Bay Downs, Hawthorne, and Oaklawn Park for the sprawling Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. operation.

For Bennett, this will be his best season here, no matter where he finishes in the standings, as his 33 wins have already surpassed his previous best win total of 31 for a meeting here. When asked if he thought he had a chance to catch Ness, Bennett was realistic in the assessment.

“Jamie’s got a barn full over there and others on the farm, and he’s doing what any trainer with a number of horses does by trying to replace those that are claimed, so I’m thinking it would be tough to make up a ton of ground on him,” Bennett said. “I’ve got the stock over here but haven’t been able to get a lot of them in because the races aren’t going. The main thing is we’ve been able to claim some nice racehorses this meeting, horses that I think are going to do well for us both here and down the line.”

The claim of the meeting to this point was Crimson Knight, a $16,000 claim that came back in his first start for Bennett and ran second, beaten a neck, in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby. Bennett said offers to purchase the colt failed to pan out. He brought Crimson Knight back out Sunday morning, and the gelding breezed five furlongs in 1:01.60, second fastest of 25 runners working that distance.

“He worked good, so now we’ve got to shop around for a spot,” Bennett said of Crimson Knight, a son of Leroidesanimaux who won multiple Grade 1 stakes on turf.

“We’re looking to possibly run him on the turf next.”

◗ While Bennett and Ness are enjoying good meets, several other outfits also have been doing well this season. Among those winning at a rate of 20 percent or better this meet are Jane Cibelli (18 for 70, 23 percent), Dale Bennett (18 for 61, 33 percent), Jorge Navarro (15 for 70, 21 percent), Tom Proctor (13 for 62, 21 percent), and Lori Smock (13 for 53, 25 percent).

◗ Jockey Luis Gonzalez, who by his own standards is not having the best of meets, had a good weekend, winning two races Saturday and one Sunday. He won a $30,000 overnight handicap on Saturday aboard My Redbyrd, who is trained by John Terranova. He had 22 victories for the meet through Sunday. Last meet, he had 53 wins.