05/02/2012 11:21AM

Tampa Bay Downs: Ness's record-breaking numbers highlight of 2011-2012 meet


OLDSMAR, Fla. – Sunday marks the end of the 2011-2012 live racing season at Tampa Bay Downs and this year’s meeting produced record-breaking training numbers to go along with some sparkling individual efforts.

The remarkable figures put up by Jamie Ness and his owner, Midwest Thoroughbreds, en route to the training title are unprecedented at a major race meet the length of the Tampa meet.

Through last Sunday’s racing program, Ness had sent out 78 winners from 167 starters for a sizzling winning percentage of 46 percent. Ness eclipsed his own record of 68 victories on April 1 and going into the final week of the meeting he held a 47-win lead over Jorge Navarro.

Ness has his critics and there are those who suggest he is somehow taking an edge someway or another but say what you want, the figures don’t lie. The stable leads the country in races won, his horses almost always look good physically when they go to the post, and he employs a lot of common sense and prudent management when dealing with his runners

On the riders’ side, Leandro Goncalves’s 88 winners is also a mark of some distinction.

Even though Goncalves switched his tack north the first week of April, he still held a 16-win advantage through April 29. Goncalves continues to evolve and improve with every mount and it would be shocking if he doesn’t wind up moving to a major circuit full-time in the near future. He certainly has the talent to ride at that level.

A big surprise this winter was the emergence of jockey Angel Serpa as one of the leaders of the local riding colony. Serpa, who was one of the leading apprentices in the country in 2010, came here relatively unheralded but quickly picked up a following with his aggressive and energetic riding style. He topped his meeting with back-to-back stakes wins aboard Roman Tiger and is currently second in the standings with 72 wins.

Ron Allen is currently third in the standings and last year’s leading jockey continues to ride with remarkable consistency and drive at age 48. Scott Spieth has been as steady as they come since arriving here in late December while Daniel Centeno made up for lost time by winning 31 races after coming up from Gulfstream midway through the meeting.

Getting back to the trainers, Navarro had another standout meeting here, winning at 32 percent as he and Gerald Bennett continue to battle for runner-up honors into the final three racing programs.

Jane Cibelli, Bernell Rhone, Leigh Delacour, Tom Proctor, Joan Scott, and Dennis Ward all won at 20 percent or better this meeting while Robert G Smith had his best meet ever with 11 wins and his White Merlot stamped herself as a top flight female sprinter.