12/02/2013 1:25PM

Tampa Bay Downs opens meet with richer purses

Tom Keyser
Jamie Ness led all trainers at Tampa Bay Downs with 46 wins during the 2012-13 race meet.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Some major shake-ups in the trainer and jockey ranks will be evident when Tampa Bay Downs kicks off the major portion of its 2013-14 live race meeting Wednesday.

The meeting actually began in early July, when Tampa ran a single card that qualified it as a year-round live racetrack. That has allowed Tampa to import simulcast signals as its own hub between July 2 and Dec. 4. It previously had paid another Florida racetrack to serve as its hub during that period.

The added revenue from the new arrangement has allowed Tampa to increase its overnight purses by 15 percent and thus be more competitive with its south Florida neighbors, Calder and Gulfstream. As an example, a maiden special weight purse is now $24,000, including $4,000 from the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.

Jamie Ness, who trains for the powerful Midwest Thoroughbred operation, has dominated the training ranks here since 2006. By his own admission, Ness is not exactly loaded for bear this season.

Ness has started considerably fewer horses in 2013 than he did the previous year. He said changes in the industry have made it tougher to find useful stock.

“The foal crops have been down, the field sizes around the country are way down, and it’s become very difficult to claim or buy horses that can be improved on and be successful,” Ness said. “This year, we’ll be leaving some of the higher-quality runners in Maryland because the purses there have gotten so big. Add to that the fact that Midwest has a number of yearlings and younger horses not ready to run yet, and much of our current racing stock was in need of a break after a long summer, and you can see why it will be tough to maintain our high ranking.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, but like most years here, we expect a lot of competition. There are a number of good outfits here, like those of Gerry Bennett and Kathleen O’Connell.”

Bennett tied for the top training spot with Ness at the 2010-11 meeting. His outfit has a number of young horses, and he realizes it’s always a gamble with those horses.

“We’ve got more young horses than usual this winter, and I think there’s talent in the group,” he said. “Of course, with young runners, it’s like raising kids – there are ups and downs and surprises, good and bad. I’ve got a Monarchos colt who won by many at Thistledown in his last race. Time will tell.”

Trainer Jorge Navarro, who finished second in the standings at this meet a year ago, has been denied stalls following a 60-day suspension for six medication violations at Tampa’s 2011-12 meeting. Jane Cibelli, who also was in the top 10 last year, has been denied stalls in the wake of a suspension regarding the race-day treatment of one of her runners last season.

Several new stables have shipped in, including those of Eoin Harty, Dana Kobiskie, and Tim Ice.

Dale Bennett returns after missing several winters and is expected to make his presence felt. The son of Gerald Bennett, Dale Bennett has a string that is topped by Cool Cowboy, a fast colt with two wins from four starts who is expected to run in Saturday’s $100,000 Inaugural Stakes.

The stakes schedule is topped by the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, which has become an increasingly popular Kentucky Derby prep in recent years. The March 8 Tampa Bay Derby is part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and will offer 85 qualifying points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 basis.

The Tampa Bay Derby card also will include the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks and the Grade 3, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares, both on turf. In all, 25 stakes will be offered at the 91-day meeting, which runs through May 4, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

Jockey Daniel Centeno’s decision to stay in Maryland this winter means the battle to be leading rider should be wide open. Angel Serpa, who led the standings for a time here last year before finishing fourth, returns along with Fernando De La Cruz, who finished second.

Ron Allen Jr., who had 57 wins despite being sidelined with injuries during the last month of the meeting, returns, as does Scott Spieth, one of the smartest tactical riders in the business.

Fans will have new food and beverage options this season at the Riders Up bar, located directly across from the finish line on the main floor of the grandstand. New food and beverage director Andy York, who previously held a similar position at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has altered the menu at the Metro Deli on the main floor of the grandstand to a New York delicatessen format.

Nicholas More than 1 year ago
i love the ness factor...they made cactus son 1-1 over hold on smokey 7-2 when hold on smokey was 12-12 on tampas turf 4 wins 4 seconds and two thirds.....he shoulda been 6-5 and instead hes 7-2 and pays $9.00 and exacta with ness s horse pays $23.40....its stealing money my friends...horses that love tampa win...watch action andy first time back at tampa no matter who he faces he will win...guarranteed
Jack More than 1 year ago
I'm so SICK and TIRED of Hearing this word 'Take-out" as if you had NO take-Out the GRANDSTANDS would be FULL. We ALL want lower TAXES TOO. Talk about TAKE-OUT Nobody TAKES more out of your Pockets then the Big Bettors in the last few minuets of Betting...So, you Play a Horse at 4/1 gets HAMMERED down to 2/1. Do you RIP up your Tickets ? Hell no... So until you have FIXED ODDS betting, just SHUT UP and Play....
Walter More than 1 year ago
Jack, you are correct when you mention big bettors loading up bets near post time, that is called Batch Betting. However, if you are a horseplayer, you should be concerned with takeout. It affects your payouts. You need to reconsider your opinion.
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
Spare us the caps, Jack. Takeout hits every player's bankroll. It is needlessly too high causing horse racing to be less and less competitive with other forms of gambling. If you want to put your head in the sand and ignore that fact, fine, but serious horseplayer's aren't going to shut up about it.
The_Whiz More than 1 year ago
Luis Gonzalez back in the Jockey Colony...great pair of hands and is very patient. He lets 'em roll and is a very smart "Turf" rider. Beware the "LUIS" Factor
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
so if Ness has less horses then the Bennetts will pick up more wins. And watch for the Gulfstream trainers shipping over. Centeno better drag his butt down there or end up like Ramon., get his butt busted up on a frozen track
Ricky Williams More than 1 year ago
Love to visit TBD every winter around Christmas time! The weather is pretty nice and the beer is always cold! see you guys on the rail.
Jeffrey More than 1 year ago
I hope Tampa continues to cultivate the good will of horseplayers with player-friendly takeout schemes and large fields. Admittedly, I cut back some of my handle last year due to the 'Ness' factor. When one trainer wins at a 35-40% clip, fans start to reasonably worry about the integrity of the game. Thus, a rigorous drug testing protocol and severe penalties are warranted. Please continue to implement the strategy that has earned your the respect and patronage of so many horseplayers. Fair(er) takeout, signal availability, large fields, and clean racing are a winning formula. In this sport, it's easy for fans to become cynical and forget that a few venues (e.g. Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Tampa Bay, Sam Houston) tend to get things right. We can use our handle to our advantage and encourage the change we want to see.
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
I play pick 4, therefore to control money costs I like singling a Ness or Pletcher in 1 race
william a More than 1 year ago
I don't know, I kinda liked the Ness factor. It seemed like no matter what horse he had running, it went off like 9/5. I always played that horse second in the exacta with my other favorites, and it usually paid around 70.00. I guess you can complain about it over and over, or just bet him always to come 2nd or 3rd. No different than playing a Pletcher horse.
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
you right. nothing wrong with playing Ness
michael More than 1 year ago
unless you value integrity.
wolves More than 1 year ago
let's not forget about the soothing sounds of Ricky Grunder's voice.....roll on, Tampa!
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
Hope that's sarcasm.
The_Whiz More than 1 year ago
your earphones must be pushed so far into your eardrums that they were scratched. My apoligies if it was sarcasm...but if you like Mr."Blunders" race calls you have my deepest sympathy. He is Horrible.
bcrace12 More than 1 year ago
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
Don't forget Fearless Leader.
Richard Land More than 1 year ago
Dead heat with Battaglia for the worst race caller in North America
noalaistoday More than 1 year ago
Naa, Grunder wins!!! Battaglia is hard to listen to but he doesn't even come close in the number of missed calls. It is hard to find a call in which Grunder doesn't make an error.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Despite the Ness factor, it's still the best place to bet in the winter. Great job by all down there.
Joseph More than 1 year ago
Keeping an eye on Jock's Santos and Marin, They finished very strong last year always on live mounts, Showed good skills and should be on top of their game this year.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Joe, while these two are always on live price animals., their "hot hand" was towards the end of the meet when most big names left for other tracks.