After long suspension, Ness barn “starting to come around”
by Doug McCoy
Trainer Jamie Ness will be the first to admit the first six months of 2017 were far from the best period in the stable’s history. The four-time leading trainer at Delaware had to serve a 120-day suspension after accepting to a plea agreement with the State of Florida regarding a dozen clenbuterol violations dating back to 2012. During his suspension Ness had to transfer the horses in his care to his wife Mandy and his cousin Cory Jensen.
The stable didn’t fare badly as Mandy and Jensen won 40 races between them while Ness was barred from the backstretch and any contact with his string until his suspension was complete in late May. But it was far from business as usual during his time away from his barn.
Now, with Ness back, there are signs the outfit is starting to click. Ness runners won twice last week and that gave him seven wins at the current Delaware Park stand, which ranks the stable fifth in the overall standings.
“Things are starting to come around,” Ness said following training hours this week, “I’m very proud of the jobs Mandy and Cory did earlier this year, and I also feel good about the fact my owners supported me and the organization during a difficult period. It was tough not being at the barn every morning, to not have the hands and eyes on that you really have to have when you’re training a string, but we served our punishment and now we’re moving on.”
Ness’s stable is still primarily a claiming outfit, and the horseman said being active claiming and turning over stock is crucial to his success. He admitted being away from the track slowed those processes down.
“We were pretty quiet about claiming horses while I was away, and we also took a conservative approach with some of our runners, but now that I’m back and can watch not only my horses train and run but other horses as well we’re getting dialed in,” he said. “We’ve got to claim horses to replace horses we lose, and in this day and age of fewer foals and fewer horses in training, it’s tougher than ever to find horses worth the money.”
Ness made a bold move to upgrade his stable with the recent purchase of 30 horses from Arkansas owner-breeder Richard Hessee. Ness said he had spoken with Hessee regarding the availability of Oldfashioned Club, a two-year-old Old Fashioned colt who broke his maiden here by more than eight lengths on June 19. Oldfashioned Club ran the five furlongs that day in :58.74, and Ness said when he asked Hessee about Oldfashioned Club, the owner surprised him.
“I was surprised but Mr. Hessee said he was reorganizing his operation and that he was looking to sell the group that included a good number of two and three year olds,” Ness reported. “We agreed on a price and transferred the horses to our stable. We’ve culled about 10 of the group and sent them out; now we’ve got to work with the rest and see what we’ve got. There are plenty of opportunities for maiden claiming horses here (at Delaware Park) so we’ll have plenty of spots to run.”
Some of the recent purchases were sent to Ness’s new farm in Chesapeake City, Maryland, a spot Ness said has made the logistics of turning horses out and giving others time off much easier than in the past.
“We bought a 20-acre farm and we love it,” Ness revealed. “We live there now, and it’s a perfect place for us to bring horses that need some R and R or need turning out for longer periods of time. Now we don’t have to worry about the expense of boarding, and we can keep a closer eye on the horses.”
And as the stable continues to gather steam Ness is eagerly waiting for his star, Ghost Hunter, to make his next start, planned for the Arlington Million at Arlington Park on August 12. Ghost Hunter, a seven-year-old Ness claimed for $25,000 in 2014, won the $100,000, Grade 3 Arlington Handicap at Arlington in his last start after winning a tough allowance optional claiming turf route at Delaware earlier in the meeting. Ghost Hunter’s win in the Arlington was a special one for Ness as it was his first graded stakes win as a trainer.
“He’s our star, no question about it,” Ness beamed. “With things falling into place here (at Delaware Park) and with ‘Hunter doing good, things are looking up.”