By Dick Jerardi
By the time Blue Rocket got into the starting gate at Canterbury Park in 1999, Jamie Ness had started 30 horses. None of them had won.
“I just remember saying I just want to win one,’’ Ness said. “It’s so hard to win races. Just give me one.’’
Blue Rocket won that race, Ness’s first. Fast forward two decades to Feb. 18, 2000, Race 6 on Feb. 18 at Parx. Late Breaking won that race for Ness. In between the first win and that win, Ness won 2,998 more races.
“I’ve always been a hard worker,’’ Ness said. “This is what I wanted to do so I didn’t want to give up. There was a point where I was like I don’t think I can do this. I’m young. I’ve got to do something else. I’ve got a college education, what am I doing? I had a feeling in my stomach that I wanted to make this work. And here we are 20 years later, kind of made it work.’’
So, from hoping to win just one race to winning 3,000 in just over 20 years as a trainer. It had been some run for the man from South Dakota.
“I don’t think it’s an achievement, but it’s a milestone,’’ Ness said at his Parx barn. “It came up kind of fast…I look a the company that I’m in with and it’s very humbling.’’
From 2007 to 2016, Ness won 2,353 races at tracks all around the country.
“You name (the track), I’ve probably been there ’’ Ness said.
There would include tracks in his native South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Arizona. He was the dominant trainer at Tampa Bay. He’s been in the mid-Atlantic for about 10 years.
Ness won 395 races in 2012. No. 1 in the country. He was second in wins with 330 in 2011. All that after going 2-for-43 in that first year as a trainer.
Ness does not have owners who go to sales to pay big money for yearlings. He is a claiming trainer.
He has made so many great claims, it’s hard to count that high. But none has been better than Ghost Hunter, claimed for $25,000 on June 4, 2014 at Belmont Park from fellow South Dakota native Bill Mott. The horse won that day, his second win in nine starts.
Since that day, Ghost Hunter has won 20 more times from 56 starts. The horse won the 2017 Arlington Handicap. All told, Ghost Hunter, recently turned 10, has won about $800,000 for Ness.
“I just put him back in training,’’ Ness said. “He’s taken me all over the country.’’
The horse that really got him on the map was Lookinforthesecret. Claimed for $12,500 on Jan. 5, 2007 at Tampa Bay Downs, Lookinforthesecret was 13-for-21 for Ness, running great and often winning sprint stakes on turf and dirt at tracks in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Kentucky and Canada.
“I scratched together $12,500 to get him claimed,’’ Ness said. “He went on and won a lot of stakes and was probably the fastest five-eighths turf horse in the country for like a year. I took him him everywhere Nobody really knew me until I had that horse.’’
Ness’s horses have won $50 million in purses the hard way. There are no $20 million Saudi Cups in his future that has already included more than 12,000 starters.
Ness has 30 horses at Parx, another 30 at Laurel and 15 at a training center in Delaware, not far from where he lives on his farm in Chesapeake City, Md., exactly 80 miles from Parx and 80 miles from Laurel. His toughest decision every day is whether to head north or south.
“I get on 95, I go left or right, I’m the same distance,’’ Ness said. “I like coming here a little more than going to Laurel, a little bit different racing, a lot more claiming horses, a lot of action going on.’’
And Jamie Ness is right in the middle of that action, looking to claim another horse, win another race.