By Dick Jerardi
By the end of summer, Jamie Ness likely will become the 16th North American trainer with 4,000 wins. He won 326 races (second in N.A.) in 2022 and, for the first time, his stable exceeded $10 million in earnings. He has 54 horses at Parx where he has won the last three training titles. He has 29 horses at Laurel where he just won the winter meet title. He has another 31 horses at Fair Hill. Counting horses in his rehab facility and farm in Chesapeake City, Md. Ness figures he is “feeding over 250 horses’’ at the moment.
Saturday, for just the third time in his career that has included 15,750 starters, Ness will be in the paddock with one of his horses getting ready for a Grade I race. That would be Repo Rocks in the 7-furlong $300,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.
“It’s huge,” Ness said. “The horse has been good to me. We’ve been preparing for this race for six weeks. It’s nice to have a horse that you can point to a race and work backwards to it. A lot of my horses, we’ve got to hope the race goes and we’re scrambling. Our preparation has been great. I think we’re ready to go.’’
According to Equibase, Ness had won exactly two graded stakes by the end of 2022 – the Grade III Arlington Handicap in 2017 at Arlington Park with Ghost Hunter (who ran next in the Grade I Arlington Million) and the Grade III Greenwood Cup in 2021 at Parx with Magic Michael. His other Grade I starter was Sneaking Uponyouin the 2010 Nearctic at Woodbine. It’s not that Ness is incapable of winning the big races; he simply has not had the kind of stock that wins those races.
Repo Rocks had 29 starts when he came to Ness’s barn last fall after two nowhere finishes in a stake at Parx and another at Aqueduct. The gelding had some back paper, including races where he earned high 90s Beyer figures. He had finished a solid third behind Life is Good and Speaker’s Corner in a Belmont Park stake. He was three times graded stakes placed. So the ability was there.
Well, Repo Rocks has raced four times for Ness, with four stakes wins, including a third graded stake when he blew away the field in the Grade III Toboggan at Aqueduct, getting a 111 Beyer. He won two $75,000 stakes at Parx before that and followed up his Toboggan with a dominant win in the $125,000 Stymie after overcoming serious early traffic trouble. His Beyers in the other three wins were 96, 97, and 97, figures he had done before, but not consistently. Park jockey Andrew Wolfsont has ridden him in all four races and will ride again in the Carter.
“I had a few horses for Steve (Fox of Double B Racing Stables) up in New York,” Ness said.
So Fox sent Repo Rocks to Ness, hoping the trainer could find a way to re-capture Repo Rocks’ best form.
“He said, see if you can turn him around a little bit; I think the horse is really good,” Ness remembered Fox saying. “He got here. He’s a difficult horse to train, but I said: ‘you know what, big boy, we’re going to train hard.’ He’s taken it and loved it, so I think that’s kind of a big reason for his kind of turnaround. I train on him hard, and whatever I give him, he wants more.”
On the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s legendary Triple Crown, Repo Rocks, like Secretariat, just happens to be a Virginia bred. But, quite unlike Secretariat, it took Repo Rocks 11 tries to break his maiden. That was for trainer Tom Morley who had claimed the horse from Bill Mott for $40,000. Juan Vasquez claimed the horse for $40,000 from Morley for owner Fox. Then, Gregory DiPrima took over. Now, it’s Ness and Repo Rocks has become one of the fastest horses in the East.
That 111 Beyer was the outlier in this four-race run. “I obviously didn’t see that number coming, but I see him breeze and I’m like, this horse is good,” Ness said.
Repo Rocks has been way better than good for Ness. The trainer isn’t looking beyond the Carter, but said, “I’d love to be able to plan (for other big races) in the future…Everybody in the barn is excited. I’m not nervous or anything. The horse is ready. We’re just excited. I can’t wait for Saturday.”
Only three trainers in the top 100 list for all-time wins also have a win rate of 25 percent – Tom Amoss, Chad Brown and Jamie Ness.
“The key for me is in 2017, I moved to my farm in Maryland,” said Ness, who is no stranger to huge years with 395 wins in 2012 and 330 in 2011. “With racing in the Mid-Atlantic, I’ve got Laurel, Delaware, Parx. I set up an infrastructure to be in all three places. We move horses back and forth…I bought a farm where I live. I bought the farm next to me for rehab and getting the horse off the layoff. I have horses at Sharp Farm. My 2-year-olds are there with somebody. We have a lot of irons in the fire. You got this many things going on and the wins kind of add up.”
They do, but some wins matter more than others. The Carter is such a big deal that Ness’s wife and two daughters (10 and 8) are coming to Aqueduct Saturday for their first trips to New York. That night, they will all be staying at a hotel in Manhattan.
Now, all Repo Rocks has to do is win – again.