Tampa Bay Downs leading trainer Jamie Ness has been fined $2,000 and horses from his stable entered for the next 30 days at the Tampa-area track are required to be under 24-hour pre-race security watch after the Ness runner Awesome Mich tested over the 37.0 total carbon dioxide threshold on March 17. Awesome Mich finished fifth as the 11-10 favorite in a $12,500 claiming race that day.
TCO2 testing falls under Tampa Bay Downs “house rules,” since Florida's virtually non-existent regulatory agency, the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, has no guidelines for permitted levels or testing of TCO2. Overages of TCO2, which some horsemen claim can be caused by a number of factors, were commonly called “milkshakes” prior to testing, when tubing a horse with a water/baking soda solution reduced lactic acid buildup and prevented muscle fatigue.
Ness, who trains for Midwest Thoroughbreds, the leading North American owner by wins and earnings in 2011, 2012 and so far in 2013, told the Paulick Report he was at Laurel Park on the day Awesome Mich ran and has no idea why the horse had a 38.0 TCO2 level in a pre-race blood sample test. Tampa Bay Downs tests two horses randomly for TCO2 from each race.
The national leader by wins in 2012 with 395 victories from 1,264 starts, Ness is leading the Tampa Bay Downs meeting with 39 wins from 111 starts, a 35% win percentage. Ness said he has never had a prior TCO2 overage.
In addition to the $2,000 fine, Ness is responsible for paying the cost of security personnel required to keep watch over his horses, either at a receiving barn or at his own stable. A second offense escalates to a $5,000 fine and third TCO2 overage would be a $10,000 fine.
“There's no trial and no jury,” said Ness. “The TRPB (Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau) showed up and told my wife Awesome Mich came back with a high something. She didn't even know what it was. When she called me, I said, ‘That can't be.' We are going to test the horse ourselves and try to figure out how this could have happened.”
Ness said a search of his barn was conducted for the fourth time this year.
“My horses have had to stay at the test barn an extra half-hour,” Ness said. “It's B.S., but I didn't want to stir the pot. They were testing for ITTP, they were testing for this and that. I bit my lip. I ain't doing nothing. It's taking the fun out of it, it really is. When you win at a high percentage all you get is extra scrutiny.”
Ness said Tampa Bay Downs is the only track that singles him out for additional security measures and testing.
“I have absolutely zero problems any other place I go,” he said. “Just here, and this is my home. I have my house five miles from the track. My family is here.”
Peter Berube, the track's general manager, said Ness waived his right to a hearing before the stewards and that a formal ruling would be issued.
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