Rodriguez, Ness Team Up to Win Laurel Winter Meet Titles

March 31, 2023

Jaime Rodriguez. (Maryland Jockey Club Photo)

• Leading Rider, Trainer Standings Entering Closing Day Friday
• Laurel’s 21-Day Spring Stand Opens Saturday with Nine Races

David Joseph/Maryland Jockey Club

LAUREL, Md. – With only Friday’s closing day program remaining, Jaime Rodriguez and Jamie Ness will respectively finish as leading jockey and trainer during Laurel Park’s calendar year-opening winter meet.

Rodriguez, 32, holds an 11-win advantage over five-pound apprentice Jeiron Barbosa in the rider standings, 58-47, with eight races remaining. Rodriguez is named in four races Friday, while Barbosa is named in six.

It will be the first riding title in Maryland for Rodriguez, who is also tops with $1.9 million in purse earnings from 209 mounts. He led the Delaware Park standings in 2021 and 2022, averaging 124 wins.

 “I love it here. I love it in the wintertime,” Rodriguez said. “Everything has come out good so far, thank God. I have been able to keep myself healthy and keep working hard.”

Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, registered two or more wins on 18 of 40 days during the winter meet highlighted by a record-tying seven on March 17, matching Laurel’s single-day record shared by Chuck Baltazar (1969) and Horacio Karamanos (2002).

Rodriguez scoring in the Miracle Wood aboard Coffeewithchris. (Maryland Jockey Club Photo)

Half of Rodriguez’s wins were on Ness horses, but both his stakes victories came for other trainers. He captured the $100,000 Miracle Wood on Coffeewithchris for John Salzman Jr. and the $75,000 Conniver with Mavilus for Carlos Mancilla.

“We have a pretty good relationship. I trust him, and he trusts me, too. Everything that we do, we do as a team, and we go from there. That’s how we work,” Rodriguez said of Ness. “I ride a lot for him, but the same effort I give to him I’m going to give to everyone. I’m not picky. Whatever I’ve got, I’m going to give 100 percent.”

Represented by agent John Weilbacher, this is Rodriguez’s second go-around in Maryland. After attending Puerto Rico’s famous Escuela Vocacional Hipica jockey school, he earned his first domestic victory May 5, 2010, on East to Eden at Belmont Park. He rode primarily at Aqueduct and Belmont before relocating to Finger Lakes in 2012, dominating the standings. Rodriguez also spent time at Mahoning Valley before moving his tack to the Mid-Atlantic in 2020.

Rodriguez enjoyed his best season ever in 2022, with career highs in wins (243) and purse earnings ($7.5 million) from 982 mounts, ranking seventh among North American riders in victories. Equibase has him with 1,973 lifetime victories.

“It was a little bit tough,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t have too much luck here and went to Parx and I did great. I finished second in the standings there and had a good winter over there. When we came back to Delaware, they asked me if I was going to go back to Parx and I said I’m going to take another shot in Maryland.

“So far everything has worked out good,” he added. “I want to keep working at it. I want to get better and better and go step by step, take my time. I don’t want to be in a rush. I want to learn everything I can. I’m so grateful for everything and very happy.”

Ness, 48, leads Brittany Russell in wins, 34-28, heading into closing day where Ness has horses entered in two races and Russell’s are entered in three. With $1.219 million in purse earnings, Ness ranks second to Russell ($1.236 million).

It will be the sixth Maryland training title for Ness and first since historic Pimlico Race Course’s 2019 spring meet. Others have come at Pimlico in spring of 2012 and 2015 and Laurel Park fall 2011 and 2012.

Obviously, we had a great meet,” Ness said. “The races went for our horses. We’ve got a little better-quality horse right now. We’ve got some good stock. The weather was good all winter, so we didn’t have a lot of cancellations or miss a lot of training. I’m really happy for me and the team and the owners and everybody. Everybody works hard, and good things happen.”

Ness won two or more races eight times during the winter meet, including four of Rodriguez’s March 17 winners. He and Rodriguez are 29-for-99 together, with 24 seconds, 18 thirds and $993,168 in purse earnings.

“That helps a lot, too. I’ve got my stable rider so he’s on all my horses. He works them all and knows them all,” Ness said. “I knew right away when I saw him ride, he came and worked some horses for me and I said, ‘That’s my guy, right there.’ I could just tell by the way he rode and with my training style that he was the guy.

“Ever since then we’ve hit it off. He’s a very, very talented rider and not only a good rider but a good person. Never complains, just a good kid. When he rides my horses, it seems like we do a little better,” he added. “We click really well together.”

Ness is coming off a 2022 season where his horses earned a career-best $10.3 million in purses to go along with 326 wins, the fourth time he has topped the 300-mark including a personal best 395 in 2012. He ranked third in North America in wins in 2022 and 2021 (311) and fifth in 2020 (224). Ness earned his 3,900th career win with Time to Cruise March 22 at Parx, where he has dominated the trainer standings since 2020.

Before taking out his trainer’s license in 1999, Ness worked in the media relations office at Canterbury Downs, where he won his first race with Blue Rocket that August. As Jagger Inc., he and partner Morris Kernan Jr. are also the leading owner at Laurel’s winter meet with 10 wins, one more than fellow owner-trainer Norman ‘Lynn’ Cash of Built Wright Stables.

“I’m just happy for the team, happy for the owners, happy for all of us,” Ness said. “We have a big staff, and everybody works hard, and it’s nice to do well with those guys.”

Post time Friday is 12:25 p.m. There will be mandatory payouts in the 20-cent Rainbow 6, 50-cent Late Pick 5 and $1 Super Hi-5 wagers.

Laurel will open its 21-day spring meet Saturday, April 1 and race Thursday-Sunday through May 7 with the exception of Easter Sunday April 9. Spring post time will be 12:40 p.m. with a special 12:10 p.m. post time on Kentucky Derby (G1) Day, May 6.

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