Miller Poised For Canadian Millions
With COVID-19 restrictions providing logistical issues for many of harness racing's top American drivers to compete in Canada last year, David Miller is thrilled to be back in Grand Circuit action at Woodbine Mohawk Park this season. The Hall of Famer also has a legitimate shot at sweeping the nation's two million-dollar Standardbred events.
"I was disappointed last year that I didn't make it up at all," Miller told Trot Insider. "I love coming up there; a great bunch of guys and people up there, not to mention the amount of money [on the line] and the Grand Circuit and the prestige. I certainly missed out on it last year."
Dating back to his 2000 Maple Leaf Trot win with Magician, a horse the 56-year-old Miller called his "stepping stone" to Grand Circuit company in an interview last year, 'The Buckeye' has been a constant presence with harness racing's greatest in their northern sojourns, boasting 15 million-dollar seasons on Canadian soil in his career — five in a row from 2015 to 2019 — and, incredibly, never with more than 80 drives in a single season. That streak snapped in 2020, as international travel restrictions precluded Miller from following his star mounts north from his New Jersey base.
But, with restrictions eased and the Canadian hiatus in his rearview mirror, Miller finds himself with a couple prime opportunities to reclaim his share of the spotlight in Ontario in the coming weeks. The first such opportunity awaits in this Saturday's (Sept. 11) Pepsi North America Cup, in which Miller will drive Joe Holloway trainee Perfect Sting. After coasting through his rookie season an undefeated 10-for-10, the son of champions Always B Miki and Shebestingin has had it a little tougher at three, but he broke the million-dollar mark in career earnings with his 1:49.4 win in last week's North America Cup elimination — and, according to Miller, it seems things are coming back around for the fan favourite:
"We've been experimenting with him, even last year at two," Miller recounted. "He's always worn a blind bridle, and last year too, he had Velcro on the holes.... one day, he had the outside and I said, Let's try him with those off.' And he was fine, but he got to the last turn and, trying to go by horses, he would just lean in. He wasn't steering just the same [as he was] opened up. This year, we've tried a couple different things.... after Pocono, we went back to the drawing board and came up with the idea of putting pop-outs in the holes. We tried it, and it actually worked the other night."
It took every bit of a :25.4 sprint home for the resurgent Perfect Sting to steal victory from Whichwaytothebeach's jaws, but, lo and behold, he did. Whichwaytothebeach and driver Sylvain Filion ground their way to a narrow mid-stretch advantage, but as soon as Miller gave Perfect Sting a peek at his outside rival, he responded and found the line in time.
"I waited, you know, I asked him and he was kind of going, and Sylvain got right to him. So I popped them, and when I did, yeah, he responded. I was pretty happy with it."
For Saturday night's million-dollar test, Perfect Sting's connections have elected to start from post three — a decision that Miller admits was a strategic counterattack to Bulldog Hanover's connections choosing post four:
"I wanted to be inside of him," Miller said. "I was impressed with his elimination and I definitely think he's the horse we got to beat."
Eight races before Perfect Sting and Bulldog Hanover show down in the Pepsi North America Cup, carded as race 11 at Mohawk and scheduled for 10:42 p.m., the dual-eligible, undefeated Venerable will line up as the 4-5 morning line favourite in the $392,000 Peaceful Way, for rookie trotting fillies. Ever since she demonstrated an effortless turn of foot in her first qualifier, on June 16 at Magical Acres, Venerable has thoroughly impressed every time she has set foot on the racetrack. And if her 1:52 win in the Jim Doherty Memorial at The Meadowlands, or her 5-3/4-length score in last week's elimination, is any indication — and if things continue to go well for her this weekend — it's quite possible Venerable will get a chance at the boys in the Mohawk Million later this month.
"It's still a filly going against the boys, you know, but I certainly feel that she could be competitive with them for sure," Miller said of the Richard 'Nifty' Norman trainee who has banked over $315,000 in her six career starts so far. "I don't think she would embarrass herself. When [Nifty] mentioned that, I thought that it was a good idea, also."
In addition to Perfect Sting and Venerable, Miller will drive Scarlett Hanover from post eight in the $425,000 Fan Hanover for three-year-old pacing fillies. And after steering her to a second-place finish behind Hot Mess Express in her elimination, Miller feels that the daughter of Bettors Delight — a nine-time winner with three Ontario Sires Stakes Gold wins this year under the care of Ashleigh Hensley — can hold her own with the continent's best.
"I was happy with her," Miller said of last year's Ontario Sires Stakes Super Final champion, whom, prior to her elimination effort last week, he had only driven twice — in qualifiers at Harrah's Philadelphia and Gaitway Farm. "I talked to [U.S. trainer] Ronnie [Burke], and the only thing he had mentioned was how fast she could leave. And she had post two; I figured she would get a great trip out of it. I got off third and I had to move her first-over in the last turn. She raced well, probably wasn't the best trip she could get, but she raced well. Hopefully we can work out a good trip with her there for this week."
To view complete entries for Saturday's harness racing card at Woodbine Mohawk Park and complimentary past performance pages, click on the following links: Saturday Entries -- Program Pages (courtesy TrackIT).