Millar Hoping To Defend O'Brien Title

George Millar
Published: February 1, 2023 10:45 am EST

On O'Brien Awards night one year ago, Millar Farms was buzzing with partygoers donning boots and bling amid celebratory cheers and toasts to Canada's 2021 harness racing champions. When the 2022 O'Brien Awards winners are announced this weekend, it will be a quiet evening at the Stouffville, Ont. farm.
George Millar will be hoping for the same result at the O'Brien Awards this Saturday, Feb. 4 while enjoying a different type of celebration. Canada's defending Armstrong Breeder of the Year will celebrate a night among stars as Standardbred Canada's distinguished Black Tie Gala in Mississauga, Ont. returns after virtual celebrations took its place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I really appreciate being nominated," Millar told Trot Insider. "I know everybody at the farm really appreciated being nominated. It’s going to be nice actually being at the O’Brien Awards this year to participate in it all because we haven’t had the chance the last couple years. So that’s going to be nice and I’ll be there, for sure."

The 72-year-old horseman landed the nomination after another successful season in which he was the leading breeder in the Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) for earnings, with his starters banking $885,893 in the provincial program. In total, horses bred by Millar Farms earned more than $2.1 million through the O'Brien eligibility period, with 34 starters and average earnings per starter of $62,747.

An O'Brien runner-up to her award-winning stablemate Prohibition Legal in 2021, Silver Label stole the spotlight in her three-year-old season and the OSS Super Final champion is in the running for divisional honours again.

"You know, I always knew Silver Label was going to be a good horse, but we were all kind of looking at Prohibition Legal from the two-year-old season she had [the past] year," said Millar. "We thought she would just be dominant and 'Label' would be chasing at her heels all summer, but she had some health issues. She had some stomach issues that [trainer] Nick [Gallucci] had to give her a couple months off in the summer, which broke my heart because, just a nice mare like that, you don't want to see her missing good stakes races. But he did the right thing, you have to put the horse first and look after her health."

Despite missing a lucrative portion of the stakes season, Prohibition Legal still made nearly a quarter-million dollars contributing to the success of Millar Farms in 2022.

And there were more.

"To see Silver Label step up the way she stepped up was great. Actually this was such a super year for our three-year-old fillies, and our two-year-old filly, Savethelastdance. To have Silver Label do so well and Velvet Stinger step up and win a couple of Golds and win the Simcoe and then Raptors Won, she did extremely well and made over $100,000. It just seemed like the fillies... it was never ending, they just kept coming and coming. And they are all homebreds."

Another highlight for Millar was seeing three-year-old pacing gelding Acapulco Sunburn make it to the races.

"He was a colt that wasn’t even supposed to race, period," said Millar, noting the horse had a hock injury when he was younger. "They gave him a 50/50 chance he would even be a racehorse, and he came out and had a great year."

Millar noted that success story -- and the rest of his stable's achievements -- are a result of the great team working behind the scenes at his farm, including trainer Nick Gallucci and yearling farm manager Steve Samis.

"It says a lot [about] Nick and how he brings these horses along. He’s very patient, he is so meticulous. He sees the slightest little blemish, he just deals with it right away... I think you have to have that thoroughness to be a good trainer.

"I just see the amount of time he puts into it. It’s a real team effort. He’s got a good crew up there now. It always takes a while coming into a farm and building a whole new team, but it seems to be a really good crew up there and they’re all working well.

"And my farm manager, Steve Samis, he’s been working at the farm since he was about 13 so he’s just been great. I don’t know when he sleeps. He just seems to be working all the time. But he’s done a good job raising these young horses and he’s very diligent in their care and their blacksmith work and getting their vaccinations and what he feeds them and just grows a nice horse."

Like his fellow O'Brien Award candidate Bob McIntosh, Millar's hands-on operation focuses more on breeding and racing his own horses. Millar said he's had most of his success breeding with a focus on Ontario stallions and good crosses rather than looking at commercial popularity.

"We got 20 mares in foal and I think 22 mares we're breeding this year so this is going to be our largest crop on the ground this year. So that’s pretty exciting, but I don’t think we’re going to go any bigger than that, that’s for sure. That’s more than enough."

Looking ahead to the 2023 season, Silver Label, Prohibition Legal and Velvet Stinger are slated to return to the races as four-year-olds for Millar. And he is hoping the stable's momentum will continue with positive early reports on his yearlings training down, most notably siblings to Silver Label, Prohibition Legal, Powertrain and 2021 O'Brien winner Betterhavemymoney.

“You know as well as I do, everybody can have a good year here and there. To repeat it, you gotta be pretty lucky and have good people all around you and, fortunately, we did and we still have some good horses. It’s funny how it works out sometimes.

"You hope to get another good year, but can you do it three years in a row? Who knows."