Just days after enjoying his first North America Cup win with Betting Line, driver David Miller is preparing for more fireworks ahead. Miller’s attention this Saturday is focused on the all-star cast assembled for eliminations for Grand Circuit stakes at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.
Among Miller’s drives is older male pacer Always B Miki, who last weekend recorded the fastest mile in Canadian history when he won the Mohawk Gold Cup in 1:47.1, in the second of three eliminations of the Ben Franklin Pace. In the first elimination, Miller will drive Ideal Cowboy.
Always B Miki’s elimination includes world champion Mel Mara, who defeated Always B Miki in a 1:47 mile in the Open Handicap at the Meadowlands Racetrack on June 4 and was supplemented to the Franklin for $30,000, and Canadian half-mile-track record-holder Rockin Ron. Always B Miki, who has won seven of nine races since returning from injury in October 2015, is the 5-2 morning line favourite.
“I’m sure they’ll be rolling in there, there will be some fireworks, but (Always B Miki) should be fine,” Miller said. “You’ll see some good miles this weekend. It’s hard to tell, if it’s a good night and the weather is great, how much they could go. It’s going to be interesting to watch these guys. I’m excited.”
Other horses in the Franklin eliminations include 2015 U.S. Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit and 2015 Canadian Horse of the Year State Treasurer, both in the first division, and 2015 Breeders Crown three-year-old male pacing champion Freaky Feet Pete. Wiggle It Jiggleit and Freaky Feet Pete are the favourites in their elims, at 9-5 and 2-1, respectively.
The top three finishers from each Franklin elimination advance to the $500,000 final on July 2 at Pocono.
“I think we’re going to see some really fast miles this year,” Miller said. “There are so many of those older pacers that are really good horses. I think people like to watch good horses race. I sure do. If people don’t get excited about that division, they’re really not a fan.”
Harness racing’s fastest mile on a five-eighths-mile track was set at Pocono, a time of 1:47 by five-year-old horse Sweet Lou in 2014. The time for the fastest race mile, on a track of any size, is 1:46.4 and shared by Holborn Hanover, Somebeachsomewhere, Warrawee Needy, and Hes Watching.
Last weekend in the Gold Cup, Always B Miki was sixth for the opening quarter-mile before starting to make his move on the backstretch prior to the halfway point. The five-year-old stallion tipped out three wide off the final turn and powered to a three and a half-length victory over Shamballa.
“Around the last turn, he was really swelled up,” Miller said. “He was right up on the bit in the last turn.
“I know he always fires when I move with him, but he did that fairly easy. He was wrapped up there. I was real happy with him. But I don’t want to brag on him; I’ll let him do the talking, so to speak.”
Saturday’s card at Pocono also features two eliminations for each the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial for three-year-old male trotters, the Max C. Hempt Memorial for three-year-old male pacers, and the James M. Lynch Memorial for three-year-old female pacers.
Miller will drive Brooklyn Hill in the first of the two Beal eliminations, New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Katies Rocker in the second of the two Hempt divisions, and JK Fannie and Darlinonthebeach in the Lynch elims.
The top four from all those eliminations plus the fastest fifth-place finishers advance to their respective finals, also July 2. The finals for the Beal and Hempt go for $500,000 and the Lynch for $300,000.
“Hopefully I can get everyone qualified (for the finals) this week and we’ll be ready for the following week,” Miller said.
Absent from this weekend’s festivities is Betting Line, who was not staked to the Hempt. Last Saturday, the colt carried Miller to his first North America Cup victory in Miller’s 16th appearance in the million-dollar event. Miller raised his right arm triumphantly as the tandem crossed the finish line.
“That was pretty exciting,” Miller said. “I’d wanted to win that for a long time. Over the years I thought I had some decent horses, but somehow it didn’t seem to work out. I was pretty excited there.”
That’s not to say there were no anxious moments. Miller and Betting Line were in fifth place, seven and a half lengths from leader, Control The Moment, when the field was only one-quarter-mile from the wire.
“I was a little concerned around the last turn,” Miller said. “At the head of the stretch, I was like, ‘uh-oh, these guys are getting away.’ But you know what? I hadn’t really started to ask my horse yet. I was trying to let him follow up on his own. When we got into the stretch, I pulled his earplugs and he started marching. Before I got to the tote board, I thought, he’s got it; he’s going to win this.”
After finally getting to grab the elusive prize, what does Miller do to top the experience?
“Win it again,” Miller said laughing. “That would be all right. It doesn’t get old.”
First-race post time for Pocono’s Saturday card is 6:30 p.m.
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.