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MILLIGAN'S SCHOOL AIMS TO PASS ZWEIG TEST

-- Rich Fisher, USTA Senior Correspondent

MANALAPAN, NJ -- July 22, 2016 -- A word of advice to Julie Miller’s friends. As the trainer gets Milligan’s School ready for his final Hambletonian prep event, don’t post anything on her Facebook wall because you won’t hear back until at least next week. Milligan’s School is competing in Sunday’s (July 24) $300,000 Dr. Harry M. Zweig Memorial main event for 3-year-old trotters at Vernon Downs, and he has the complete attention of his trainer.

“Not that I’m older or I’m wiser, I don’t know about those kind of things, but I really try to just stay off social media at this point,” Miller said. “I don’t read a bunch of stuff. I need to focus on my horses, not what everybody else is doing. I really just try to zone in and let the external noise figure itself out.”

She also tries to keep things simple as the stakes grow higher.

“I try not to over-think things,” Miller said. “I just really try to stay on track. We have our goal and mission. When things are going right in my stable we do the same things, and it’s the same when things are in a rough patch. I try not to let other things distract me from my goal and my purpose with my horses.”

The purpose on Sunday is not just for Milligan’s School to compete, but to win his final race before the $1 million Hambletonian, which is Aug. 6 at the Meadowlands.

A son of Yankee Glide out of the mare Tori Ann, the horse has won three of six starts this year and earned $85,166. He has taken two divisions of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and the Earl Beal Jr. Memorial Consolation division, after a shoeing incident caused him to go off stride in his elimination. He was sixth last weekend in his division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial, which was won by Marion Marauder.

Milligan’s School had a tremendous freshman campaign, with five wins, three seconds and two thirds, good for $302,560 in earnings in 16 starts. He won divisions of the Bluegrass and International Stallion stakes at Red Mile in Lexington; was second to Dog Gone Lucky (by a head) in the Matron Stakes; third in the Valley Victory final; and fifth in the Breeders Crown.

“I would say things are pretty much status quo this year (compared to last),” Miller said. “He raced excellent last year. With how his schedule was this year he hasn’t had many starts yet. We had a hiccup in the Earl Beal eliminations and that was kind of a missed opportunity, but we’re looking forward.”

One thing that has changed is the horse’s physical stature, which makes the trainer happy considering the competition.

“Obviously I do think he’s a little bigger and stronger than he was last year and he’s going to have to be,” Miller said. “That’s a great division. Southwind Frank and Marion Marauder, they’re just excellent horses. You’re going to have to be not just 100 percent, but 110 percent because Frank and Marion are so dominant right now. I hope I can still compete with them. I don’t want to race just for the money I want to race for the win.”

Milligan’s School drew post four Sunday, which puts him in a good starting point. He is 5-1 on the morning line. The four-horse entry of Love Matters, Bar Hopping, Hollywood Highway, and Lagerfeld is the 9-5 favorite. Love Matters, Bar Hopping, and Lagerfeld are trained by Jimmy Takter while Hollywood Highway is from the Staffan Lind Stable. The horses are an entry because of common ownership.

“It’s that time of year, it’s getting to be crunch time, this is why we work hard all winter long,” Miller said. “He feels good, he’s healthy. I feel like I’ve got him at the best that he can be. Hopefully we can count on that and make good.

“Like everybody else, I don’t know what’s going to happen. The goal here is the Hambo, this is going to be a really good determination if he fits in there. I’m hoping for a good effort. There’s a lot of money on the line. We’ve got a good position so I’m hoping he can make good on it. I hope he’s at his best and he can work on a good trip.”

If it results in a trip to the Hambletonian, then things will be right on schedule for the Millers and Russia-based owner Natalia Stroy of Stroy Inc. When Julie and her husband Andy, the horse’s driver, picked Milligan’s School out at the Standardbred Horse Sale they did so with high hopes. He sold for $120,000.

“I explained to Natalia that I think he’s a stakes horse,” Miller said. “That was the whole goal when we bought him, was to make him a stakes horse and so far he’s fulfilling that promise. I told the owner I thought he’d be a top contender and at least a sire stakes horse and hopefully a Grand Circuit horse. He’s blossoming into what we wanted him to be.”

Miller considers herself “pretty fortunate,” noting that Milligan’s School is a mild mannered horse that can lead or come off cover.

“That’s really one good thing about him,” she said. “He’s two fingers to drive and he’s honest and he’ll give you his best chance.”

And how does Andy like driving him?

“I think he likes to drive anything that’s winning,” Julie said with a laugh. “I do think it’s more special, because it’s one we train in the barn. So that’s a little bit more special. Andy gets on really well with the horse. We’re just hoping for some good things.”

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