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MILLER REFLECTS ON HISTORIC SEASON WITH ALWAYS B MIKI

-- Ken Weingartner/Harness Racing Communications/USTA

MANALAPAN, NJ -- February 27, 2017 -- If all David Miller did in 2016 was win a couple Breeders Crowns, the North America Cup, Little Brown Jug, sit behind three divisional champions, become only the third driver in history to surpass $200 million in lifetime purses (while also setting a career best for earnings in a single season) and become only the fifth person with at least 12,000 victories, well, that would be a pretty memorable year.

So imagine a year when a driver could accomplish all those feats and still not have any of them register as the achievements that will be best remembered in the decades to come. Miller doesn’t have to imagine it. He lived it.

Miller, of course, was the driver of male pacer Always B Miki, who was the 2016 Horse of the Year and paced the fastest mile in harness racing history, 1:46 at Lexington’s Red Mile in October. Always B Miki, who battled 2015 Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit throughout the season in one of the most talked about rivalries in recent memory, won 12 of 18 races, finished worse than second only once, and earned $1.48 million in purses last year.

“It was pretty incredible,” Miller said. “When I think back about him, I’ll think about his world record first. He raced tough so many times --- the Breeders Crown was a great race (surging late to beat Wiggle It Jiggleit by three-quarters of a length) and probably one of the highlights there --- but when I think about him I always think of Lexington. For him to do it, it was pretty special.”

Miller on Sunday night was honored as the 2016 Driver of the Year at the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Dan Patch Awards dinner, presented by Hoosier Park, at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Always B Miki was recognized as Horse of the Year and the stallion’s trainer, Jimmy Takter, was honored as Trainer of the Year.

Other equine honorees included Trotter of the Year and 3-year-old male trotting champion Marion Marauder plus divisional winners Walner (2-year-old male trotter), Huntsville (2-year-old male pacer), Ariana G (2-year-old female trotter), Idyllic Beach (2-year-old female pacer), Betting Line (3-year-old male pacer), Broadway Donna (3-year-old female trotter), Pure Country (3-year-old female pacer), Obrigado (older male trotter), Hannelore Hanover (older female trotter) and Lady Shadow (older female pacer).

In addition to driving Always B Miki, Miller was the driver of Betting Line and Broadway Donna.

After opening his campaign with a second-place finish against older horses, Betting Line never lost again, putting together a 14-race win streak. His wins included the North America Cup, Little Brown Jug, and Battle of the Brandywine. He set the world record (1:47.2) for a 3-year-old pacer on a five-eighths-mile track and his 1:49 mile in the Jug equaled the record for a 3-year-old pacer on a half-mile oval.

“If I didn’t have Always B Miki, Betting Line had a tremendous year,” Miller said about the Casie Coleman-trained colt. “He was so strong and dominant all season. By rights, he had every shot to be Horse of the Year himself. He was such a dominant horse in his category.”

For the second consecutive year, Broadway Donna was named a divisional champion and in the process joined her dam, Broadway Schooner, in receiving a Dan Patch Award at age 3. Broadway Schooner was honored in 2009.

Broadway Donna, trained by Jim Campbell, won seven of 12 starts and earned $664,708. Her wins included the Breeders Crown for 3-year-old female trotters, Kentucky Filly Futurity, and the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship.

“She’s very deserving,” Miller said. “She really wasn’t in the limelight, but to me she’s a real special horse. We just have a real special connection with her, all of us, because she’s battled through some problems and ended up the year better than she had been in two years. She was so sharp her last four or five races. Jim did a great job.”

But, oh, that Miki. In addition to becoming the fastest horse in history, Always B Miki shares the world record of 1:47 for the fastest mile by a horse on a five-eighths-mile track. Always B Miki paced 1:47 on a five-eighths oval on three occasions, an unprecedented feat. He also holds the record of 1:47.1 for the fastest mile ever paced in Canada.

And he did it all after being twice sidelined by leg injuries that each required surgery and forced him to miss the end of his 3-year-old season as well as the majority of his 4-year-old campaign.

“The things he did on the track, and the things he overcame, it was just unbelievable,” Miller said. “It’s hard for horses to come back off of injuries. And to be better than what they were, it’s pretty much impossible, I think.”

Miller was ready for a try at the world record when Always B Miki competed in the Allerage Farms Open Pace at The Red Mile, and had fractions mapped out for the attempt. When Always B Miki reached the halfway point in :52.2, Miller thought they were right on schedule. When they hit three-quarters in 1:19.4, he thought they were in trouble.

But Miki paced the final quarter-mile in :26.1 to break Cambest’s 1:46.1 time trial clocking and lower the race record by four-fifths of a second.

“The world record was on my mind quite a lot,” Miller said. “The anticipation for it kind of kept building all year. He was coming close (to the race record) and winning races.

“I had fractions figured out what to go to try to beat the world record. I had mapped out the first half that fast, but the three-quarters a lot faster. When we got to three-quarters in (1):19.4, I didn’t think he would go (1):46 flat. But he was just that type of horse. He never let anybody down.”

Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit met eight times last year, with Always B Miki winning four times to Wiggle It Jiggleit’s three. (Shamballa won the remaining encounter.) The rivalry captivated fans across North America.

“Wiggle It (Jiggleit) was the only one, and (his connections) would probably say this the other way, that could go with Miki week in and week out,” Miller said. “It was quite the rivalry. It was good for the sport. It got people interested in watching them go at it, and I think that’s great.

“They probably needed one another. It made it good for everyone. Wiggle It (Jiggleit) has got quite the fan base, and Miki did too, and it really was a big deal for all of them. It was pretty cool.”

Racetrack announcer Sam McKee, who is recovering from a stroke suffered earlier this month, told Miller during last year’s campaign that Miki was probably the best horse Miller ever drove. Miller hadn’t really thought about it in those terms until then.

“I never said it during the year, but I always thought he was before his time,” Miller said about Always B Miki, who was retired to stallion duty at the end of last season. “I’ve had horses go big miles once or twice, but he seemed to do it every week. He was unbelievable. So Sam probably had it right; I’ll probably never drive another horse like that. I’m going to miss him, that’s for sure.”

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