Erv Miller Relocating?
Tuesday, December 7, 2005 - by Timothy M. Jones
With the conclusion of the major sales in the harness racing industry, the Erv Miller Stable, like so many others, has moved some old faces and made room for some new ones.
The 2005 yearlings purchased by Miller are divided into 60 percent open-breds and 40 percent that are Illinois conceived and foaled (ICF). Those percentages contrast with purchases made in previous years when Miller dealt primarily in Illinois-sired horses.
Miller spent approximately $900,000.00 for yearlings at Harrisburg in 2005.
“I worked hard to get some nice horses,” stated the Amish-raised trainer.
Two of the colts purchased at Harrisburg, Modern Desire (Real Desire – Wendy M Hanover) and Western Threads (Western Hanover – Threads Of Life) had price tags of $255,000.00 and $110,000.00 respectively.
Tim Jones Photo
'Abe', Loyal Opposition and Erv Miller at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
Miller purchased three youngsters at Lexington with price tags of $225,000, $170,000, and $140,000.
Miller also parted with some quality racing stock. That list includes ICF standouts Perdition, Fox Valley Shaker, and Grant’s Charger. If you notice a pattern here, it’s obvious that Miller is making a transition.
“I am concentrating on two and three-year-old stakes horses,” he said.
The new direction the stable is taking will deal in more open-bred horses than ICF horses, a 180-degree reversal from years past. Miller’s reasoning behind the change is that programs in states like New York and Delaware (and also Ontario) have received boosts from slots-generated dollars.
Miller also reasons, “I’m buying more open-breds because the local market isn’t good. The Kentucky stake program, also, was just added to for their two-year-old program. I don’t mind having Kentucky-bred horses because of that.”
“Illinois was a great state to be in until we lost the Million Dollar Bonus,” he notes. (Illinois Conceived and Foaled horses who won three of four designated races at Springfield, Du Quoin, and Chicago were rewarded with either a share of $1 million, or the total amount, if that freshman was the only horse of four divisions who won three of those required races.)
“Since we lost that, we’ve kind of been on the down side,” he lamented.
Miller is not a stranger to frequent flyer miles. He races horses from Illinois to New Jersey, and also successfully ventures north of the border to tracks in Canada. He has been able to witness first-hand the methods of different tracks and programs in how they support and promote harness racing. Quite a few of those venues are supported by gaming legislation. That means slots.
Miller refers to gaming slots as a Band-Aid to temporarily fund racing. He doesn’t consider it a cancer, nor a cure-all. He does admit it would be a boost to the Illinois program. He is also somewhat wary of how the proposed slot money would get to horsemen, but as long as it is used as legislated and intended for horse racing in Illinois, it could be a start to build the program up again.
Miller would also like to see some of those funds, and generated by whatever means, used to attract people back to harness racing.
Tim Jones Photo
“We need to figure what makes horse racing attractive to the public today, like it was years ago,” he says. “Today, there are so many other forms of entertainment; we have to figure out a way to make horse racing the entertainment. Something like NASCAR. Make it a big event, so it’s not just horse racing. You have your nightly racing or whatever, but once a month, make it a big race or something, like Super Night. Make it so people want to go see it. Make the quality of the horses so people want to attend.”
Miller also sees a need to cut down on racing in Illinois, rather than continue with what he calls a saturation of the market in Chicago. He would like to see a schedule similar to New Jersey or Delaware, where tracks take two or three months off.
“Instead of racing year-around for the same amount we race for, go just two-thirds of the year,” he suggests. “That’s something that might help, at least so our market wouldn’t be so saturated.”
Where does that leave the Ervin Miller Stable, and what does he foresee for the stable’s future? In the summer of 2005, Miller either had a stable in New Jersey or Canada, all the while maintaining his base of operations in Springfield, Illinois. Next year will be the same or even more so.
“I’ll probably have a stable one in New Jersey and Canada from about May on next year,” he says. “That’s just because of the limited opportunity to race here (Illinois) for quality horses.”
Ed and Kelly Prinz were Miller’s assistants who commuted from New Jersey to Canada last year with horses like Classic Photo and Loyal Opposition. Miller is leaning towards naming Tony Alagna as the man who will set up operations for him in Canada next year, while Prinz will remain in New Jersey.
Miller is also considering a move from his current base of operations at the Illinois State Fairgrounds to another locale.
“Sooner or later, after my kids get through school, I’ll be forced to move somewhere else,” he says. “I’ll have to go somewhere where the industry is a lot stronger. I’m a proponent of the idea that in this sport, the harder you work at it, the more you try, the better you can be.
“The better horses, horses like Loyal Opposition---they make the sport. You can’t promote mediocrity. You don’t want mediocrity. You want to have the good, good horses. They’re the ones that people follow. They’re the ones that make the sport. Like NASCAR. The top drivers are who everybody will follow. That’s what makes it go,” he concluded.” http://www.ustrotting.com/absolutenm/anmviewer.asp?a=13103&z=1