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Hannah Miller Wins Billings Gold Cup

Published: November 20, 2016 6:40 pm ET

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On a day when the wind howled down the Delaware River and caused a 25mph+ stretch obstacle at Harrah’s Philadelphia, it seems only appropriate that “Hurricane” Hannah Miller blew into town, and the 2015 Amateur Driver of the Year won the 2016 $25,000 C.K.G. Billings Amateur Driving Series Gold Cup with Jacks To Open by eight and a half lengths in 1:58.2.

One of the few disappointments of Miller’s 2015 racing year was racing Jacks To Open as the favourite in the Gold Cup, sitting in with the horse early, and the trotter unfortunately making a break. This year, with Jacks To Open again the favourite, Miller made sure there would be no missed opportunity, leaving and tucking third, then pulling before the :29 quarter to challenge front-stepping Keystone Thomas.

“Thomas” and driver Bob Hechkoff were not willing to surrender the lead easily, though, and Jacks To Open and Miller were left out in the chilly air, blowing into their faces to the :59.1 half and then aiding them as they grinded on and made the lead by the 1:28.1 three-quarters. Through the last quarter, there was no question who was going to the winner's circle, as Jacks To Open drew off to win with daylight behind him, with pocket-sitting Celebrity Stimulus (David Glasser, winner of the Billings Eastern Final at Pocono a week ago) just getting up for second, a half-length ahead of Celebrity Stimulus.

“He trained well this week, and he was pulling a bit, and I was not sitting in,” 'Hurricane Hannah' noted, the relief visible that last year’s race was finally exorcised. “The other horse and driver didn’t want to let me go, but I thought my horse could overcome being parked, so we went up to challenge,” and the last quarter told its own story.

Miller co-owns the winner of over $250,000 with the horse’s trainer, Nick Surick. She is matching her sterling statistics of 2015 again this year, having achieved 32 wins and a .418 UDR last year, and 30 wins and a .415 batting average this season -- and she has added getting a trainer’s license to her resume this year.

“Yankee” Joe Lee, who works in clubhouse management for the Bronx baseball dynasty, worked out a perfect pocket trip with the 12-year-old gelding Captain Primeau, and the pair came up the inside to pass front-stepping Star Studded Cast and win by a length in the $15,000 Billings Silver Cup. The “Captain” left well enough to sit in the pocket behind the “Star” and a parked Rocket Master as the latter two duelled through fractions of :28.3, :59, and 1:27.3, with the threesome leaving the rest of the field far behind. Captain Primeau then trotted through the wind, took over in midstretch, and finished the mile in 1:59.1, with Star Studded Cast (Tony Ciuffetelli) holding very gamely for second and Rocket Master (2004-2005 Amateur Driver of the Year Dein Spriggs) showing his grittiness in holding for third despite the overland route.

Lee, who has the familiar intertwined “N” and “Y” of the Yankees on his driving helmet, wasn’t sure his veteran diamond-gaiter, who had raced and won just two days ago at Freehold, could leave enough for top position, “but he did, and it was a great trip behind the two up front. I knew I had horse turning for home, and he was able to go past” for trainer Connie Svensson, co-owner with Anneli Svensson. Lee won’t have time to rest on his laurels, though --- as he and Spriggs have horses in an amateur race at Pompano tonight.

(Final bit of perspective: Lee now has 20 career driving victories, half of them coming during his best year, the current one, and his horses have earned over $133,000; Captain Primeau posted his 41st lifetime triumph with the Silver Cup win, and now has a bankroll nearing $375,000 – the perfect blend of youth and experience.)

(C.K.G. Billings Amateur Driving Series)

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