As the 2016 harness racing season winds down, driver David Miller discussed some of the participants and planning that made the campaign such a success.
Miller, who sits second among North American drivers in purse earnings, didn't even start driving full-time this year until mid-March as he took a solid chunk of time away for some well-deserved R&R to recharge the proverbial batteries in Florida.
"It was a good move on my part. Things worked out," Miller told Meadowlands' Sam McKee. "We ended up getting a place down there and the way the racing is now I wasn't going to miss a whole lot of anything up here so I had the opportunity and I took it."
One thing that surprised him is that he didn't really miss the daily grind and driving double digits of horses daily.
"Surprisingly I didn't miss it. I know years before that I would have but I've been doing this quite a long time and it was a well-needed break for me," noted Miller. "It did help to get away and, like you said, recharge."
The 2015 U.S. Driver of the Year admitted that he got himself into a nice and quiet routine, exactly what he was looking for. However, he might have taken it a little too easy as it look him longer to get back into 'game shape' than he anticipated.
"I'd say it probably took me a good month to really where I felt good again. It's more strenuous than what you think," said Miller of driving. "I kinda let myself go there really bad there last year but I'm going to try to stay in check and hopefully stay on top of it."
While he made his return to the Meadowlands' driving colony in mid-March this past season, don't expect to see those familiar purple and white silks at the Big M until Spring 2017.
"I'll probably go down around the first of the year with everything and I'm planning on staying longer this year," stated Miller. "I came up the middle of March last year, I think I'm going to stay one more month and come up the middle of April."
Miller's 2016 campaign was loaded with highlights, including a number of major stakes wins behind two of the sport's most talented pacers -- Always B Miki and Betting Line. He was the sole driver of Always B Miki with the exception of one start -- the 2016 Ewart Memorial at Scioto Downs -- and helped engineer that thrilling 1:46 world record effort this past October at The Red Mile.
"He definitely had a lot of endurance, a lot of speed and he was great in that aspect," said Miller of Always B Miki. "He was great in so many other aspects: his manners and was never a tough horse to get along with. I truly believe it will be a while before I ever drive one like that again."
Miller admitted that, leading up to Always B Miki's world record mile, the chances of him setting that record that day didn't look especially favourable going into the Allerage Farm Open Pace that Sunday.
"Jimmy warmed him up, didn't like him at all, they added the shadow roll. The track there is so fast anyways but they actually had told me not to have him on the lead or even try for the world record.
"I scored him down with the shadow roll on and he was just fine and I went ahead and pressed on with him. The fractions were good, I still didn't think he was within range to go a 1:46 mile but he's an incredible horse."
When Miller saw the timer with lights displaying 1:46, he felt a sense of not just accomplishment but validation for the highly-touted pacer.
"It was quite a thrill, really. I mean, it felt like he did it. There had been so much hype all all year -- on all of us -- for him to break the world record...at times I thought he would do it no problem but, like I said, that day there wasn't for sure still and he did it."
McKee and Miller also discussed Ontario Sires Stakes graduate Betting Line, who never lost a race for Miller. The son of Bettors Delight reeled off 14 straight wins before retiring prematurely due to a strange infection believed to come from a spider bite. McKee felt that Betting Line was head and shoulders above the other three-year-olds this year.
"I totally agree with you there," stated Miller. "He was a good horse; he had a lot of grit and a lot of try to him. He wasn't the handiest on certain tracks but his willingness to win overcame it."
Betting Line gave Miller his fourth Little Brown Jug title but admitted the controversy created before the race took something away from the day for him.
"It put a black cloud over it, making him score down by himself and all. To me, it was uncalled for, honestly. I'm not sure what all happened...I know the horse got tested all that day, all that night. It just kind of tainted and [put] a black cloud over the whole thing...the horse was as good that day as he's been all year and, you know what, it aggravated me."
Miller also discussed trotting filly Broadway Donna, freshman pacer Downbytheseaside and reaching 12,000 wins as part of the 2016 season. To watch the full interview, click the play button below.