01/05/2018 12:20PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Roy H

Debra A. Roma
Roy H

Roy H burst to prominence this year, rewarding the patience and perseverance of trainer Peter Miller.

Roy H began his 5-year-old season by winning a first-level optional-claiming race going 6 1/2 furlongs on the Santa Anita turf. He ended his campaign by rallying to take the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar by a length under Kent Desormeaux, a victory that likely clinched an Eclipse Award as North America’s best male sprinter.

In between those bookend victories, Roy H went 3 for 4. He won a second-level optional claimer at Santa Anita in May, scored his first stakes win in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont Park in June, and, in his start prior to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, took the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship.

His only loss came in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar.

“We feel like he should be undefeated,” Miller said. “In the Bing Crosby, the loose horse carried him six or seven wide into the stretch.”

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That loose horse was Drefong, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning male sprinter, who ducked in sharply leaving the chute, dropping jockey Mike Smith. Drefong moved up inside the leaders on the far turn and carried Roy H and Moe Candy extremely wide into the stretch.

Roy H rallied bravely to finish second to Ransom the Moon, who avoided Drefong and took a much more direct path to the finish.

A son of More than Ready who was bred in Kentucky by Ramona Bass, Roy H was purchased by the Rockingham Farm of Gary Hartunian for $310,000 at the 2014 Keeneland 2-year-olds in training sale. Co-owner David Bernsen bought into the horse in 2017.

Roy H didn’t race at 2, went 1 for 7 at 3, and was winless in four starts at 4.

“We always thought he had a lot of ability, but he was big, very large, and had some minor, niggling issues as a 2-year-old,” Miller said. “After that, we had trouble finding his niche. He’s won on grass but turned out to be a really good dirt horse. We also thought he might be a miler.”

A decision made during the summer of Roy H’s 4-year-old season played a pivotal role in his coming of age.

“What really turned him around was when we gelded him,” Miller said. “We tried not to geld him for a long time because he had a lot of pedigree and he’s very good-looking, and because he was expensive.”

Miller, 51, has won training titles at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Los Alamitos. His 124 wins in 2017 are a career high and so are his stable earnings of $7.38 million.

Miller’s career has been on an upward trajectory since he and Hartunian teamed up in 2012. Hartunian has about 50 horses in training, most with Miller.

Miller and Hartunian hadn’t won a Breeders’ Cup race until this year when they took down the exacta in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint with Stormy Liberal and Richard’s Boy, who were separated by a head. Three races later, they won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

If Roy H wins the Eclipse, it will another first for both men.

“Gary has been a tremendous boost to my operation,” Miller said. “He’s also a really good friend to me and my family.”