02/16/2015 12:37PM

Bergman: It's Brett Miller time

Lisa Photo
Brett Miller is quickly becoming a force at The Meadowlands.

Breaking into the most stacked drivers colony in the sport isn’t an easy thing. When Brett Miller came east last year he had to fight his way into the picture. That meant driving many longshots or no-shot horses. Yet Miller was persistent through the process and began attracting more followers. In 2015 Brett Miller has firmly placed himself on the map in East Rutherford, New Jersey, skillfully guiding favorites and longshots to the winner’s circle with regularity. For the driver that saw his mounts earn $7.9 million in 2014 it’s starting to look as if this will be his breakout year in the Northeast and could push him above the $10 million mark in the process.

“It’s always the horses,” said Miller, pushing any self praise to the side. “I’m driving good horses for some top trainers.”

Indeed Miller has managed to find his comfort zone among the top trainers at the Meadowlands this winter and gets a full compliment of driving opportunities on a three-night per week basis.

“I think the biggest change for me was moving east,” said Miller.

Location, location, location is everything in real estate and Miller has carved himself some prime real estate in the catch-driving business. At a track that is overloaded with talented Millers- Dave, Andy and Marcus to name a few- Brett has seen his numbers continue to rise and more trainers opt for his services.

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There’s no question that a catch-driver must adapt at all times. Whether it’s in the middle of a race or between races the driver must be aware of his rivals and the elements as well.

“I think driving against the same drivers helps,” said Miller, “But I think it’s just as important to get to know each horse that’s out there from week to week.”

Wintry conditions have played havoc with racing schedules throughout this season and the high winds and chilly temps can change the bias at a racetrack from race-to-race.

“I think the wind can be a major issue,” said Miller.

“On Thursday (February 12) at the Meadowlands it was really windy. I took horses to the front in the first two races and they both raced poorly. I don’t think it was the horses but the conditions,” said Miller. “I decided to race from off the pace in the next few races.”

Miller’s tactical change saw him sweep from eighth at the half to victory in the third and fourth races of the evening at the Meadowlands.

A catch-driver must make adjustments to be successful just as he must choose the right horses to reach the winner’s circle with regularity. What Brett Miller has shown over the last few months is that he can be just as effective racing on the front end as he can by moving a horse from off the pace.

On Friday night he scored for the second straight week with Empress Deo in the Burning Point series. “Wayne (Givens) has that mare super sharp right now,” said Miller, but that’s really only half of the story. In fact Empress Deo looked to be on a first-over mission going nowhere, but Miller had her under rating and then found cover in the form of Southwind Serenity and Yannick Gingras entering the final turn. That brief bit of cover helped Miller and his mare Empress Deo get collected and the daughter of Rocknroll Hanover responded sharply in the stretch.

“I think the windy conditions have a dramatic impact on the fillies and mares,” said Miller. “Especially when it hits them in the face.”

This past Saturday with regular driver Tim Tetrick at the World Driving Championships Miller got the opportunity to sit behind Rockeyed Optimist in a division of the Sonsam series at the Meadowlands. Brett showed tremendous confidence in the horse that had lost a photo in the opening round. Rockeyed Optimist made an imposing move on the final turn and then drove clear with Miller encouraging him home in a :25 4/5 last stanza. Perhaps Tetrick will regain the mount when he returns but either way Miller got the chance to showcase his talent driving a quality horse on the big stage.

Catch-driving and family life tend to be a juggling act that few can master. For Brett the first two and a half-months of 2015 is the time he has set aside to stay close to his wife and family. “I’ve got a three-year-old, a five-year-old and a seven-year-old,” said Miller. “I’m racing just the three nights a week at the Meadowlands right now so that I can spend as much time as I can with them.”

The schedule will shift markedly in a few weeks when Harrah’s Philadelphia opens for business.

“When Harrah’s opens up I’m going to race there on a regular basis and race the weekend nights at the Meadowlands,” said Miller. “Harrah’s races during the day so I can race at both tracks.”

While the driver believes it’s horsepower that should get the attention, anyone who has watched him in the sulky can see that he has a very calming influence on the horses he drives. Case in point was Friday night’s trotting feature where he guided the at-times fractious Odds On Amethyst to victory.

“He’s a horse that when you put him on the front end he wants to go every quarter faster,” said Miller. “On Friday I was able to get him to relax and that made the difference.” Indeed Odds On Amethyst looked like the perfect racehorse rolling out of the pocket to victory.

There’s a need for catch-drivers to find themselves on contenders in major races. Brett Miller has more than passed the audition for trainers this winter at the Meadowlands. He’s shown the ability to handle all kinds of horses and put them in position to succeed. That type of consistency is bound to have major trainers and owners with the sport’s leading horses looking for his services when stakes season comes around.

Miller expects to have at least one significant horse lined up for this year’s classics.

“I’m hoping that Billy Flynn is my Hambletonian horse,” said Miller.

“He won his first eight races last year,” said Miller, recalling the two-year-old season for the son of Cantab Hall. “I think he just got tired towards the end of the year, that’s it.”

Billy Flynn was the dominant horse throughout the campaign in Pennsylvania capturing the $260,000 championship in September at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. “Staffan (Lind) has done a great job with that colt,” said Miller of the trainer.

Brett Miller has clearly stamped himself as a force at the Meadowlands this winter. We expect his star to rise considerably when stakes season comes a calling.

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