04/29/2016 3:56PM

Giwner: Brett Miller could be on the verge of a career year

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Derick Giwner
Pure Country is one of the top horses slated to be driven by Brett Miller in 2016.

Brett Miller is arguably coming off the best year in his career and the arrow is clearly pointing up for the now Grand Circuit regular. With stakes season just about to hit high gear, the 42-year-old is slated to be the regular driver on upper-level horses in multiple divisions.

Heading Miller’s list of potential stars in 2016 is the best 2-year-old filly pacer from 2015, Pure Country. Undefeated in 10 starts as a freshman, Pure Country will make her seasonal debut Saturday night in the first of three eliminations for the inaugural $300,000 Miss Pennsylvania at the Downs at Pocono.

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“She is very special to me and a special horse. She helped me get my first Breeders Crown win last year,” said Miller.

Pure Country posted two solid qualifiers to prepare for Saturday’s race. In her initial attempt she appeared to be a bit lazy before kicking in late in the mile. She followed that performance up with a much stronger wire to wire victory in 1:53 1/5.

Miller explained that trainer Jimmy Takter experimented with an open bridle for the first qualifier which made the Diamond Creek Racing-owned filly more relaxed.

“She went around really easily. I pushed her a little at the end but she was very laid back, which isn’t a bad thing,” said Miller on the first qualifier. “In her second qualifier he put the blinkers back on and she was much more focused. She felt awesome; better than she ever did as a 2-year-old.

“There is no doubt she grew. She got taller, thicker and filled out more,” said Miller. “She was very mature as a 2-year-old. Jimmy (Takter) does such a great job with his horses. His 2-year-olds act like 3-year-olds.”

It is Miller’s relationship with Takter that has seen the driver reach new heights in recent years. In 2015 he drove horses to earnings of $7,458,068, just short of his career best total of $7,939,143 set in 2014. Miller’s 2015 totals were accomplished with just 2,353 drives, 624 fewer than the previous year.

“[Jimmy Takter] likes certain drivers on certain horses,” said Miller. “I’m just thankful he feels I fit some of his horses. It’s great getting drives from him because all of his horses and so well bred and well mannered.”

Two more of those elite horses Takter has enlisted Miller to steer are Hambletonian hopeful Jimmy William and 5-year-old pacing mare Katie Said.

Jimmy William, a homebred son of Cantab Hall out of the mare Solveig, only made one start as a rookie trotter in 2015 but remains one of Takter’s top hopefuls in the 3-year-old trotting ranks.

“He is a very nice colt but he didn’t get much experience as a 2-year-old because he was sick,” said Miller, who will guide Jimmy William in his first start of the year this Friday at The Meadowlands. “He has a great gait to him; he just feels like a good horse.”

Katie Said’s 2016 unveiling was impressive indeed. The daughter of Well Said dispatched a strong field of older mares with a powerful 26 2/5 quarter on the end of a 1:50 4/5 mile.

“She was very good in her first start,” said Miller of Katie Said. “She qualified really good, so it didn’t surprise me one bit.”

A four-time winner in 20 starts last year, Katie Said was poised to strike in the Breeders Crown Mares Final at Woodbine and looked like a winner when she made a very costly break.

“I didn’t drive her that night, but many people have told me she looked like a winner,” said Miller. “To me she is better than she ever was last year. She has a shot at making a lot of money.”

It is not just Takter who has taken notice of Miller’s abilities. Trainer Tony Alagna is expected to use him behind 3-year-old pacing colt prospect Racing Hill. The son of Roll With Joe-Chasing Ideals won five of 10 races as a rookie including the International Stallion Stake, Bluegrass and an elimination of the Breeders Crown.

Miller blames himself for the poor finish in the Breeders Crown final. “I was very excited when I won the Breeders Crown elim with him that I went into the final with so much confidence. I really thought that I could win the final,” recalled Miller. “I blame myself for where he finished. The leaders got caught up in a big speed duel and I was too close to the front and burnt my horse out.”

Racing Hill trained last Saturday (April 23) at The Meadowlands and should be qualifying within the next two weeks. “Tony (Alagna) said he trained super. I believe he is going to train again this Saturday and qualify the following Saturday,” said Miller.

With potential standout horses in at least four divisions and plenty of time remaining to hook up with new talent as the year progresses, Miller could be on the verge of a storybook year; or at the very least a career year.

“It definitely looks good right now, but in this business things can turn the corner quickly,” said Miller, who called the transformation from where he was five to seven years ago “surreal”.

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