12/03/2015 5:31PM

Harness: Hannah Miller reflects on 2015

Geri Schwarz
Hannah Miller has strong family ties to Harness Racing.

Hannah Miller’s drive to win races is exceeded only by her drive to improve.

Miller, who is in her first full season of driving in harness racing’s amateur ranks, has won 32 of 116 races this year as she prepares for Saturday’s $15,000 North American Amateur Drivers Association championship at Yonkers Raceway. Yet piling up victories is not Miller’s sole focus. The soon-to-be 24-year-old wants to use every opportunity on the track to better develop her skills in the sulky.

“Winning is always fun,” said Miller, who will celebrate her birthday on Dec. 25. “It makes you want to win more and it definitely helps keep you going. But I’m trying to push myself harder, make fewer mistakes and figure out what I can do better.

“I get upset with myself when I know I’ve messed up and I know I can do better. The hard part is I only get to race once or twice a week. I don’t get to go right back out there the next race (on the card) and fix my mistake. I get so frustrated with myself and I have to improve the next time because I’m only going to get that one chance that night.”

Miller’s most frustrating moment came in the C.K.G. Billings Amateur Driving Series Gold Cup championship on Nov. 22 at Harrah’s Philadelphia, when she tried to get her revved-up trotter Jacks To Open to relax in second place instead of letting him go to the front. Jacks To Open, the 1-5 favorite, went off stride nearing the second turn and finished sixth.

“I can’t complain when I’ve won this many races, but that was the one I was really looking forward to,” Miller said. “It was my fault. I’m really hard on myself and that (mistake) at Chester, I carried that one with me way too long. At the same time, I want to know in the back of my mind that the next time I’m in that situation I’ll make the right move without thinking about it or hesitating. I’m trying to take it better, but I still take every drive to heart.”

Miller is the daughter of trainer Erv Miller, the 2005 Trainer of the Year and No. 3-ranked trainer in history in terms of wins with more than 4,700, and sister of professional driver Marcus Miller. She often turns to her family for advice.

“My brother is always there for me,” Miller said. “My dad too. They are the ones who give me the most advice. They know what they’re talking about. Marcus has been in plenty of situations, has driven plenty, that whenever I have a question he’s been there before. He can tell me whatever I need to know.”

A native of Illinois, Miller got her first win in 2012 in an amateur event at Du Quoin. She entered this year with nine victories in only 20 races, but since moving to New Jersey has become more active on the track. She owns several of the horses she drives regularly and works with them on a daily basis.

“I always liked the horses, but I never had the desire to drive,” Miller said about her early years. “My first two years, I only drove in a couple races and that was more to just say I’d done it. But on the East Coast the opportunities for amateur drivers are huge. I race a couple times every week. For an amateur, that’s kind of a lot.

“It’s turned into a lot more than I ever thought it would. But I’ve had a lot of fun doing it.”

Miller has driven this year at 20 different tracks in the U.S. and Canada, from Prince Edward Island to Florida. She also was among NAADA’s representatives to Spain to compete in the NAADA vs. Spain Friendship Competition II. Her wins this season included the Billings Eastern Regional championship in her first-ever drive at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, where brother Marcus is a regular, and two triumphs at The Red Mile in Lexington.

In November, she received the Monticello-Goshen chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association’s Amateur Driver of the Year Award.

“There are so many highlights,” Miller said. “Getting the award from Monticello was fun. I won in Lexington and that was fun because my whole family was there, and that doesn’t happen very often. Winning the East Regional was a great night. Going to Spain was huge. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so that was fun.

“I like traveling. Sometimes it’s stressful, but I enjoy it. Luckily, I can take my horses and go wherever I need to go for the most part. Or if I go somewhere else, I can find a drive, so that helps.”

As for her future, Miller is not looking too far ahead. She is simply enjoying the ride.

“I haven’t thought about it that much,” Miller said. “I just plan on driving amateur races, so wherever that takes me. I don’t see myself doing anything outside of that. I’m just playing it by ear, really.”

-Courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, please visit www.ustrotting.com