12/08/2016 4:30PM

Hovdey: Miller has wind at his back for Futurity

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Benoit & Associates
Trainer Peter Miller will run maiden winner Bobby Abu Dhabi in Saturday's CashCall Futurity.

For a guy who started the year with his barn blowing down, Peter Miller has done okay.

Early last January, on a quiet weekday afternoon, Miller’s main barn at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center was hit with what meteorologists termed a microburst that razed half the roof, dismantled stalls, and sent the stable crew scrambling to soothe the jangled nerves of the four-legged residents. It’s easier to say the place was trashed by a tornado, so let’s go with that.

Thankfully, no horses were harmed, but the barn was awash, including Miller’s freshly decorated office. The operation moved to the barn next door, with auxiliary stalls provided just up the road, and like all racetrackers faced with adversity, they coped.

As one of a handful of trainers who appreciates irony, Miller decided the twister attack was nature’s way of acknowledging his best year ever in 2015, when his stable earnings of more than $5.8 million were good for 14th in the national standings. Miller was conservative in the wake of the big blow, concerned there might be lingering effects from the trauma, but by the time Del Mar came around in July, the barn was hitting on all cylinders.

After finishing second to Phil D’Amato during the summer meet, Miller took the fall title at Santa Anita and then went nuts at the short Del Mar fall session, winning with 16 of 46 starters, doubling the next name on the list. He knows the odds of that happening again anytime soon are somewhere between slim and zip.

“That was fun,” Miller said. “But let’s be honest, it was ridiculous.”

If there is any of the Del Mar fall magic left over, Miller would like to deploy it on Saturday in the $300,000 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity. He will be running the recent maiden winner Bobby Abu Dhabi, a son of Macho Uno purchased last April in Ocala, Fla., for Gary Hartunian’s Rockingham Ranch. The price was $335,000.

Miller’s colt is surrounded in the Futurity by two from the Doug O’Neill stable, led by Oak Tree Juvenile winner Dangerfield, and two from Bob Baffert, including the favored Mastery, the winner of the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar. Baffert is going for his third straight running of the race since it was rescued from the debris of the Hollywood Park closing, while Miller sports a Futurity win from 2010, when Comma to the Top braved a bad track.

Conditions should be benign on Saturday, when the Los Alamitos program also features the $300,000 Starlet Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, matching Del Mar Debutante winner Union Strike and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher American Gal. For those who still can handle a doubleheader, that same evening the track will present the $600,000 Champion of Champions for the cream of the Quarter Horse sport.

As far as running the inexperienced Bobby Abu Dhabi, Miller sees no reason to be intimidated by a Futurity history that includes such winners as Roving Boy, Point Given, A.P. Indy, Snow Chief, Lookin At Lucky, and Shared Belief.

“Certainly for a Grade 1 and $300,000, it’s a very modest field, basically a non-winners- other-than except for Mastery,” Miller said. “It looks like all but one of the runners ran on Nov. 19, so I’m sure everyone would like more than three weeks between races.”

Bobby Abu Dhabi – named for an acquaintance of Hartunian’s from a trip to the United Arab Emirates – won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race the same day Mastery took the seven-furlong Bob Hope, while Dangerfield was running third in the Delta Downs Jackpot and Irap was finishing fourth in a maiden event on the Del Mar turf. For those who care, Mastery’s speed figures from his two races dominate the others in the field.

“I was a little concerned he might have run a little too fast the first time out,” Miller said of Bobby Abu Dhabi. “I was glad to see he got a nice midrange 75 Beyer. Of course, that’s the million-dollar question – are they doing it right and running within themselves, or are they already at their top? We’ve loved our colt from the beginning, so I’m going to believe there’s a lot more ahead for him.”

Miller shipped Bobby Abu Dhabi from San Luis Rey to Los Alamitos last Sunday for a five-furlong work in 59 seconds flat. None of the others in the field shows a work or a race over the track.

“It’s a different configuration with a long stretch,” Miller noted. “We figured why not get him up there and get the lay of the land? And he worked beautifully. He came right back to San Luis Rey after the work.”

That’s no big deal. Training at San Luis Rey, Miller’s runners are always on the van going somewhere. Even during the meets at nearby Del Mar, the trainer prefers the calm and quiet of the training center to the hustle and bustle of a host track.

“For my horses, they’re all away games,” he said.

In the meantime, Miller is still waiting for San Luis Rey management to rebuild his old barn. He kind of misses it, and it is – or was – the first barn anyone saw when visiting the training center.

“For now, it’s kind of a reminder,” Miller said. “In this game, you better be able to survive anything.”