Updated on 09/18/2011 1:46AM

Miller recalls his decades with West


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The death of Dr. R. Smiser West on Wednesday ended one of Thoroughbred breeding's longest partnerships and friendships. West, who was 97, was a close friend of Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller for six decades.

West and Miller, together with their wives Kathryn and Martha, bred champions De La Rose and Chilukki, as well as Grade 1 winners Lite Light and Tweedside, among other outstanding runners.

Miller, 85, doesn't remember the first time he met West. It was likely around 1930, about the time that West got a job with Miller's father, a district representative for the Greyhound bus line. The job was inglorious: washing Greyhound buses for 39 cents an hour. But it was important: West put himself through dental school at the University of Louisville.

"He was a very strong human being," Miller said. "He wasn't a big man, but he was strong as an ox, physically and mentally. As I got to know him more, I realized this was an unusual human being.

"We finally bought some mares together, and we had a lot of fun with that and sold some nice horses."

One of those, De La Rose, set a Saratoga sale record of $500,000 for a yearling filly in 1979. The celebration, like the sellers, was decidedly low-key.

"Well, we went out and he got a soda and I got a drink," recalled Miller.

The men shared a practical philosophy on breeding and raising the animals, starting with the decision to breed to sell.

"You had to have money," Miller said. "We kept an occasional horse to train, but the idea was that the horses had to support that farm," Miller said of the Wests' 750-acre Waterford Farm. "He hated tobacco. He'd raised it for a while, but then he converted all the tobacco barns into horse barns.

"He had a friend at the University of Kentucky who called him because they had a 10- or 12-stall barn they were dismantling, and this fellow called Smiser and says, 'I've got a barn for you that's in pretty good repair, but you have to take it down and put it back together yourself.' So he did."

West wasn't one for hothouse treatment of his yearlings, believing they should be allowed to live like horses instead of rare commodities.

"He built run-in sheds, and the back side was always pointed in the direction of the southwest, because the prevailing weather always came from there," Miller said. "His horses were rough-raised. He always had feed in the troughs and hay in the racks, but a lot of times you see them out in the snow eating grass."

Miller retired from training in 1995, and the two old friends saw each other almost every day after that.

"At the time Mack trained in New York, we always talked," West told author Jonelle Fisher in her 2005 book, "MacKenzie Miller: The Gentleman Trainer from Morgan Street." "And now we never miss a day that he doesn't come here or we talk. He doesn't come here on Sunday. He says he goes to church and prays for me."

"We were about on the same line all the time," said Miller. "When I would come home for Christmas from the racetrack, I'd go to Waterford, and we'd sit down for a few hours and make mating lists for the next year. When I went back to South Carolina and then to New York, he'd change a lot of the damn things. He'd call and say, 'Well, I've been thinking about this . . . .' I'd always say, 'Whatever you do is fine by me.'

"It was a wonderful relationship, and I had great admiration for him. I learned from him how breeding should be done properly, and whatever he did was fine with me. It worked."

Quite a year for the Jacksons

As 2006 draws to a close, it's not clear what the immediate plans are for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. His release from the New Bolton Center's intensive care unit could come in January, owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson have hinted. But, for the moment, Gretchen Jackson is just glad the year is ending on a miraculous note: Their homebred Derby winner has survived the harrowing months since his catastrophic breakdown in the May 20 Preakness.

"It's been an interesting year, but it's been a good year," Jackson said. "He's survived, and I have had an opportunity that I don't think too many owners have. I've gotten to know this horse very well. So have my grandchildren and all the family, who have made trips to see him once a week and sometimes daily."

For now, those visits to the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., will continue. For the next week, at least, it appears Barbaro will remain in intensive care along with what Jackson calls "an assortment of other animals," including alpacas, goats, and sheep.

Sales taking herpes precautions

A recent outbreak of equine herpesvirus-1 in Florida has prompted sale companies to adopt precautionary restrictions on horses shipping in for sales, according to trade reports. The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company, which has training facilities and also will conduct a mixed sale Jan. 17-20, will require shippers to gave a health certificate dated within 72 hours of arrival. The form must include rectal temperature and a veterinary inspection certificate.

Keeneland in Lexington, which will hold its January all-ages sale from Jan. 8-15, will require that the veterinary inspection certificates show that each horse has been vaccinated for EHV-1 between seven and 90 days before arrival at Keeneland. And the company will require that the horse not have been stabled or in contact with horses known to have EHV-1.