02/05/2007 12:00AM

Small stable starts off 2007 with a bang


Numerous Thoroughbred trainers began their careers with Quarter Horses, with D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert being two high-profile examples.

Similarly, trainer Darrin Miller got started in racing with Quarter Horses, although not by training them, but by sitting atop them. As a teenager, Miller rode Quarter Horses, first at bush tracks and later at recognized racetracks, before pursuing his interest in training Thoroughbreds.

Miller, 40, said his early background was "not traditional." But traditional or not, he is enjoying success in the training profession.

He is off to a great start in 2007, winning 4 races with 11 starters through Feb. 4. Include another win with his final starter of 2006 and he has won with five of his last 12 runners.

These wins have not come in just one place. He has been hot from Kentucky to Florida, winning races at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky and at Calder, Gulfstream, and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida.

Although pleased with the success, he knows it will be hard to continue to win at such a high percentage in the months ahead. He said his stable has gotten on a roll by "hitting our maidens and first-level allowances, getting those out of the way." As these conditions disappear as a result of victories, the competition gets stiffer.

Even so, Miller and his owners, Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton of Silverton Hill Farm, for whom he trains privately, seem poised for a rewarding year. They have at least several high-quality horses in their stable, led by Gin and Sin, Sedgefield, and Dominican, whom have all won or placed in stakes.

Gin and Sin, a 7-year-old gelding, is a three-time stakes winner who has made $469,467 in winning 10 of 39 starts; Sedgefield - a full broher to english Channel - placed second in the Tropical Park Derby at Calder on Jan. 1 before winning an allowance at Gulfstream on Jan. 26; and Dominican ran third behind Tiz Wonderful and Any Given Saturday in his last race, the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25.

One difference with his stable this winter is that his Kentucky-based horse are being trained exclusively at the Hamiltons' Silverton Hill Farm in Springfield, Ky., where there is a Polytrack training surface. In the past these horses might have gotten their early work there before shipping to Churchill Downs Trackside for further training.

This winter, Miller elected to have them train at Silverton Hill Farm and ship to race at Turfway.

"It just made more sense," he said, noting the traditional dirt surface at Trackside can become frozen at times during the winter.

He has 27 horses in training at Silverton Hill Farm, although most are 2-year-olds that will not be ready to run for quite some time. Six of those 27 are currently racing, he said, and he has 12 horses based in Florida.

Looking at his training statistics, Miller wins at a high percentage in several areas, including with horses switching distances and surfaces. Their ability to handle a number of different conditions might be in part attributed to their pedigrees. Some are by versatile sires, such as Go for Gin and Smart Strike, that get winners on turf, dirt, racing short, and running long.

Miller also has good statistics with claiming and allowance starters, and also with horses returning from short layoffs of between 31 and 60 days rest.

Stakes races have not been an area of statistical strength for Miller, but that could change in the near future. He has high hopes for several horses in his stable, including Sedgefield, whom he plans to run in undetermined stakes race before sending him to Kentucky to try the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End Stakes on March 24.

If that one's successful, Miller's banner season could extend well beyond the early part of the year.