10/29/2007 12:00AM

Studies with a master resulted in winning ways for a 25-year racetrack veteran

EmailThe casual fan may not know Peter Miller, but those who play Southern California races on a regular basis know him well. That's because the 40-year-old has been winning his share of race since going out on his own.

Miller has 34 wins from 216 starts this year through Sunday, Oct. 28, and his horses have earned $1,321,080.

While he's a fairly new name on the training landscape it's not as if Miller just stepped off the train.

"After 25 years on the racetrack, I'm an overnight sensation," he said.

That's because he's been doing much of the background work for some of the elite names on the California racing scene over the past couple of decades. His experience includes stints as a hotwalker for Hal King, Mike Mitchell and Joe Manzi. He then got the proverbial Harvard education for trainers - he spent three years in the 1980s as a groom for Hall of Fame trainer and developer of numerous future trainers Charlie Whittingham. Miller worked with such Grade 1 horses as Estrapade, Ferdinand, Greinton, Dahar, Lord at War, Prince True, and Palace Music. Miller specifically handled Palace Music, who nearly won the Breeders' Cup Mile and who would go on to sire the great Cigar.

Miller took out his trainers license in 1987, but after five years he said he suffered from "burnout" and left the game for a few years. But as he found out, the game never leaves you, and in 1994 he returned to work at San Luis Rey Downs, which remains his base of operations, though this season, for the first time, he has had stalls at the major Southern California tracks. He keeps some on track, but a roster of up to 30 horses at San Luis Rey gives him the chance to rotate horses in and out to keep his stable stocked with fresh runners.

The reason for his emergence?

"It's strictly a matter of better stock," said Miller. "I have some nice horses, some good owners who have given me the opportunity to buy nice horses that fit and have conditions, and then let me run them where they belong. Also, I have a great team in the barn. It's all about teamwork."

Those "nice" horses include the top-class turf sprinter Fast Parade. Miller also got a taste of the big time this past Saturday when he sent out Set Play, winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She finished 11th.

While such high-profile horses have helped bring him out of anonymity, there's no forgetting that Miller has struck a chord with players in the day-to-day grind. He has shown versatility in handling horses of different categories. He wins at a 16-percent rate with maiden claimers, 20 percent with straight maidens, 20 percent with claimers, and 15 percent with allowance horses. He's 20 percent in sprints, 14 percent in routes. He's 17 percent on dirt, 18 percent on turf, and 20 percent on synthetic tracks.

Whittingham will always be regarded as one of history's best trainers off a layoff, and Miller took those lessons well. He's a strong 20 percent off a layoff of six months or longer. He's 37 percent off a layoff of 61 to 180 days. Second time after a layoff of six months or more, he is again a strong 22 percent.

He also understands when a change needs to be made. He's a 19 percent winner when adding blinkers for the first time, and a potent 36 percent when taking them off.