TDN Weekend

Miller, Rockingham Seek New Heights in Dubai

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Peter Miller | Benoit

By Michael Adolphson

California speed is dangerous, no matter if it is shipping to the East Coast or the Middle East, but the racing world has been aware of such for years. Trainer Peter Miller, whose powerful West Coast operation is firing on all cylinders in 2017, has shipped two horses across the world on said premise for Dubai’s top two sprints. Richard’s Boy (Idiot Proof) will run in the $1 million G1 Al Quoz Sprint over a straight six-furlong (1200m) grass course; and St Joe Bay (Saint Anddan) is entered in the $2 million G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen over the same distance, but on an American-style dirt course around one bend. Striking at an impressive 27.6% so far this year, the former Charlie Whittingham assistant garners respect, but also must prove he can win on the global stage for the first time.

Rockingham Ranch’s Richard’s Boy is the lesser known of the Miller pair. A consistent, wickedly quick multi-surface specialist, he will meet a salty renewal of the Al Quoz that includes such international turf sprint heavyweights as English multiple Group 1 winner Limato (Ire) (Tagula {Ire}), swift Hong Kong straight course specialist Amazing Kids (NZ) (Falkirk {NZ}) and top-ranked global sprinter and 2016 runner-up Ertijaal (Ire) (Oasis Dream {GB}). The California-bred son of 2008 Dubai Golden Shaheen runner-up Idiot Proof has hit the board in eight consecutive starts for Miller and won three of his last four in turf sprints. Signaling his solid current form, the eight-time winner produced a career-high 121 Equibase Speed Figure two back in the two back in the Jan. 28 California Cup Sprint on dirt, which his conditioner believes is his lesser-preferred surface.

“Both horses shipped very well and I’m really happy with them,” Miller said. “Richard’s Boy is better on the grass and is sitting on a big race. He’s consistent and quick, but tractable in the race. We wouldn’t be in there if we didn’t think he had a chance and he’s a tough, honest horse who will give you everything. Like St. Joe Bay, he doesn’t require a lot of medication and is doing as well as he ever has going into this race.”

Gary Hartunian’s Rockingham Ranch has made a concerted effort to up its game over the last two seasons. The Southern California-based operation has gone from a highly effective, mostly claiming-based operation to what is now a quality-over-quantity-focused enterprise with its hand in multiple facets of the industry. According to its director of operations, Brian Trump, who is Hartunian’s son-in-law, Rockingham has 58 horses in training–43 with Miller, 11 with Jorge Navarro in South Florida and four with Jeff Runco in West Virginia–as well as 12 broodmares, 13 weanlings and one stallion, Miller-trained Grade I winner Finnegan’s Wake {Powerscourt (GB)}. Rockingham also seeks redemption in 2017 after having suffered through a heartbreaking head loss with its 2016 Dubai Golden Shaheen favorite X Y Jet {Kantharos].

“[Richard’s Boy] traveled very well and looks like a healthy, happy horse,” Trump said. “He’s nice and rested and that’s one of the reasons we brought him to Dubai. Peter said he came out of his last race better than ever and we think the straight six furlongs on the grass will be perfect for him. We have been pointing to this race since December and it’s going to be a good fit for him. We’re going in as a longshot and we know that, but the horse is giving us confidence.”

“Within the last year, especially, [Hartunian] has really spent a lot of time making better purchase decisions and focusing on spreading the wealth and the risks around to different parts of the industry,” Trump continued. “It’s been a conscious decision to try and put us on a larger scale map and going to Dubai with a horse we feel could give a good account of himself is part of that.”

Like his stablemate, St. Joe Bay is in peak form for Miller, who co-owns the streaking dark bay gelding with David Bernsen. Like his sire, St. Joe Bay ran respectably at a variety of trips and surfaces before finally optimizing his potential as a sprint specialist. After finishing second in a second-level allowance going a two-turn mile at Santa Anita Oct. 30, the Florida-bred great-grandson of iconic champion racemare Susan’s Girl shortened up for the same condition at 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar Dec. 4. The result was a 6 1/2-length romp and a solid 121 Equibase Speed Figure. Since then, the 5-year-old has reeled off two graded stakes victories, including a 2 3/4-length triumph in the GII Palos Verdes S. at Santa Anita Feb. 24.

“Well, if I had to pick one to win, it would be St. Joe Bay because I own half of him and it’s twice the purse,” Miller quipped. “But, joking aside, I’m going in there with a couple warriors and I feel pretty good about our chances. [St. Joe Bay] is in top form and he’s a very fast horse, so they’re going to have to catch him. He’s won his last three since I turned him into a sprinter and I feel like this race suits him.”

“It takes a lot to win at this level, but that is why it’s such a great accomplishment whenever you do,” Miller concluded. “If we can win on the world stage, it will be huge for our barn. I’ve had chances to go to Dubai before, but I didn’t have the right horses. I do with these two and we feel good about our chances.”

 

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