Trainer Julie Miller said Venerate’s victory in Saturday’s inaugural Mohawk Million at Woodbine Mohawk Park went far beyond a fantastic payday.
by Dave Briggs
It was a whirlwind and a rush and the perfect injection of cash just prior to the start of the major yearling-buying season, but trainer Julie Miller said the lasting impression of winning the inaugural Mohawk Million on Saturday (Sept. 26) at Woodbine Mohawk Park with her 2-year-old trotting colt Venerate goes far beyond dollar signs.
“It’s not just the monetary factor, it’s why we have this career, this passion for the horse,” Miller said, adding that to win with their long-time friends and partners the Pinske family made it particularly sweet. “To share it with great people, you just can’t put a price tag on that. It did help the bank account, but the emotional side is just as good.
“In good times or bad times, winning a million-dollar race is incredible. That was my wildest dream. I never even could put it on my vision board, to win a million-dollar race with a 2-year-old, let alone be in a great partnership with Pinskes… and I get to train the winner.”
Just think, six days before the $1 million (USD) race, Venerate didn’t have a spot on the gate in the“buy-in” race where nine slots were made available for the purchase of $110,000 (USD) each, with a final slot awarded to the winner of the William Wellwood Memorial. Slot owners that didn’t have a horse in the race were able to craft deals with others to use it. That was the whirlwind part for Miller and her owners — her husband’s Andy Miller Stable, Inc. and the Pinske Stables of Plato, MN. Venerate’s connections consummated a deal with slot owner Brad Grant and his partners not long after the Love You—Peaceful Kemp colt won his $250,000 Kentucky Sires Stakes Championship at Red Mile in 1:51.4, which was just a fifth of a second off the world record.
“Brad Grant reached out to me, I’m going to say a couple of days before (the KYSS Championship), probably a week ago Thursday and said, ‘What do you think about your colt?’ I said, ‘You have to be patient with me, Brad. If he races well on Sunday, I’d definitely entertain a conversation about using your group’s spot and participating.’ God bless him, he was patient with me. We spoke after the race and negotiated, I think, a great deal between the both of us. It took a couple of minutes and we were on our way.
“Brad said, ‘This is what our group is willing to do.’ Carter (Pinske), Andy and I were on speaker with Brad and we fully agreed, so there wasn’t really any negotiations or ‘I have to call you back’ on it. I think it was very fair of everyone involved and it went through that easily.”
Miller was effusive in her praise for Woodbine Mohawk Park for staging the first-of-its-kind event for harness racing and delivering a terrific show despite the challenges of putting the inaugural race on during a pandemic.
“I want to thank Woodbine and Mohawk for being progressive and trying something new and generating more buzz for the sport that I love,” Miller said. “We’re all fighting in a pandemic to keep people safe, so for Woodbine to still try hard to get this race going was unbelievable.
“With the pandemic and all the restrictions, it had to put a damper on it. I’m sure the people in charge are looking at the pros and cons and I hope they decide to continue it and it gets bigger and better next year.”
While the pandemic didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for winning the Mohawk Million, Miller said remaining in Lexington while the horse raced in Canada was tough on her nerves.
“It was hard. People that know me, know that Andy and I are very hands on in the stable. I’m a little bit of an OCD control freak, but there was nothing I could do,” Miller said. “It’s kind of like dropping your kid off on the first day of kindergarten. You drop them off at the building and hope everything goes well. It’s the same principle here, I knew he was in good hands with Doyle Transport and those two kids up there taking care of him — Kayla Hendry and Keelan MacDonald — and having Andy McCarthy (drive), that was super.”
Though Andy Miller normally drives Venerate, his unwillingness to attempt to cross a closed border gave McCarthy the drive.
“We knew that my Andy would not be able to go. He had made no preparation to try to travel over the border,” Julie said. “Luckily, Andy McCarthy was here (in Lexington) and he and Andy talked. We were lucky to get him to commit and that made a big decision… getting a driver right away that could race in Canada eased our worries. That all happened Sunday night.
“It was nice that they could talk one-on-one about the horse, about his temperament and how he would be. Then, after the draw on Tuesday, they had another good discussion on, well, ‘Let’s just make sure nothing happens and we have a clear path. Don’t get caught in a bad spot where you have to grab him.’ With the 10-hole, that was a whole other dynamic for us, but they had a great conversation. They thought we could do well in the race, barring major mishaps with the 10-hole.”
Venerate got away eight in the field of 10 after several horses left hard, causing a four-wide push into the first turn. Altar cut a :27 opening-quarter before handing the lead over to Wellwood winner On A Streak, who led to the half in :56.1 just as Insta Glam came with a powerful rush to claim the top spot going into the final turn. Race favorite Donna Soprano made her move just before the half, with Venerate following.
Insta Glam trotted a strong third-quarter to get the field to that station in 1:24 with a few lengths of separation.
In the stretch, Donna Soprano and Venerate trotted by Insta Glam to set up a battle of their own. Donna Soprano tried to hold on, but Venerate was too much to handle, powering by to a 1:53.2 victory with a winning margin of three-quarters of a length.
“I’m never overconfident, but I really felt that we had put everything in place to have a good race,” Julie said.
Bred by Steve Stewart and Kemppi Stable, the fact Venerate is by French stallion Love You and out of Muscle Hill mare Peaceful Kemp made him even more attractive to the Millers as a yearling.
“He was eye-catching,” Julie said. “When Andy and I went out to Hunterton, we liked him from the get-go. I had the opportunity to train Eurobond for Lindy Farms in his 3-year-old year and he was a Love You… and what a great mare, too.
“We just loved him and he was Kentucky sired and they race later on in the year, if he even made it at 2. It was one of those things where everything caught our eye and then the turnout was just unbelievable. Andy and I both looked at each other, like, ‘We love him.’”
Turns out Karl and Carter Pinske loved Venerate, too.
“At the sale, we were bidding and the Pinskes were bidding. We realized it and stopped bidding and our partnership began. The breeders got about$10,000 more out of us until we realized it,” said Miller of the colt that was hammered down for $90,000 at last year’s Lexington Selected Yearling Sale. “Karl and Carter came over and said, ‘We saw you were bidding’ and we said, ‘We did, too, so we stopped.’ And he said, ‘So we’ll be partners then.’ It was really great.”
As for Venerate’s mixture of French and American blood, Julie said the former makes for a strong horse and the latter adds the speed.
“It’s a good combination. I look forward to the new horses, getting the new French bloodline in there is going to improve standardbreds worldwide and in the U.S.”
As for Venerate as an individual, Julie said the colt, “knows he’s strong and powerful, but he really respects what you want to do in the race and in training. He’s just a good feeler.
“He’s just so strong and powerful, but he doesn’t have any wasted motions. He uses his ability to go.”
As for sometimes being a handful to work with, Julie said that’s just price of having a million-dollar race winner.
“The other day he came off the truck and I was there to see him and he could’ve bit my arm off – he just felt good. You’re just so thankful to have that kind of a horse, that he felt so good after that trip from Thursday to racing Saturday in Ontario and then back to Kentucky. He was saying, ‘Don’t bother me, I’m trying to eat.’”
As for whether Venerate’s profitable victory meant Julie and Andy Miller would treat themselves to something spectacular to eat — or some other trinket — Julie just laughed.
“We’ll likely put it all back into the sport to buy new babies and try to do it again.That’s the game. That race is over, turn the page, I’ve got to worry about the next one. We’ll reinvest and keep doing what we love.”