Elson Miller has never put the cart before the horse

by Chris Lomon

He was a man with a plan well before he joined the standardbred realm, a then teenager who became familiar with trotters and pacers in his native Indiana.

The more he learned about standardbreds, the more he gave thought to owning his own.

“I started out buying and selling horses,” Miller said. “I would go to racetracks, buy horses that weren’t making money and sell them to the Amish. I started getting to know a couple of trainers and I would buy a couple of horses to give my friends to train. I just owned them.”

And once he sat in the sulky, albeit in a different capacity, Miller was completely hooked.

Soon, he became a fixture driving in the pony racing circuit in the northern part of his home state.

“That was a lot of fun,” Miller said. “They’re between 50 and 54 inches tall and they go half a mile. They’re like little standardbreds. It’s still pretty accurate to compare them to a standardbred. The classifications are something you need to learn, but I really enjoyed all of it.”

So much so, in fact, that the experience prompted Miller to pursue a career in harness racing.

In 2022, Miller earned his driving license.

He was meticulously prepared for the start of his career, but also eager to consume as much knowledge as possible.

“I have a friend, Jim Brinson, who was training a couple for me, and he was all about helping me get my trainer’s license and my driver’s license, which pushed me to actually do it,” Miller said. “At first, it looked like a big mountain for me to climb over. But I was determined to give it all I had.”

Miller had plenty of people in his corner, including Brinson.

A combined winner of over 350 races, the driver/trainer helped Miller get accustomed to his new surroundings and prepared for the new challenges that come with racing.

“Jim was racing at the Red Mile and getting ready to move up to Northville,” Miller said. “He posted three horses for sale on Facebook, and one was Warrawee Victor, a son of Sweet Lou. I wanted to buy the horse and I messaged him. He trucked up to Michigan, which was only two hours away. I drove up and I ended up buying the horse. I took him back with me and I had a friend, Kevin Slabaugh, who had his trainer’s license, so he took over that part. I didn’t have my license at the time. I was hands-on, but I was only listed as the owner. We took the horse to Northville, and he won. That’s where I was hooked. It was a great feeling and a feeling of accomplishment.

“Jim was there that day and instead of being jealous, he congratulated me. That was in October of 2021. He was in Pompano and texted me, asking if I wanted to send Warrawee Victor to him. He thought he could make money and he liked the horse. Two weeks later, I was in Florida. I went to the track and hung out for three days, and jogged horses. We became friends, claimed another horse, a spur of the moment thing. It just kind of went on from there. He had helped me get signatures for my licenses. I felt a lot more confident heading into my first year as a trainer because of what I learned from Jim.”

By the end of his rookie campaign, one that produced a record of 6-2-5 from 36 starts, Miller had even surprised himself.

He had climbed the mountain.

“I had something that was making money,” Miller said. “I also was also doing real estate, and had something solid, business-wise, so making the step and getting away from it to follow what I really wanted to do was scary at first. You don’t know if you are going to make money… it was a big step for me. There was so much I didn’t know with the racing at the start. I’m so thankful for everyone who signed for me and supported me.”

After a successful first season, Miller headed to Cal-Expo in November, giving him an opportunity to keep his wheels in motion, so to speak.

While torrential rains meant the cancellation of multiple race cards at the Sacramento oval, it didn’t damper his enthusiasm to any great extent.

On Jan. 12, he sent out his first winner of 2023, Wonder Of Love, a horse he owns, trains and drives.

The 5-year-old son of Shadyshark Hanover (IN)—Savannas Love eked out a neck victory in 2:04 over a sloppy track.

Miller certainly made others take notice, even those who weren’t familiar with his back story.

“I’ve done okay for what is really my first year of horse racing,” Miller said. “A lot of trainers don’t know me, who I am, where I came from, things like that. Some will kind of question you. I grew up with horses, and in 2021, I sold over 700 horses, so the horsemanship was there. Yes, it’s different from racehorses, but my love for it and my love of the horses has always been there. Some of the older trainers wonder why a young kid is doing well, which bothers you to a certain point. But I can’t worry about that. I just keep learning and listening, pushing myself to get better.”

Miller is hoping to eclipse the numbers he posted in 2022.

He knows it won’t be easy but striving to reach the summit has always been part of who he is.

As always, the 21-year-old has a solid plan in place.

“For the short term, I want to be a trainer,” Miller said. “I love owning, and that’s one thing I always want to do. I would like to drive more than I want to train. I love it. Where I would like to get to is owning, driving, and do some real estate on the side. I always like to be working and whatever I’m doing, I want to do it the right way.”