Sunday, January 16, 2011

Prominent Trainers and Owners Mourned

This winter, Aiken's Thoroughbred world lost two prominent members, Mack Miller and Ned Evans. Miller, who was a trainer of champion race horses, died on December 11, 2010, from complications of a stroke. He was 89. A few weeks later, on December 31, Edward "Ned" Evans, one of America's most prominent horse breeders and owners, died from leukemia. He was 68.

Ned Evans was the son of Thomas Mellon Evans, who once maintained a winter training base for his Buckland Farm in Aiken's historic district. After the elder Evans died in 1997, Buckland ceased operations. However, Ned Evans, who owned Spring Hill Farm in Virginia, continued a relationship with the city, regularly sending his young horses to Ron Stevens for winter training. One of Mr. Evans's most successful horses, Quality Road, was the Aiken Trained Horse of the Year in 2009 and 2010, making him the first horse ever to win that title twice.

MacKenzie Todd Miller, known as "Mack" was one of the most illustrious horsemen ever to train horses at Aiken's track. He was born in 1921 in Versailles, Kentucky, and was first exposed to racehorses at 14 when he attended the opening meet at nearby Keeneland with his father, who was a maintenance manager for Greyhound Lines and an amateur horse breeder. Mack saw his first Kentucky Derby two years later when he was 16.

Mr. Miller attended the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla, then went on to the University of Kentucky. He dropped out soon afterward to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he went to Calumet Farm, so eager to be involved with racehorses he offered to work for nothing. He started out as a groom, and two years later took out his training license. In 1955, he won his first stakes race, and just a year later, trained Leallah, the champion 2-year-old filly of the year.

Mack Miller's career spanned 50 years and he trained 72 stakes winners. In addition to Leallah, he also trained three more champions: Assagai, who was champion male turf horse in 1966, Hawaii who was champion male turf horse of 1969 and Snow Knight who was champion male turf horse of 1975. He was the first trainer ever to develop three different American turf champions.

At the end of his career, Mr. Miller worked as a private trainer for Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stables, which had a winter stable in Aiken. In 1993, when Mr. Miller was 71 and Mr. Mellon was 85, Mellon convinced him to enter the horse Sea Hero in the Kentucky Derby, one of the only major stakes races that neither had won. Sea Hero, who was trained in Aiken, went off at 13-1, but came home the winner, beating the favorite by more than two lengths.

Mack Miller was known for his courtly manner and his ability to get the best out of difficult horses. The Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame has a permanent Mackenzie Miller exhibit that includes photographs, win pictures, paintings and trophies. A video of Sea Hero winning the Kentucky Derby can be found on the hall of fame website:

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