Norman Miller may not be a household name when it comes to horse trainers. But the 47-year-old New Orleans native will have one of his most important opportunities Saturday when he saddles Jimmy and Dennis Richard's Bonapaw in the $300,000 Vosburgh (gr. I) at seven furlongs at Belmont Park.
The Vosburgh is the most important of three stakes Saturday. The $100,000 Noble Damsel (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares at one mile on turf and the $75,000 Ashley T. Cole for New York-breds going 1 1/8 mile on the turf are on the undercard.
Several horsemen in his 33-start career have trained Bonapaw, a 6-year-old who was gelded as a yearling. The last time he was in New York, Bonapaw was trained by Al Stall Jr., although for most of his career he was trained by Howard Alonzo.
Miller worked with Alonzo for awhile, but only paid attention to Bonapaw. Eventually, Miller asked twins Jimmy and Dennis Richard for an increased role in Bonapaw's training.
"We were doing all the training, but weren't making the money," Miller said. "Finally I said, 'Hey boys, I've been training, you want me in this program, how about moving me into the spot?' I took it on not so much for the money, but because he's such a good horse and I believed I could do better with him if I had full control."
Since Miller has been listed as the trainer, Bonapaw finished sixth in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, fourth in his first race back in the States on July 4, and won his last two starts at Arlington.
"Dubai was a fiasco," Miller said. "An hour before you run, they come pick you up in a van. It's about four to five miles to the track and the van's running over speed bumps. He washed out and then in the paddock he washed out again. He was trying to flip in the paddock. At least, we made it there and back in one piece."
Every morning before he goes out onto the track, the son of Sabona gets an hour-long massage from Miller. And work he does. In a Sept. 9 drill, Bonapaw sizzled five furlongs in a remarkable :57 3/5. Before his fourth-place finish in the Iowa Sprint, he worked five furlongs in :56 3/5. When he is not putting in a speedy work, Bonapaw is doing more than most marathon distance runners."Three miles, easy," Miller said. "He jogged one way and galloped the other way. We usually go two rounds, and even though this track is a mile and a half, we've stuck to going two rounds. I get on him every morning and my fiancée, Colleen Baker gets on the pony, Dakota."The Vosburgh will be Bonapaw's Breeders' Cup because his owners would have to put up $200,000 to get into the race, $70,000 less than the gelding has made all year.
Bonapaw's early ambition could make him tough to beat in the Vosburgh. Flaxman Stable's Aldebaran has been remarkably consistent, but his closing running style has made him vulnerable against horses with more speed.
Aldebaran has been second in his last four starts, including two defeats against the sprint division leader, Orientate. In the Forego (gr. I), with Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day aboard for the first time,
Orientate vied for the lead and drew off while Aldebaran was 10 lengths behind a quarter-mile into the race.
"That was a great race," Aldebaran's Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel said. "He got in trouble in there and a lot of people thought he should have won, but I don't think he would have won anyway. Orientate is something out of the ordinary. Pat Day learned something from riding him the other day. He inched him into the race instead of sitting back and making one run. Now, he just wants to sit back there and wait."
On Aug. 3rd, Aldebaran was sent off a 3-5 favorite in a
third-level allowance field and was outsprinted by Voodoo, a rival he will face again Saturday.
Voodoo will not have as easy a time wiring the field in the Vosburgh as he did in the allowance against Aldebaran at Saratoga. Nonetheless, the addition of blinkers seemed to wake up the 4-year-old gelding. Earlier this year, Voodoo was just a length behind Affirmed Success in the Carter (gr. I) without blinkers.
"The blinkers seemed to help," said trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "He wasn't showing as much early speed and I was surprised. When he won at Saratoga it was one of those days when the track was fast and the rail was good. Speed was carrying pretty good that day."
Multiple Choice ran third behind Orientate twice at Saratoga, beaten nearly four lengths by Aldebaran for the place spot in the Forego.
"He's getting a little bit better each time," Jerkens said. "Orientate seems to be the best sprinter around."
Live Oak Plantation's Wild Summer has been rejuvenated by a return to sprinting. He won two conditioned allowances at Saratoga.
"He could never really quite go a mile and an eighth," trainer Bill Badgett Jr. said. "At a mile and a sixteenth, he could win against not the top-shelf horses. He's got a ton of ability and we thought that if there was pace in a sprint, he could sit back and make one run.
"We've changed his training around. We're not quite as aggressive with him now. We've shortened up his works and he seems to be a lot happier."$300,000 Vosburgh (gr. 1), 7 Furlongs, 3 and Up
PP. HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY
1 Multiple Choice, Jimmy Jerkens, Edgar Prado
2 Griffinite, J. Leigh-Pedersen, Javier Castellano
3 Voodoo, Jimmy Jerkens, John Velazquez
4 Bonapaw, Norman Miller, Gerard Melancon
5 Wild Summer, Bill Badgett Jr., Aaron Gryder
6 Aldebaran, Bobby Frankel, Pat DayAll carry 126 pounds.