For many, getting an after school job is an important part of learning responsibility and gaining financial independence during the high school years.
In that respect, Arizona Miller, a 16-year-old junior at Beaver Local High School in East Liverpool, Ohio, is not unlike any other teenager. The main difference is, while most cut grass, shovel snow, or work at a grocery store, Miller has chosen a different way of earning extra cash.
Miller’s afterschool gig takes place at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort, where in August he began his “job” as an apprentice jockey at the Chester, W.Va., racetrack. Less than two weeks later, on Sept. 2, Miller won his first race aboard 39-1 longshot claimer Brick Party. In simple teenage vernacular, Miller described the feeling of getting his first career victory.
“It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Miller said.
His adolescence aside, Miller’s foray into racing should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, he is only following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Herman, and father, Chris, who both made careers as owners/trainers. In fact, if there was ever any doubt about what career path Miller would choose, it was pretty much decided for him when he was named after one of Herman’s best horses, Arizona Stranger, a hard-knocking horse who won 17 claiming races in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“There’s a picture of me riding a pony when I was two,” recalled Miller. “It’s really all I ever wanted to do. My dad was a jockey too, although not for long. But we live on a farm with about 20 horses and I’ve been on horses my whole life.”
Miller, who doesn’t turn 17 until April, downplays the difficulty of being a professional rider at such a young age, although he admits managing his time is the biggest challenge.
For Miller, a typical weekday includes waking up at about 7 a.m., going through a full day of school, attending wrestling practice, and then making the 15-minute drive to Mountaineer for a full night of racing. Currently, Mountaineer races Friday through Tuesday. Miller has mounts all of those nights, so far averaging about four starts per card.
“I usually get home at about 11:30 or 12, so it’s definitely a full day,” admits Miller. “It doesn’t leave time for much else. I usually do my homework in the jocks room. The (other jockeys) don’t usually give me a hard time. They know my education is important. I go right to bed on my nights off.”
And what about having time to do things that normal teenage boys do, such as hang out with friends or go out with girls?
“Sometimes it’s a little frustrating if I want to go to the movies and I can’t because I have to work,” Miller said. “Most of my friends don’t really understand horse racing, but they come to see me race sometimes.
“As far as girls, I always make time for them.”
As of Nov. 18, Miller has recorded a 9-12-14 record from 188 mounts for earnings of $126,152. Although constantly getting better and feeling more confident every day, Miller has come to grips with the fact that his 5’9” frame might eventually get too big to be a jockey someday soon.
“I’m trying to stay small, said Miller, who says the rigors of wrestling help him make his 111-pound racing weight. “I want to ride and eventually go on to bigger and better racetracks. If not, I’d like to be a trainer some day.”