Shortly after dawn had broken Nov. 2, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) contender Havelock was being attended to by the person who knows him the best.
Chase Miller, the gelding’s exercise rider and son of trainer Darrin Miller, stood outside barn 41 at Churchill Downs in the early morning light, talking excitedly about the gelding’s chances in the five-furlong race. Seventeen-year-old Miller, who hopes to have his jockey’s license by next spring, shared how he has seen Havelock blossom from a sleepy juvenile into a robust competitor.
“He’s an athlete, he does what he wants, and I kind of let him do what he wants,” said Miller of the 4-year-old gelding by Great Notion , who will enter the Turf Sprint off an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Oct. 8 Woodford Stakes (gr. IIIT). “He feels totally different from when I got on him in Florida (last winter) to now. He’s very forward, square, and very nice to ride.
“As you can see, he’s really happy right now,” added Miller of Havelock, who nodded his head enthusiastically between bites of hay. “He’s like riding a big water buffalo—he’s so huge and massive and he has a lot of power underneath him. He keeps it down, though…he doesn’t show a lot of his power in the mornings, but you can feel it. In his last work you really felt it--what he has (four furlongs in :49 3/5 Oct. 30). He’s a really nice horse to ride.”
Havelock, a Maryland homebred, is campaigned by Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton’s Springfield, Ky.-based Silverton Hill. He broke his maiden at first asking at Gulfstream last winter, and then competed in a series of allowance and allowance optional claiming contests there, as well as Keeneland, Churchill, and Arlington Park.
Havelock clearly loves the turf, with victories over that surface in three of his four most recent starts—the July 16 Arlington Sprint Handicap, the Aug. 28 Play the King (gr. IIT) at Woodbine, and the Woodford, all at sprint distances.
Havelock, who has morning line odds of 9-2, will break from post 10 in the Turf Sprint under Robby Albarado. In all, he holds a record of 6-0-2 from 14 starts, for earnings of $366,154.
“After he won the race at Arlington, I said we were going to the Breeders’ Cup,” said Miller of the Arlington Sprint Handicap. “Then after we went to Woodbine (for the Play the King)—he was 20-1 in that race--we had high hopes we’d make it to the (Turf Sprint).”
A win for Havelock in the Turf Sprint would be especially sweet for Chase’s father, Darrin, who also trained the gelding’s stakes-winning sire Great Notion and stakes-placed dam Piconeach (by Spectacular Love) for Silverton Hill. The gelding would also be the first Breeders’ Cup victor for his connections.
“Piconeach passed away this year, so Havelock is her last baby,” said Chase Miller. “He’s a homebred baby, so he’s very special to all of us.”