Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller

Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller

Skip Dickstein

Hall of Fame Trainer Mack Miller Dies

Trainer of 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero was 89; entered Hall of Fame in 1987

MacKenzie “Mack” Miller, a Hall of Fame trainer, died the morning of Dec. 10 at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center in Lexington. He was 89.

Miller had been placed at the Markey Center after suffering a stroke Dec. 5.  Known as the “Gentleman Trainer of Morgan Street,” Miller lived with his wife, Martha, in Versailles, Ky.

Miller sent out 72 stakes winners, his most famous being perhaps Paul Mellon’s homebred Sea Hero, winner of the 1993 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Sea Hero, who also won the Travers Stakes (gr. I) later that summer, captured the previous year’s Champagne Stakes (gr. I). However, it was Java Gold, Mellon and Miller’s star of 1987, that Miller ranked as the best horse he trained.

Miller’s induction in 1987 to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., coincided with a stellar meet at Saratoga Race Track for the conditioner and owner Mellon. Mellon’s homebred 3-year-old Java Gold defeated older horses in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) on the first weekend of the meeting, then came back two weeks later to take the Travers Stakes against a top field that included Alysheba, Bet Twice, and Cryptoclearance. Another Mellon runner, Crusader Sword, stamped himself as the meet’s leading 2-year-old colt when he won the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) on the four-week meet’s closing weekend.

A Versailles native, Miller served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and started in racing after the war, working with broodmares at Calumet Farm near Lexington. He later worked as a foreman for trainer Kirtley Cleveland before obtaining his trainer’s license in 1949.

Miller was represented by his first stakes winner, Oil Painting, in 1955, and his first champion, 2-year-old filly co-champ Leallah, the following year.

After serving as a public trainer, Miller became the private conditioner in the mid-1960s for major industrialist Charles Engelhard. Among the stakes winners Miller trained for Engelhard were grass champions Assagai and Hawaii, plus Halo, Mr. Leader, and Tentam, all of whom became important stallions. Halo developed into a two-time leading sire. In 1977, Miller became the private trainer for Mellon.

Miller also was the conditioner of Mellon’s New York Handicap Triple winner Fit to Fight. As a 5-year-old of 1984, Fit to Fight won the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), the Suburban Handicap (gr. I), and the Brooklyn Handicap (gr. I) to complete the series.

Miller and his longtime friend, R. Smiser West, were highly successful breeders. The two men, together and with their wives, were the breeders of champion grade I winners Chilukki and De La Rose, plus other grade I winners Lite Light and Tweedside. West, who owned Waterford Farm near Midway, Ky., died in 2006.

Miller retired from training when Mellon decided to reduce his racing stock in 1995. Mellon died in 1999.

A memorial service will be held at the Versailles Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Versailles, Tuesday, Dec. 14, at noon. Burial will be private.