Hightstown, NJ — On Saturday (Aug. 1), trainer Julie Miller will experience her Hambletonian present. One night earlier, maybe she will get a glimpse at her Hambletonian future.
Miller sends out Big Oil in the first of Saturday’s two $50,000 Hambletonian eliminations at The Meadowlands. The top-five finishers from each elim advance to the $1 million final for 3-year-old trotters Aug. 8 at The Big M.
On Friday, she will watch Venerate in the lone $20,000 elimination of the Peter Haughton Memorial for 2-year-old male trotters at The Meadowlands. The top-seven finishers will join bye recipients Locatelli, Spy Booth, and Type A in the final, also Aug. 8.
Big Oil is 10-1 on the morning line in his Hambletonian elimination. Andy Miller will drive the colt, who starts from post four. Back Of The Neck is the 2-1 favorite, followed by Amigo Volo at 7-2, Beads at 9-2, and Dan Patch Award winning filly Ramona Hill at 5-1. Ready For Moni is the 5-2 favorite in the second elimination.
“I’m proud just to be in the race, first of all,” Miller said. “I think that’s a really deep group. I think it’s the tougher (elimination) but it’s going to be even tougher next week, so we might as well get it figured out this Saturday. I just hope we have a little luck. Actually, a lot of luck.”
Big Oil, a son of Father Patrick out of former Miller standout and world-record-setter Cee Bee Yes, won two of eight races last year and hit the board a total of six times. He finished in a dead-heat for win with Real Cool Sam in a division of the International Stallion Stakes at Red Mile in 1:52.1, a clocking that was the second fastest of the year for a 2-year-old male trotter.
This season, Big Oil opened with wins in a conditioned race and division of the Pennsylvania All-Stars before finishing third behind Back Of The Neck and Third Shift in a division of the Stanley Dancer Memorial.
“I’ve been trying to manage him and get ready for this race,” Miller said. “I just hope I’ve got my I’s dotted and my T’s crossed. I think he’s special, but of course because he’s mine, I think that way. I just hope I’ve got him the best he can be and he can leave it all on the racetrack.
“When Andy gets behind him and they start to go, he gives 110 percent. He’s handy, it’s not like he’s got to be raced from behind or he’s got to be up front or he’s got to have this or that. He has a good relationship with Andy and when Andy asks, he’s going to deliver.”
Big Oil, a homebred owned by Jason Allen, Doug Allen, and Ron Allen, also owns a big personality.
“No matter what is going on, he never loses his zest for life,” Miller said. “He has this whinny where he doesn’t open his mouth, it’s like an internal one; it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. He’s got such a personality. Anybody that comes in the barn, everybody knows him. He makes sure his presence is felt. He’s just a fun horse in that respect.”
Prior to last year, Miller posted three consecutive top-three finishes in Hambletonian finals. In 2018, Met’s Hall finished second to Atlanta. In 2017, Devious Man was third-placed-second and a year earlier Sutton was a fast-closing third, beaten only a neck, in the race won by Marion Marauder.
As for the Haughton elim, Venerate won his only start this year, a 1:55.1 triumph in a conditioned race at The Meadowlands on July 17. The colt is 7-2 on the morning line, second choice behind 3-1 Caruso from Hall of Famer Joe Holloway’s stable.
“He’s just been a pleasure,” Miller said. “He doesn’t realize what he’s doing yet and it’s fun to see his development. He’s a big good-looking colt. People always ask me, ‘Who is that?’ He’s eye-catching on the track.”
Venerate is a son of standout French sire Love You out of Peaceful Kemp. He sold for $90,000 at last fall’s Lexington Selected Sale and his family includes 2014 Hambletonian winner Trixton as well as Dan Patch Award winners Andover Hall and Conway Hall. He is owned by Pinske Stables and Andy Miller Stable Inc.
Carter Pinske had the colt in Florida for the winter before sending him north to Miller’s stable in New Jersey.
“We went down a couple times to train with Carter and we were really impressed with him,” Miller said. “As luck would have it, he is Kentucky sired, which starts (its sire stakes series) after this race, so we really just babied him along. I was happy with his race, for him to get stretched out a little to see what we’ve got. I think he deserves a chance in (the Haughton).”
In addition to the Haughton elimination on Friday, there are two $20,000 elims of the Jim Doherty Memorial for 2-year-old female trotters. Insta Glam, 2-for-2 on the Pennsylvania stakes circuit for trainer Nancy Takter, is the 7-5 favorite in the first; New Jersey Sire Stakes champion Altar, from trainer Per Engblom’s stable, is the 8-5 choice in the second.