Miller learns while grinding away

Rich Fisher

Trenton, NJ — Tyler Miller grew up watching two of harness racing’s best go about their business on a daily basis. The son of driver Andy Miller and trainer Julie Miller, Tyler studied and learned from them, and many others.

But it wasn’t until he graduated from Rider University in 2020 and became a fulltime driver, that Miller began getting his real education.

“You can say you know how to do everything,” he said. “But it’s about the actual experience of getting out there and driving. It’s such a hands-on sport and there are so many nuances; you don’t learn unless you’re hands-on in the race.

“You could watch replays, you could watch new races, old races, races from 10 years ago or races that just happened last night. But if you’re in the race and don’t have that hands-on experience you need to further your knowledge and talent of trying to win races; it’s tough.”

Last year, Tyler Miller won 101 of 1,128 starts and enjoyed his first million-dollar season while hitting the board 362 times. USTA/Ken Weingartner photo.

Tyler has been getting that experience and making the most of it. In 2021, his first fulltime season, he had 81 wins in 814 starts and earned $935,271. Last year, he won 101 of 1,128 starts and enjoyed his first million-dollar season while hitting the board 362 times. His 59 wins were fourth most among all drivers at Freehold Raceway in 2022. So far this year, he is No. 1 at Freehold, with 13 victories.

“I feel like it went well last year,” said Miller, who turned 25 on Jan. 19. “I was happy with what I achieved. It could have been a little better, but it also could have been a little worse. I was happy to get that milestone of a million-dollar season, because I just missed it the year before.”

Growing up in New Jersey, Miller’s main tracks have been Freehold and The Meadowlands. But he successfully ventured out of state several times last year, winning a division of the Simpson Memorial Stakes as well as a division of the Liberty Bell at Harrah’s Philadelphia, and capturing multiple legs of the New York Sire Stakes Excelsior A Series at tracks in upstate New York.

And in referring to his “hands on” approach toward driving, Miller felt the more he raced in stakes events, the more comfortable he became.

“I’ve watched them for years and years, but it’s a completely different animal being in them,” he said. “It’s definitely very different from racing the TrackMaster races at Freehold. It’s a very different feel, and there’s definitely a very different way to drive in those races compared to racing the overnights at Freehold and The Meadowlands.”

Asked about the difference in his drives for those races, Miller said it would depend on what race it was, the horses in the race and the drivers in the race. He just realizes that the pressure is higher because in those races, a driver only gets one shot.

“There’s only one day of the Simpson a year,” Miller noted. “Most stakes there’s only one every year. The sire stakes there’s multiple legs in New York, but only one at every track. So, it’s a lot more serious; more competitive and more at stake. The money is a lot more than a normal overnight race, but it only comes once a year.”

And with that, Miller put a twist on the old “You gotta be in ‘em to win ‘em” saying.

“You want to win ‘em when you’re in ‘em.”

“I’ve been really lucky to be in some of those stake races and race against Hall of Fame trainers and drivers and people that know what they’re doing and have been in that situation. They are sometimes more comfortable in that position because everything is more expected. There’s not going to be that many wild cards in that race.”

Although he’s finding success at other tracks, Miller will continue to make Freehold and The Big M his home for 2023. He feels fortunate that while many young drivers are trying to make their way to The Meadowlands, he started his career driving in the sport’s most visible venue.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to going somewhere else, but Jersey has been my home and where I’ve had the most success,” he said. “There are so many people that work their way up through the industry from California, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York. Everybody tries to make their way into The Meadowlands. I’m already there. The handful of drives I get a night is just so surreal sometimes and it’s just nice to make the most of the opportunities.”

Miller realizes that if he doesn’t cash in on those chances, he may be left at the starting gate.

“That’s why I love driving at The Meadowlands, because it’s such a competitive place and there’s so many people that want to drive there,” he said. “Over the past month, especially with Yonkers and a lot of tracks being closed, I would say there’s at least 25 drivers at The Meadowlands that want to drive in the race. And there’s only 10 horses in a race so 15 of those guys are out.

“I just feel lucky and feel so grateful to have the work that I do. You just try to do the best with the work that you can and make the most of every opportunity you can. If you don’t, there’s somebody right behind you trying to get in.”

There is another reason he loves it there, as Tyler speaks of the track with the reverence of a kid who grew up there — which he did.

“They just put on such a good show there,” he said. “Just the history, and everyone that’s there. It’s surreal. When you’re racing there, you’re like ‘Hey we’re at The Meadowlands.’ It’s the track that everybody watches, the track everybody pays attention to whether it’s (a conditioned race) or the open trot or a stakes night, everyone is watching the Meadowlands.”

When they watch Miller, they are seeing a guy starting to get steady work from numerous trainers. They may not all be large stables, but they all count in giving him the experience he craves. In reflecting on the previous two seasons and how he has improved, Tyler said, “I guess knowing when to use the horse’s speed the right way, just trying to work out better ways to utilize and get the best out of the horse.

“Freehold has helped a lot because a lot of the horses there really only have one move to them,” he added. “And being able to use that one move at the right time is something I think I’ve gotten better at.”

Miller has gotten off to a nice start this season, having won 15 of 111 starts and $86,310.

“The first month of the year has actually been OK,” he said. “Freehold has gone very well recently. The Meadowlands has been OK, I’m just kind of grinding away. That’s what the business is about, right?”

So true. And Miller is starting to grind with the best of them.

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