Mack Miller

One of the great frustrations facing racing and breeding in Virginia over the past 30 years has been the demise of so many great breeding farms. Lost over those years are famous names such as Nydrie, Morven, Buckland, and, of course, Rokeby to name a few.

When Paul Mellon died in 1999 the Rokeby Farm era came to an end. Mellon’s horses had been among the leading Virginia-breds year-in and year-out and had the VTA awarded year-end championships during his three decades of dominance, the Upperville farm would have needed an even bigger trophy room.

MacKenzie “Mack” Miller trained for Mellon and a substantial number of Miller’s 72 stakes winners crossed the finish line wearing Mellon’s grey and yellow Rokeby colors. Closing the final chapter in the Rokeby-Miller partnership, Mack Miller died on Saturday at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center in Lexington. He was 89.

Known as racing’s “gentleman trainer” during a 46-year career, Miller was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1987. The Versailles, Kentucky, native trained 1993 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Sea Hero, Travers winner Java Gold and the champions Leallah, Assagai, *Hawaii, and *Snow Knight.

Miller, who lived in Versailles in the home in which his wife of 59 years Martha, was born, also made his mark as a breeder. Mack and Martha Miller bred 1981 champion turf female De La Rose and 1999 champion two-year-old filly Chilukki in partnership with Dr. R. Smiser West, and his wife, Kathryn.

Sea Hero

MacKenzie Todd Miller was born Oct. 16, 1921. His father managed the local Greyhound garage where Mr. Miller earned 39 cents an hour applying grease to the buses.

He attended the opening meet at the Keeneland racetrack, became hooked on Thoroughbred racing, and got a job mucking stalls at Calumet Farm.

In 1949, Miller received his trainer’s license and won his first stakes race in 1955 with a horse named Oil Painting. He trained several champion turf horses for industrialist Charles W. Engelhard Jr. before becoming Mellon’s full-time trainer in 1977. Other top horses trained by Miller for Mellon included Winter’s Tale, Fit to Fight and Red Ransom.

Known for having a special touch with ill-tempered horses, Miller took over training *Snow Knight during his three-year-old season, after he had won 1974 Epsom Derby (Eng-G1). He conditioned him for his 1975 champion turf male campaign that included wins in the Canadian International Championship Stakes (Can-G1), Man o’ War Stakes (G1), and Manhattan Handicap (G2). Miller had help with *Snow Knight from Virginian Jill Gordon-Moore who did all the hands on work with the petulant horse.

Miller, Mellon and Jerry Bailey after Sea Hero’s Kentucky Derby win.

Miller celebrated his induction into the Hall of Fame in style during the summer of 1987 when Mellon’s homebred Java Gold defeated older opponents to win the Whitney Handicap (G1) and powered to a two-length win in the Travers Stakes (G1) two weeks later, both at Saratoga Race Course. Java Gold won more than $1.9 million.

Miller retired at the end of the 1995 season when Mellon discontinued his racing activities in the U.S. He continued as a breeder until Dr. West’s death in December 2006. The shared bloodstock of Miller and West was dispersed at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale and Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

Survivors include his wife of 59 years, Martha McCauley Miller of Versailles; two children, MacKenzie Todd Miller Jr. of Austin and Martha Queen of Chattanooga, Tenn.; and two grandchildren.