Bode Miller kept losing reception on his mobile phone, but he kept calling back. And Leonie Seesing kept taking the call. After an hour, and four calls, the Kentucky horsewoman finally asked him where he was.
"I'm driving through the Alps in Switzerland," he said, and went right on talking about horses and the science behind maximizing athletic performance. Seesing was impressed, and a little confused, but when she finally hung up the phone and typed Miller's name into an Internet search it all became a little clearer.
"I had never heard of Bode Miller before - I know most of the world has, but I hadn't," Seesing said. "After I looked him up, I realized he was going to be in the Olympics."
Miller, of course, won a bronze medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia to become the oldest alpine skier to win an Olympic medal and the second most decorated male alpine skier in Olympic history. Then, he had a racehorse or two with trainer Bob Baffert but Miller was thinking beyond simply being an owner. He was doing research and found Seesing, who owns a company specializing in high-speed equine treadmills.
Now, they've teamed up in a Thoroughbred venture at Seesing's farm near Lexington. They have several yearlings, some 2-year-olds and three 3-year-olds (including the promising Steep N Deep) and are in the midst of finalizing the purchase of a larger farm to establish a base in Kentucky.
They're an interesting team.
He's a world-class athlete with experience in what it takes to get fit and stay fit. He also has the financial means to buy nice horses and launch a project at a high level. She's a longtime trainer with a background in equine exercise physiology, nutrition and behavior. She adapted the use of high-speed treadmills for horses, started Stratton Equine Enterprises (which made treadmills and free walkers) and now owns Equigym. Her products are in use at Rood and Riddle in Kentucky, Colorado State University, the Marion du Pont Scott Equine Medical Center in Virginia and numerous others.
They bought two yearlings at Fasig-Tipton's sale at Timonium last month - going to $120,000 for a Tiz Wonderful colt and spending $27,000 on a colt by Dance With Ravens. They joined a growing stable at Seesing's farm in Kentucky.
"I have one in my hands right now," Seesing said Friday before putting the Tiz Wonderful colt in a round pen. "He's absolutely gorgeous."
At Timonium, Miller agreed - even if he was a little surprised at himself for going to six figures.
"I would never pay $120,000 unless I really liked everything about him," he said. "A yearling is tricky because they're so untested, unproven, and they're going through that growth-spurt time."
A regular at the Kentucky Derby for years, Miller campaigned horses (including stakes winner Carving) with Baffert but really wants more out of it. Miller doesn't want to simply bankroll a stable and show up at the races.
He would like to be a trainer.
"That's my intent," he said. "It's a process you have to be patient with. I will be a trainer in the next year or two. I'm not that interested in getting bit and kicked and punched by horses so I try to have somebody else do that part of it."
For now. Miller, who turns 37 Sunday, hasn't ruled out more competitive skiing in his future but the Olympic and World Championship gold medalist knows what he wants to do with the rest of his life.
"Coming out of a sport where I had to figure out how to become the best in the world, you just approach things differently," he said. "We're doing it as everything - it's our hobby and it's our lifestyle but we also intend to become the best at it. We're not taking it very casually. You pick people's brains, you try to get all the information you can so you can use it to your advantage."
At Timonium, Miller worked with EQB representatives Patti Miller and Jeff Seder to help make the purchases. Based in Pennsylvania, EQB did early work on heart-rate monitoring in horses and gait analysis, and has worked with Ramsey Farm, Augustin Stable and numerous others. Patti Miller is no relation to her new client, but is impressed by his early interest.
"He was really hands-on and not scared of a horse at all," she said. "They've done a lot of research on pedigrees and a lot of work. He knows it takes hard work and he's not expecting to win every race. He probably could be a trainer someday. He's got a very good attitude about understanding people's levels of expertise."
Bode Miller and Seesing sound a little new age for racing, but there are a million ways to train a horse. Their goal is fitness without sacrificing health and if that means they involve a little more science than the average Thoroughbred trainer so be it.
"The recipe for Hungarian stew is complicated, but the most important thing you do is catch the rabbit," said Patti Miller with a laugh. "Which means, the most important thing you need is a good horse. He wants to integrate some newer tools to it, but you have to try to get the best horse you can first and that's what he's doing."
The stable includes the two Timonium yearlings, two colts purchase at Keeneland September plus two unraced 2-year-old fillies and two 3-year-olds. Steep N Deep finished second in his debut in June with trainer Tim Yatkeen at Santa Anita and is getting ready to go back to the races.
Seesing and Miller are in no rush, but hope to be fairly active next year.
"We're slowly getting this right," said Seesing. "My goal in life is to make the Triple Crown races which is everybody's goal. I believe there's a way to do it using the science and nutrition and Bode brings a lot of that to the table because of his background. I've never had the financing behind me to get good horses and try to make this work until now. We're looking for good horses and we're going to train them."
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