Fair Hill Training Center is, after all, on a hill - just not quite the kind of hill Bode Miller normally works. The Olympic skier continued his foray into Thoroughbred racing by purchasing a barn at the Maryland Thoroughbred facility this month.
Miller bought Perfect Sky 1, a 40-stall barn, from owner/breeder Earle Mack. Originally built by trainer Jim McGreevey, the barn includes 24 stalls in its main building, a 16-stall annex and the usual complement of turnout paddocks. The barn is across the training center's main road from barns owned by trainers Graham Motion and Mike Trombetta. For now, the barn is rented to tenants though Miller has eight horses in training with Tres Abbott at Fair Hill.
The move helps take Miller another step in his goal of creating a Thoroughbred training operation.
"It's a process you have to be patient with," he said last fall when asked about becoming a trainer. "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 someone else do that part of it."
Miller will, however, be pretty hands on in the direction of the stable, purchasing horses and the use of new thinking and new technology. The barn is owned by a DB Dojo LLC, a Texas-based company that lists Miller and David Brantley as its directors.
For Mack, who sold Perfect Sky 2 to Stuart Janney III and Dinny Phipps in 2013, it means the end of his involvement as a barn owner at Fair Hill. Racing manager Aaron Cohen called it a practical decision.
"The first barn was purely a rental property and the right clients came along to buy it," he said. "The second barn was economics. When we went to Fair Hill, we had 20-25 horses in the barn and it made sense to use it and save money. As we weeded the barn down, we had fewer horses in the barn at it became a rental property as opposed to what it was bought to do. It was a great idea. It worked for us when we had more horses."
Mack's stable, counting mares and foals, includes about 30 horses now from a high of 90 to 100. Cohen will miss the place.
"I'm sad I won't be going down there as much," he said. "The facilities at Fair Hill, it's amazing what you can do with a horse there. It's the closest environment here that we would have to emulate a place like Newmarket. We used all of the place and loved it."
Miller visited the training center for a tour, checked out Mack's barn, met with Abbott, had Kentucky horsewoman Leoni Seesing scout the new barn and the surrounding property. Seesing was an early adopter of high-speed treadmills for horses and founded the company Equigym, which makes treadmills, free walkers and other equine products.
The most decorated male alpine skier in Olympic history (six total medals and five Olympic appearances) owned several horses with California-based trainer Bob Baffert, but has goals beyond simply being an owner. He bought two yearlings at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic last fall, with consultation from Pennsylvania bloodstock advisors EQB, and added others to the stable. After some prep work with Seesing and Eisaman Equine in Florida, the group came to Abbott with the 2-year-olds looking to make their debuts in the next six weeks.
Abbott didn't know Miller, but is happy to have a client and some quality horses in his barn.
"When he decided he wanted to come to Fair Hill, I had some extra stalls," said Abbott. "He came in one afternoon, looked at everything. We got on pretty well. They didn't have a concrete plan for what they wanted to do and we kept in touch. As things developed, we decided I'd take some horses, get them going and take it from there."
Among the horses with Abbott are:
Steep N Deep, a 4-year-old Flatter colt who finished second in his only start for Miller and co-owner Aubrey Marcus (CEO of the Onnit human performance company) last year.
- A 2-year-old Tiz Wonderful colt purchased last year for $120,000.
- A 2-year-old Dance With Ravens colt also purchased last year.
- A 2-year-old half-sister to Grade 2 winner Fantastic Style, by Hard Spun.
"It's a real cross section of pedigree, price range and precocity," said Abbott, who will aim for the Maryland-bred races at Laurel Park Aug. 22 for the Dance With Ravens colt. "We're going to take it day by day, week by week. He wants to see what he's doing with the barn adn I want to see how their program is going to develop."
Sometimes, Abbott does have to wonder how it all came to be though.
"I used to ski, a lot," he said. "I used to go 20-30 days a year and it was always like, 'There's that guy in the Olympics skiing as hard as he possibly can and leaving it all out there.' Now it's like, 'Oh I've got to call Bode about a horse.' It's pretty surreal."
NOTES: The barn areas at Fair Hill are named for Thoroughbreds owned by William du Pont Jr.'s Foxcatcher racing stable. Perfect Sky won 18 races in the 1960s and earned more than $151,000 including the 1966 San Gabriel Handicap for trainer Charlie Whittingham. Other barn areas are named for Parlo, Chevation and Fairy Chant.