by Ken Weingartner
Joe Hurley’s run with Always B Miki is coming to an end.
On Saturday night, Hurley, who at trackside ran down the final portion of the stretch at Lexington as Always B Miki made history with his 1:46 all-time record mile a month ago, will watch the 5-year-old pacing stallion he bred and co-owns compete for the final time in his career.
Always B Miki, the No. 1-ranked horse in harness racing’s Top 10 poll, is the 1-5 morning line favorite in Saturday’s $400,000 TVG Free For All Series championship at the Meadowlands Racetrack, where regular driver David Miller will be at the lines for trainer Jimmy Takter. The only other horse in single digit odds in the seven-horse field is Shamballa, at 6-1, for the driver-trainer combo of Scott Zeron and Rick Zeron.
The TVG was expected to be the final meeting between Always B Miki and No. 2-ranked Wiggle It Jiggleit, but Wiggle It Jiggleit was not entered because of a minor foot bruise and bout of sickness. Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit met eight times this season, with Always B Mikiwinning four times and Wiggle It Jiggleit winning three. Shamballa was an upset winner in the remaining race.
For the year, Always B Miki has won 11 of 17 races, finished worse than second only once, and earned $1.29 million for Hurley’s Roll The Dice Stable, Bluewood Stable, and Christina Takter. For his career, Always B Miki has won 29 of 52 starts, hit the board a total of 45 times, and banked $2.51 million.
In addition to becoming the fastest horse in history, Always B Miki shares the world record of 1:47 for the fastest mile by a horse on a five-eighths-mile track. Always B Miki paced 1:47 on a five-eighths oval on three occasions, an unprecedented feat. He also holds the record of 1:47.1 for the fastest mile ever paced in Canada.
“I have mixed emotions, for sure,” said the 73-year-old Hurley, who is a prominent defense attorney from Delaware. “It’s the ride of a lifetime that you can’t possibly fathom unless you’ve been there. A magic carpet ride type thing and you don’t want it to end.
“When you see the end coming, you push it out of your mind. The highs that you get where you cry, you run, you scream, you yell, you jump — things that you never thought you would do — that are all in the past and you know there will never be another one like him.
“Even though there are horses in the future, the way I am, I measure everything against the best experience, so it’s going to be quite a fall off a cliff. But it’s been fantastic.”
Always B Miki won 12 of 19 races as a 3-year-old, including the Indiana Sire Stakes championship, before being twice sidelined by injuries that required surgeries and forced him to miss nearly a year of action. He returned in October 2015 and won all four of his races, including the Breeders Crown Open Pace, the remainder of the season.
He heads to the TVG championship off a second Breeders Crown Open Pace victory, Oct. 28 at the Meadowlands. Always B Miki’s other wins this year include the Ben Franklin Pace, William Haughton Memorial, Jim Ewart Memorial, and Hoosier Pacing Derby.
But for Hurley, Always B Miki’s 1:46 mile in the Allerage Farms Open Pace at Lexington’s Red Mile on Oct. 9 was the pacer’s most magical moment. The time eclipsed Cambest’s mark of 1:46.1, which was set in a time trial at Springfield, Ill., in 1993. No horse had ever paced faster than 1:46.4 in a race.
“What I do is stand by myself, because I get so caught up in things, probably about the sixteenth pole and then literally run with him,” Hurley said about his race day ritual with Always B Miki. “I can’t keep up, but I begin running toward the finish line.
“And in Lexington there was this buzz and it got louder and louder. I couldn’t see because of the people in between and they were shouting and shouting. I’m running and I still don’t know what’s going on. And then I hear somebody say ‘world record’ and I hear somebody else say ‘1:46’ and then it’s just — well, there’s no feeling to describe it. I have a pretty wide vocabulary, but there is no word in the vocabulary to describe the feeling.”
“I don’t know that much about breeding; I got lucky,” Hurley said. “I’m an unlucky person, I think, so I was blessed. And now I’m cursed. That’s the thing, you’ve never thought in your wildest dreams about something like this. If I won a sire stakes in all these years, you’re happy. But not this elation where your body just goes out of control and you find yourself shouting and screaming at the top of your lungs and jumping up and down.
“It’s like you’re not even in control of yourself. It’s like somebody is puppeteering you.”
Hurley added, referring to his wife who named Always B Miki after her nickname, “She’s usually not expressive, but she just goes into another dimension. The smile on her face is ear-to-ear. She jumps up and down. There’s nothing like it. I can see the joy and happiness in her face.”
Always B Miki will be retired to stud duty at Diamond Creek Farm in Pennsylvania following Saturday’s TVG final. The run will be completed, but the memories will remain.
“The bond between me and him is like it’s your child,” Hurley said. “I don’t get any big pleasure from standing in the winner’s circle, but the idea of Miki — there is a word that you attribute to animals, human emotions — and I have this irrational sense that he knows that he beat Wiggle It Jiggleit and he’s a star.
“If someone said I could win Powerball for some ridiculous amount of money or have Miki, it wouldn’t even be a question. It would be Miki,” Hurley said. “This is like Powerball on steroids.”
TVG Series finals for male and female trotters plus female pacers are also on Saturday’s Meadowlands card.
Breeders Crown Mare Trot winner Hannelore Hanover is the 7-5 morning line favorite in the $200,000 TVG for trotting mares while defending series champion Resolve is the 7-5 choice in the TVG for male trotters. Breeders Crown Mare Pace winner Lady Shadow gets the 4-5 nod in the $200,000 TVG for female pacers.
Complete entries for the Saturday Meadowlands card may be found at this link.