‘One of a Kind’

Always B Miki enters the Living Horse Hall of Fame

by Anne Doolin

Always B Miki, the co-fastest horse in the history of the sport, has a long string of accomplishments, accolades, and fans. The stallion blazed to his lifetime mark of 1:46 in the Allerage Farms Open Pace at Red Mile in 2016.

He won three Dan Patch Awards that year—Horse of the Year, Pacer of the Year, and Older Pacing Horse of the Year. He retired to stud with earnings of more than $2.71 million and 30 wins from 53 starts.

What makes his accomplishments even more amazing is that he was away from the races with what could have been a career-ending injury not just once, but twice.

“It always starts with extreme talent. Perhaps the difference with Always B Miki was his ability to carry his speed as long as any horse I have seen,” said Bob Boni, one of Always B Miki’s owners. “And he never stopped trying. Many of his most memorable miles saw him parked first-over and he would wear down any horse he could get to. He truly never knew the end of the mile.”

Hall of Fame member David Miller was his regular pilot the last two years of his career and had driven him earlier, as well.

“I only drove him a couple of times at 2, then again at the end of his 3-year-old season,” he said. “Then at 4 and 5.

“[I was impressed] right off the bat. His first baby race he went like [1]:55 and he did it handily. He was so big, but he handled himself very well. He has the biggest heart in a horse that I’ve ever seen in my life. His will and determination—I’ve never seen another horse have it like that. He is a very special horse. That’s all there is to it. He’s very dear to me.”

Always B Miki was bred by Joe Hurley’s Roll The Dice Stable. Boni and Mitchel Skolnick purchased half of the colt for their Bluewood Stable after his third 2-year-old race at The Meadowlands.

Always B Miki is by Always A Virgin, who was also bred by Hurley, as was the horse’s dam, the Artsplace mare Artstopper.

Skolnick and Boni also co-own Always A Virgin with Hurley.

“We bought half of him right before his 3-year-old season started, honestly just hoping to have a nice Jersey sire [stakes] type of horse,” Boni said. “He ended up being much better than that.

“We kind of followed up with Miki the same way. Since we had a relationship with Hurley, I told Mitchel after that first baby race, ‘Maybe you ought to get a hold of Joe and see if he wants to do something.’ Miki was that impressive.”

Several trainers had a hand in making the horse who would go on to make history.

“Rich Ringler broke and trained him down, and Joe Holloway got him right when he was ready to race and trained him as a 2- and 3-year-old,” Boni said. “We also sent him out to Roger Welch to race in Indiana for a while. Miki was making breaks here [in New Jersey.] He was a tall colt and very immature at 2 and he couldn’t put everything together and would make breaks.

“Mitchel and I both credit Roger for teaching him how to be a racehorse. He may have sacrificed some speed, but he taught him to be a racehorse and he finished up the year nicely at 2. We turned him out after that at Elizabeth Caldwell’s Cane Run Farm. He was still tall and lean and a colt that hadn’t really grown into himself. He trained down OK [for his sophomore season], but it wasn’t until right before he was ready to qualify that he trained a couple of times where he really was impressive. That season had its ups and downs, but he went on a hell of a run at the end, and then ended up breaking that bone.”

That bone was his left hind pastern. Always B Miki had won two of 12 outings as a freshman, then 12 of 19 starts at 3 with a mark of 1:47.4 at Red Mile. He was favored in the 2014 Breeders Crown but was scratched right before the race. He kicked the stall wall in the paddock the night of the Breeders Crown final and underwent surgery the following Monday.

Always B Miki was sent to Jimmy Takter to prepare for a return to the races early in 2015.

“Jimmy and Christina asked about buying into him early May, maybe end of April,” Boni said. “What I remember vividly, in the interim of getting our check, he broke another bone. This time it was his right hind pastern. Mitchel and I talked about it and decided if they didn’t want to conclude the deal, we didn’t have a problem with that and weren’t going to push, because here he’s going to have to rehab again.

“They were rather insistent that, ‘No, we made a deal and we’re going to live up to it.’ I think 99 percent of people I know, especially if given the opportunity to back out of the commitment, most would have said, ‘Thank you and we’re going to pass.’ All in all, the stars lined up right, and there you go.”

Boni credits a certain veterinarian in New Jersey for Always B Miki’s recovery.

“Dr. Patty Hogan’s expertise put him back together both times,” he said.

It was almost a year before Always B Miki returned to the races. At 4 he qualified twice in the fall—once at Pocono and once at Red Mile before his first pari-mutuel start on Oct. 3 at Hoosier. A win there tuned him up for wins in his elimination and final of the Breeders Crown at Woodbine and then the American-National at Balmoral. He ended his season going four-for-four.

Takter explained Always B Miki’s injury could have been difficult to overcome.

“[A pastern break] is a nasty break,” Takter said. “It’s quite painful when it happens. With me, he did it with the other leg. It was in May and he was just about ready to race. Then we had that setback. That healed very well, but the first break was much worse than the second.

“Have you seen the movie War Horse? That is Miki. He’s a war horse for sure. One of a kind.”

At 5, Always B Miki tuned up for stakes season in the Open ranks before capturing the Ben Franklin at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, the William Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands, the Jim Ewart Memorial at Eldorado Scioto Downs and the Hoosier Park Pacing Derby. He ended the season on a dominating four-race win streak beginning with his 1:46 score in the Allerage, followed by a trio of Meadowlands races—an Open, the Breeders Crown, and his career finale, the TVG.

His first crop of foals are 2 this year, and he was the leading first-crop sire in 2019 with his yearlings averaging more than $63,000 at public auctions.

He is now owned by 146 Stable, which includes his original owners, and stands at Diamond Creek Farm in Pennsylvania.

“So far, I have heard good things on his 2-year-olds, and I have very much liked the few that I have seen at Nancy Takter’s and with Per Engblom,” Boni said.

Miller has yet to sit behind one of Always B Miki’s foals but is looking forward to the opportunity.

“I’m pretty excited for them to get going,” he said.

He is not the only one anticipating the stallion’s first crop to hit the track.

“My daughter Nancy has five or six of them,” Takter said. “Reports about them are super. We are very excited. It looks like he’s for real.”

Anne Doolin is a freelance writer living in Kentucky. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

 

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