Colin’s Jockey: Walter Miller

Jun 2nd 2009 02:23 am |

Jockey Walter MillerAfter telling people about this site, the first question is usually about the meaning behind the name. The quick pat answer: “It refers to a famous horse from racing history.” Pretty lame, I know.

What I would like to say – if I didn’t care about boring people with little interest in racing or history – is that Colin was the first “super horse” of the twentieth century. He retired a perfect 15 for 15 and won the 1908 Belmont Stakes by resurrecting from a “career ending” injury suffered two days before the race. The drama of that win – run in a driving rainstorm where the “horses looked like wraiths in the mist” – inspired the name for this site.

Image: Colin’s jockey Walter Miller during his riding days (Turf and Sport Digest)

The most often repeated line associated with Colin is from his legendary trainer James Rowe, who is said to have declared that he wanted the following for his epitaph: “He trained Colin.”

Until Man o’ War, Colin was the gold standard by which all horses were compared. If they could have tallied votes from long dead racing people who saw Colin race, I doubt he would have landed #15 in the Blood-Horse’s top one-hundred thoroughbreds of the twentieth century. Makes you wonder where Citation will rank fifty years from now?

Image: Colin with Walter Miller aboard (Turf and Sports Digest)

This year – in what I hope is an annual Colin post – I am going to focus on Walter Miller who rode Colin for 11 of his 15 career wins. In 1958, Willie Ratner told the story of Walter Miller in an article titled “One of the Greatest” for Turf and Sport Digest. Here are some selections from that article:

“Walter Miller is a rarity in two respects, at least. He came from an orthodox Jewish family of New York’s East Side, a time when Jewish jockeys were ‘one in a million.’ His sensational career was crowded into just four years…

“…Miller began his apprenticeship at the old Gravesend racetrack near New York in 1904. Two years later, he amazed the racing world by riding 388 winners, finishing second 300 times and third 199 times in 1,384 races.”

“Miller also led the nation in 1907 with 334 victories, 226 seconds and 170 thirds in 1,194 races. Even that 334 wasn’t bettered until [Joe] Culmone and [Willie] Shoemaker did it in their big year [1950]. In 1906, Miller rode five winners out of five mounts on three different days…”

“…The renowned jockey, Jimmy McLaughlin, who had won the Kentucky Derby with Hindoo in 1881, took Miller under his wing and taught him many tricks. Walter improved sensationally. By fall [1904], he was in great demand. He was signed to ride in California by W.A. Stanton, the millionaire Pittsburg brick manufacturer, whose trainers were Sam Doggett and ‘Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons, who was also once Miller’s agent.”

“Miller returned East to join Keene stable and, while with that outfit in 1907, he rode the immortal Colin. The writer became well acquainted with Miller around 1918, when he was making his home in Newark, N.J.” [‘The writer’ here awkwardly refers to himself]

“Miller was a great admirer of Charley Weinert, the prominent Newark heavyweight fighter of that era, and we spent many hours with Miller, Weinert and Jackie Clark, the one-time great Australian professional bicycle racer. It was during one of our many gabfests that Miller told the writer he firmly believed that Colin would have gone undefeated had he faced five more years of competition. But Colin went wrong after two years of racing.”

“As a rule, Miller didn’t ride great horses. The jockey ‘made’ himself on bad horses say old-timers. In 1908, when Miller, a tall boy, started to get heavy, he went to Europe, where the scale of weights would allow him more action.”

Miller’s relocation to Europe meant that Joe Notter rode Colin in his only three starts as a three-year-old – including the epic 1908 Belmont Stakes.

Miller ran with some success in Germany but briefly returned to racing in the United States. A 1909 article in the New York Times reported his application for a jockey license being tabled because of an “unresolved incident” at a California Track. In 1910, a Richmond paper reported that both Notter and Miller were among the American riders pursuing mounts in Europe. By 1918, Miller was back in States and his riding career was over. In 1922, Damon Runyan paid tribute to the jockey in one his poems:

“…And Miller was worth his hire.
Seldom he made a blunder
As he rode ’em down the wire.”

In the mid-1930s, Miller suffered a mental breakdown following a series of “financial reverses” that landed him in a New York mental health facility. He remained there until his death in 1959.

He was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1955.

Walter Miller and Colin winning the 1907 Saratoga Special
(Turf and Sport Digest)

SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS

Willie Ratner, “One of the Greatest,” Turf and Sport Digest, April 1958

“Western Jockeys Land Honors,” Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), February 13, 1910

Read about Colin’s improbable win in the Belmont Stakes

A bit lax in posting last week – I was busy getting caught up on some non-racing related reading. Along with a pile of magazines, I read an outstanding book called Born to Run about the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico and the sport of ultra-running. I found it absolutely fascinating. If you are not a runner, this book will inspire you to give it a try.

Looking forward to a trip up the turnpike on Saturday to Belmont Park. Belmont Stakes Day is – in my opinion – the best day of racing outside of the Breeders Cup. And even without Rachel Alexandra, I think it is going to be a great day. Hope to see you there.

THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!

Filed in Colin,Miller, Walter,thoroughbred racing history



7 Responses to “Colin’s Jockey: Walter Miller”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What A cool Different idea for a blog.I am blown away.A racing Historian!! I can almost guess whom you are-
    Great.

  2. sports says:

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  3. Anonymous says:

    You can read a ton of material about jockey Miller by using Google Advanced News Archive Search found by navigating a couple of steps. Just peg in the word “jockey” in the top box, “Walter Miller” in the next one below. And the years 1904 and 1908 in the appropriate ones. It’s become my favorite tool lately

    You’ll discover that he had a hot season in ’06 when he rode horses with as little weight as 98 pounds. That he rode at the old SA. And why he was suspended on the west coast.

    One must remember that purses were relatively HUGE until 1908, after which betting was hounded by reformers and state officials around the country. I’d do more research before saying so, but it’s possible that the jockey’s move to Europe could have been for reasons other than weight issues.

  4. The_Knight_Sky says:

    Colin's Ghost wrote:

    After telling people about this site,
    the first question is usually about the meaning behind the name.

    __________________

    If that was me, I wouldn't mind you waxing eloquently about Margaret Colin. LOL.

    But seriously.
    Was that really named TURF AND SPORTS magazine?

    I recall reading in the 80's Turf 'n Sport.
    Same publication?

  5. Colins Ghost says:

    Knight Sky – Thanks for the comment. According do the Library of Congress catalog it was Turf and Sport Digest from 1931 to 1986 (I added an 's' in a few instances above – since corrected). It is possible they shortened the name in the 80s? Don't have any copies of the magazine from then.

  6. The_Knight_Sky says:

    Colins Ghost – I think it's possible that the same publication shortened their name.

    But if you mention the era 1986, that's the same
    era when I sampled that illustrious magazine.

    So I'm inclined to think that Turf and Sport Digest was the complete and accurate name of the magazine, even though the word "digest" may not always have appeared in large fonts on the cover.

  7. mark says:

    can anyone here help me out? I am looking for the dates of birth of 24 famous Thoroughbreds and so far I haven't been able to find them. Here's my list:

    1902 ARtful
    1901 Beldame
    1945 Bewitch
    1926 Blue Larkspur
    1942 Busher
    1936 Challedon
    1945 Coaltown
    1905 Colin
    1939 Devil Diver
    1931 Discovery
    1936 Eight Thirty
    1954 Gallant Man
    1942 Gallorette
    1918 Grey Lag
    1936 Johnstown
    1945 Noor
    1911 Old Rosebud
    1912 Regret
    1911 Roamer
    1921 Sarazen
    1925 Sun Beau
    1928 Twenty Grand
    1945 Two Lea
    1920 Zev

    Thanks for your help! You can email me directly at mdbellm@yahoo.com.

    Thanks,
    Mark
    New Zealand