Day At The Track

29-year-old Hoosier harnesses his heritage

09:23 PM 05 Jul 2019 NZST
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Zach Miller
Zach Miller drives Skyway Venus to victory

CONVERSE – Zach Miller made enough money in one night to buy a new truck and pay for his entire four-year college education at Purdue University. And he did it one of the most unique ways possible. Harness horse racing.

That's something the 29-year-old Miami County native has been doing his entire life. Before he was even in kindergarten, Miller was out at the track at the Converse Fairgrounds trotting his dad's horses.

As he grew older, he made his way to the track every day after school and every weekend to help his dad – a farmer who started buying standardbred horses as a hobby.

“He bought a few, and then a couple more and a couple more after that,” Miller said. “Pretty soon, he had a barn full of horses.”

Miller got behind one of those horses riding a harness for his first official race at the Converse Fairgrounds when he was 18. He won. And he was hooked.

“It was a pretty intense adrenaline rush,” he said.

That same year, a horse he and his dad owned together made it to the biggest race in the state: the Indiana Sire Stakes at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino.

The winner received a $100,000 payout. Miller raced their horse, and he won.

“No college debt and a new truck,” he said. “I paid for all of that in one night.”

Today, Miller is a well-established owner, trainer and rider in the world of harness racing. He and his wife, Dessa, have full- or part-ownership of nine horses, who are all housed year-round at one of the barns at the Converse Fairgrounds.

And that's where you could find him on a recent evening, racing four of their 2-year-old fillies and colts as part of the kickoff to the annual Converse Fair. Their names? Skyway Venus, Fishyriggins, Skyway Ballet and Rock My Sunday.

The first horse up for the evening was Skyway Venus, who eked out a first-place win after another horse nearly pulled out in front just before the finish line. In a little over 2 minutes, Miller had won the $1,500 first-place prize.

“I had no idea I was going to win that,” Miller said. “That was down to the wire.”

For the last three years, the Converse Fairgrounds has become a second home to Miller and his wife. And in some ways, it's more like home than their actual house near Amboy. After all, they spend more time at the track raising and training their animals than anywhere else.

“Most people, when you tell them about harness horses, they've heard of it, but that's about it,” Miller said. “Most people don't know how much work it is. My dad always compared it to milking cows. You've got to be out doing it every day, no matter what.”

Harness racing wasn't always Miller's only job.

After graduating from Purdue University, Miller sold seed and continued harness racing on the side. But after a while, that double life became too much.

“It got to the point where there wasn't enough time in the day,” Miller said. “I didn't think I was doing either one as good as I should have because I was splitting my time. I decided to pick one and go with it. I picked raising horses. It's more fun than selling seed.”

Today, Converse is their home track, where their horses get their first taste of harness racing. That's the case for most 2- and 3-year-old horses in the state because Converse is home to the first race of the Indiana Sired Fair Circuit every year.

“The horses here are all learning,” Miller said. “These first races are just as much about education as anything else. You can form a lot of good habits – or a lot of bad habits – early. You want to create a lot of good habits early. That makes your life a lot easier down the road.”

Converse is where it all begins for most horses, but the hope is that it always ends at the final race at Hoosier Park in Anderson, Miller said. With a $200,000 total pot for the winners, that's where the real money is in harness racing.

CARSON GERBER | Kokomo Tribune

Reprinted with permission of The Journal Gazette Indiana

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