When Chuck and Lyra Miller retired to the heart of the Bluegrass in 2005, they decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition of starting a small Thoroughbred breeding operation. Only in their wildest dreams could they have imagined they'd be the breeders of a Kentucky Derby contender within just seven years.
Now, the Millers will be cheering on Goldencents, who spent the first year of his life at the couple's Rosecrest Farm and who has qualified for a spot in the Derby starting gates with 129 points.
“I think it's everybody's dream to have a horse in the Derby as an owner or a breeder. It's tremendous gratification, and it's just been a fun ride,” said Chuck Miller from Rosecrest, which is located in Paris, Ky. “We're a small farm, and to produce a horse that had that potential early on is very gratifying. (Trainer) Doug O'Neill has done a tremendous job with him.”
Rosecrest, which also includes a bed and breakfast, is a modest 150-acre operation near Claiborne Farm. The Millers do most of the farm work themselves, so the broodmare band is kept to a tight-knit group of ten, plus two retired horses who graze lazily in view of the guesthouse.
“People come here because we have Thoroughbreds and babies, and it's really exciting to see them get excited about being up close to horses. Some of these people had never been on a farm,” said Miller.
Chuck grew up on a ranch and has spent his life around Quarter Horses, but the couple has followed Thoroughbred racing since the 1980s. As regular attendees to public auctions at Keeneland, they originally planned to breed commercially and began planning breedings with the help of a bloodstock agent.
As anyone in the horse business knows, timing is everything, and the sales market crashed a few seasons after they began foaling mares. Like many others, the Millers cut back on the number of mares they bred each year and planned to race the offspring of those who remained in production.
When Goldencents co-breeder Karyn Pirrello brought $7,000 Banker's Gold mare Golden Works to the farm in foal to new sire Into Mischief, the couple acquired a half-interest in her. In the year Goldencents was born, he was one of just five foals on the farm, surrounded by operations built on hundreds of mares, all hoping for future Derby runners.
“So, it's all luck,” he chuckled.
Golden Works' resume was relatively unimpressive at that point. A claiming runner with eight starts and two wins, she had produced only one other runner by the time she was carrying Goldencents in 2009. Her two most recent foals at that time – by Posse and Action This Day – never made it to the track due to illness and injury.
Miller said it was appropriate that the feisty young colt was by Into Mischief, since he always seemed to be up to something. He remembers the little bay running circles around his mother in the field “driving her crazy.”
Other than that, though, Goldencents didn't particularly stand out from the crowd as a youngster.
“Everyone asks me that question, and I'd like to say there was,” said Miller when asked if the colt showed any early brilliance. “But you didn't look out there and say 'man, there's a potential Derby horse.'”
So, when the opportunity came to sell the colt, the Millers took it, sending him to the 2011 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, where he went for $5,500 to Web Carroll, agent. The colt made for a nice pinhook about eight months later, selling for $62,000 to W.C. Racing, Dave Kenny, and University of Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino, who races under RAP Racing.
“You have to put this in context of what 2009 was like. People ask me, 'why'd you sell him?' In 2009, the market wasn't very good. This was Into Mischief's first crop. No one knew what he was going to do.”
The local fame of Pitino, partial owner of Goldencents, isn't particularly striking for Miller.
“I hadn't really thought about it,” he chuckled. “Rick had a heck of a month: NCAA champion, his son goes to [the University of] Minnesota to coach, and he got a horse in the Derby.”
What does stand out for Miller is the colt's versatile performance in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. The victory not only cemented Goldencents' status as a top points-earner but proved to Miller that the colt can rate and rally and doesn't always turn in the front-running trip he took in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes.
“He can't do that in the Derby, obviously. He's going to have to come off the pace, and he's got a closing kick, I think,” said Miller.
Although Miller isn't sure Goldencents will be the favorite come Derby Day, he believes the mischievous colt will be one of the top four or five contenders for the win. But he doesn't plan to make the trip to Louisville to watch the performance.
“The owners have a big group, and they're very excited. I wouldn't want to rain on the parade. It's their day.”
Miller said he and his wife have several invitations to Derby parties around Paris and will be cheering for their first Derby horse from a friend's living room.
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