(Originally published in the June 30, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
There is some kind of solid connection among A. Stevens Miles Jr., his horses, and his hometown of Louisville. The retired CEO of First Kentucky National Bank has served on numerous civic boards instrumental in developing Louisville’s downtown, waterfront, and Science Center. And his Thoroughbreds have done much of their good work there as well, most recently Neck ’n Neck, a homebred for Miles who took the June 16 Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) by 71⁄4 lengths, pushing his Churchill Downs record to three wins from five starts. But he has some work to do before matching the record of Lead Story, an Editor’s Note filly who won the Churchill Downs Distaff and Falls City handicaps (both gr. II) in 2003 and returned to take the Louisville Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II) for Miles the following season.
“I guess racing comes naturally when you’re from Louisville,” said Miles, who has eight horses in his stable. “I was at the track when I was 10; little did I know I’d be involved like I am today. But I’ve been going to the Derby pretty consistently since the mid-1950s.”
Miles, 82, entered the ownership side of horses when he went in on a claimer with his friend Bill Lussky, whose grandfather, Clifford, campaigned Federal Hill, who ran fifth in the 1957 Kentucky Derby. The claimer, Shore Leave, started several times with trainer Bill Mott, and whetted Miles’ appetite.
Another friend, Illinois businessman Jim Tafel, steered Miles to trainer Carl Nafzger, with whom Tafel won the 2007 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with Street Sense. “I had a filly I’d bought named Disco Doll and I asked Jim over dinner if he’d mind if I asked Carl to train her,” said Miles. “So Carl took her for me, and at about that time Ian Wilkes began working for Carl and gradually I gravitated toward Ian. We’ve worked together now for the past 15 years going to the sales and buying yearlings that he subsequently trains. He’s such a fine guy to work with that it’s more like a partnership than an owner-trainer relationship.”
Nafzger was calling the shots on Miles’ initial stakes winner, Westerly Breeze. The Gone West mare won the Walmac International Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland in 2002 and banked $350,435 for her career. Miles had plucked Lead Story out of the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale for $45,000 and under Nafzger’s tutelage Lead Story won four stakes and made $842,031, racing from ages 2-5.
Wilkes was in the driver’s seat in 2007 when Miles bought a colt from the first crop of Medaglia d’Oro at the Keeneland September sale and named him Warrior’s Reward. Miles enjoyed his first grade I victory when Warrior’s Reward won the 2010 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct. Warrior’s Reward placed in five additional graded events and earned $565,716 for his career. He stands at stud at B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm.
Miles has hesitantly entered the breeding end of the business because of the fillies he has raced. He currently owns six broodmares, including Bootery, a Storm Boot mare who is the dam of Neck ’n Neck.
“When you have a racemare, what do you do with it?” asked Miles. “We’ve ended up in breeding because they have good pedigrees, were decent runners, and are good-looking physically. Ian and I get together and study pedigrees and match them up. I enjoy that, but I’d rather concentrate on racing. Breeding isn’t really what I want to expand into. We’ll probably ease back from that side as time goes by. I can’t compete with the big breeders, but I can sometimes beat them on the racetrack.”
Between his homebreds and yearling purchases, Miles sends three or four horses each year to Mike O’Farrell’s Ocala Stud for training. That is the route taken by Neck ’n Neck, who broke his maiden in his fourth try last season at Churchill. He is a son of Flower Alley, who became famous as the sire of this year’s dual classic winner I’ll Have Another. Neck ’n Neck began this year with a good second to Discreet Dancer in a Gulfstream Park allowance/optional claiming contest, and Wilkes thought enough of him to step him up into graded stakes company. Neck ’n Neck finished fifth in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), fourth in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), and fifth in the Florida Derby (gr. I).
“Ian always thought he was a nice colt that just needed to wake up,” said Miles. “Maybe it was a lack of experience or some immaturity, but he never did what we’d hoped he would.”
Entered in a Churchill allowance to regain confidence, Neck ’n Neck won by 6 1⁄2 lengths and then came back to dominate in the Winn. Miles said he was approached by Japanese officials inviting him to run there, but Wilkes put the kibosh on that idea, and Neck ’n Neck is more likely to resurface at Saratoga this summer.
Asked to compare banking with Thoroughbred ownership, Miles said, “Both businesses have inherent risks, but much more so with Thoroughbreds.”
Risks the Louisville native seems more than happy to take.