Will it be Miller's time for big win in Beverly D?
For Danny Miller, it's all about time.
Time as in maybe it's finally time for the low-key trainer to hit it big with the Frank Calabrese-owned Romacaca in Saturday's running of the Grade I $750,000 Beverly D., a victory that would be by far the biggest of Miller's long career.
But also time as in the every-moment-is-precious kind of time, because for the 59-year-old Palatine resident it really is.
"I've got congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy and leaky valves — you name it and I've got it," said Miller, who along with his wife, Patti, has 22 horses running this summer at Arlington Park. "In 2007 they put a pacemaker in and they upgraded it last year.
"My heart solely runs off the pacemaker."
Think about that the next time the line at the coffee shop isn't going fast enough for you or you can't get good cell reception or whenever life's myriad inconveniences seem like the end of the world.
For Miller, the end could be any time, any day.
"I had a spell a couple of weeks ago where I had a slight heart attack and the doctors told me, 'You could have died right there,'" Miller said. "My heart got to beating really, really fast. It got to about 195 (beats per minute), which is way too fast, but the pacemaker wasn't taking over.
"It was after the races. We had gotten something to eat and we were on our way to Elmhurst going down Route 53.
"Patti was driving and I turned to her and said, 'Look, you've got to get me somewhere real quick.' I had a lot of pain in my chest, up in the roof of my mouth — I mean a lot of pain. I said 'You've got to do something and do it quick.'"
Miller was rushed through the emergency room and straight to a hospital room for four days straight while doctors "put me on the right medication to settle it down."
And then, the morning after he was released, no surprise here, he was back at barn 7C at Arlington alongside Patti, doing what they've been doing for the past 32 years — taking care of business.
"Danny Miller? He's the second coming of Jesus Christ — just the nicest human being," Calabrese said. "He's an excellent guy, excellent worker — never misses a day of work."
It's the salt-of-the-earth trainers like Miller, the guys who put in the work day after day after day, who are absolutely the heart and soul of the racing game.
While the big names in the business often garner most of the publicity in the days leading up to events like Million Day, it's rare for an everyman trainer such as Miller to get a shot — a true shot — at glory.
Well, he has one now with Romacaca or "Roma," as he calls her.
And though Roma, who has won 14 of 29 lifetime starts, is listed as a 15-1 longshot in the morning line, Miller says he wouldn't trade places with anyone else in the Beverly D. field.
"I like her in that race," he said. "I know she's going to come over here and I know she's going to try, going to give it her best. To me, she's at her best right now.
"If she gets beat, she gets outrun, that's all there is to it. They've got to outrun her."
There are plenty of local horseman pulling for Roma, Miller and the upset.
"He's a very hands-on, down-to-earth guy; what you see is what you get with him," fellow trainer Chris Block said. "It would be nice to see all his hard work pay off.
"He's a guy you root for. I sure do."
The lithe Miller gave it the old "aw shucks" when told he will have a plethora of people in his camp come Saturday afternoon.
"People pull for the little guy," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "They like to see that. That's the way I feel when someone else wins. The local people root for the local people."
Miller's acutely aware what a win Saturday would mean.
"This would be a big feather in the cap," he admitted. "I've had this filly for Frank from the beginning, and to see her win this race would really be great."
And not just for himself and Patti, but also for Calabrese, who was Arlington's leading owner for a decade before having a much-publicized tussle with Arlington management a few years back.
"Frank really likes it here. This is home," Miller said. "He was the leading owner here for so long. He loves being at Arlington Park. It would mean a lot to Frank and myself. We've worked together before, and it would be something that we accomplished together."
Even though the pacemaker implanted last year has been quite an upgrade from the original version — "I had the Red Roof Inn and I needed the Hyatt," Miller said — the question remains: How does he watch one of his horses race without testing technology's limits?
"There's no way of doing it," he said. "When you're watching your horse run (and win), like Roma in the Modesty (Handicap), and they're coming down to the wire head-to-head like her and that other filly, you've got to get excited. There's no way to get around it."
Just a chance you're willing to take?
"Yeah," Miller said. "What are you going to do?"
And it's a chance he's willing to take again Saturday when Roma goes up against the big girls of racing.
And if she pulls off the upset?
"It would make a lot of difference in Danny's life if something like that would happen," Calabrese said. "I'd like to see him win because it would give him a few bucks. He never made too much money."
Just how would Danny and Patti celebrate if Roma made her way to the winner's circle?
"We never do any big celebrating," Miller said. "Actually, with us, it would be living the moment, going back to the barn, checking everything out and probably going out to dinner."
Now that sounds like a perfect time.
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