Life is different these days for the wife-and-husband team of trainer Julie Miller and driver Andy Miller, but their passion for harness racing remains unchanged.
As Julie Miller prepares undefeated Perfect Alliance for Wednesday's $30,000 Bobby Weiss Series final for 3- and 4-year-old female trotters at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, she talked about the bond that keeps Team Miller moving forward as Andy Miller recovers from an accident April 15 at Yonkers Raceway.
Andy Miller, who had vertebrae surgery at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital last week, hopes to be released by sometime Tuesday but could be sidelined for six months.
"We have a passion for the sport and we love racing, so I think that's what is keeping us going more than anything, Julie Miller said Monday morning. "We're going over the horses, going over the training, going over who is in and who raced and evaluating performances. It's kind of a nice positive diversion from worrying about the rest and recovery that's going to be Andy's journey ahead.
"I could do this job without him, and he could do this job without me, but we don't want to. We want to do it together. It's been nice because we can still bounce ideas off each other.
Many staff members at the Millers' stable have worked there for a number of years, some more than a decade, which has helped keep the operation moving smoothly.
"I'm really fortunate, Julie Miller said. "First thing when I got back to the barn, they said we're a hundred percent behind you and Andy. We know it's going to be a little extra, but we understand. I have a phenomenal staff. Everything is still going like clockwork because everybody is still going 110 percent.
Miller said she was grateful for the outpouring of support from the harness racing community, as well as from neighbors that are not involved in the sport.
"People have been wonderful, sending us notes and texts and well wishes, she said. "Everyone has been so helpful, even preparing meals for the family and helping with the kids. I can't thank people enough.
Andy Miller has won 8,054 races in his driving career and nearly $101 million in purses, with both totals ranking among the top 25 in North American harness racing history. Julie Miller has won 1,156 lifetime races as a trainer and nearly $20 million in purses. She has earned $557,730 this season, good for seventh place among all trainers in North America.
"We spoke with Andy's doctor (Monday) morning and he said that all of his test results and X-rays and ultrasounds and scans are coming back with flying colors, Julie Miller said. "Now it's just a paperwork issue of trying to get out of the hospital. We're looking forward to it being Monday afternoon or at the latest Tuesday.
"He's walking already. The other day when I was at the hospital he'd already made the turn around the nurses' station and was turning for home and I said, I can't even get your bed remade and you're already coming back.' He was in such healthy condition that it's really going to help him to recover.
The Millers are thankful that Andy's back injury wasn't more severe.
"Every time we want to feel sorry for ourselves, I think that I wasn't in the conference room being told he was paralyzed or couldn't walk, Julie Miller said. "We're blessed because it could have been worse. Andy is a very upbeat, positive person. People that know him know that he loves to work and he's always positive. He's keeping that momentum even with this challenging road ahead.
The Millers hope to have some more winning performances to evaluate in the near future, particularly with Perfect Alliance heading into Wednesday's Weiss final a perfect 8-for-8 this season. The 4-year-old mare, who will be driven for the second week in a row by Yannick Gingras, is the 2-1 morning line favorite in a field of seven. She starts from post No. 6.
Perfect Alliance is owned by New Meadowlands Racing chairman Jeff Gural, Meadowlands general manager Jason Settlemoir, David Stolz and Arthur Geiger.She competed in three of the four preliminary Weiss rounds, notching her three victories by a combined total of 14 lengths.
Series division winners Clementine Dream, who is 3-1, and Dough Dough, who is 7-2, are the next choices on the morning line.
"(Perfect Alliance) is a clear-cut choice, but it's still a horse race, Julie Miller said. "Luckily, Yannick has elected to go over there and drive her again for me; I appreciate that on his part. I think she's a push-button horse, and Yannick agreed the other day. Having a new catch driver on her made me a little apprehensive, but he said she was super and got along good with her. As long as she has no obstacles, I think she should be excellent in that race. (HRC)