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Chicago tracks honor top driver/trainers

January 09, 2012

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With the 2011 season in the books Balmoral Park and Maywood Park honored their leading driver and trainers this past weekend. Youngster Marcus Miller was a runaway winner in the drivers' standings at both tracks while longtime conditioner Robert Phillips notched his first training title at the Crete oval. On the Maywood side of the docket a very exciting training battle came right down to the final race of the season and when the smoke cleared conditioners Dave McCaffrey and Pete Procopi ended on even terms with each sending out 42 winners for the year.
The 22-year-old Miller turned both driving titles into runaways in just his third full season as a professional driver as he became the first reinsman since Tony Morgan in 2003 to take home top honors at both tracks. The native of Sherman, Ill., who is the son of top conditioner Ervin Miller, outdistanced runner-up Brian Carpenter by an amazing 107 victories at Balmoral where he posted 255 wins, 188 second-place finishes and 170 third-place finishes. Miller-driven horses won at a 19.1 percent clip while earning over $1.6 million in purses.
At Maywood Miller finished 77 victories ahead of runner-up Carpenter, posting 217 wins and earnings of more than $865,000 while clicking at a 20.1 percent rate. Miller also finished among the top 10 in victories among all drivers in North America.
“Obviously I’m very happy to be doing so well this soon in my career,” said Miller. “This year everything just seemed to click for me and once you start producing good numbers you get more opportunities to succeed. There’s still plenty to learn each and every night and I just want to continue to get better each and every year.”
Phillips, who jogged his first horse at the age of five, snared his first training title this year at age 66. The longtime resident of Crete sent out 88 winners, 89 second-place finishers and 90 third-place finishers from 610 starters. With 30 head of horses under his care Phillips was quick to praise his help when asked about his secret to success in 2011.
“We’ve got a lot of old war-horses in our barn who race week in and week out,” Phillips explained. “I have seven people currently working for me and every one of them works hard and they don’t miss any days of work. If we keep up that kind of work ethic I think we’ll be pretty successful in 2012 as well.” 
The Maywood training title turned into quite a race over the final month with six trainers finishing only 10 victories apart. Heading into the final night of racing action McCaffrey, who already had five previous training titles at Maywood Park led Procopi by two victories. That margin was cut in half in race seven. With only one starter left the Procopi-trained Firstclassalltheway came flying down the stretch to pull off the upset in the night’s final race pulling him into a tie with McCaffrey for top honors. 
While each trainer posted 42 wins for the season, McCaffrey trainees banked $228,849 compared to Procopi’s $127,273 in earnings. However, Procopi sent out 207 less starters for the year giving him an eye-catching 33.6 percent win rate compared to Mc Caffrey’s 12.7 percent.
Both trainers were quick to praise the effort of their counterpart after the exciting duel. 
“It was an exhausting year keeping a stable out of state and also a large string of horses here in Illinois,” said McCaffrey. “Couple that with all the legislative efforts we put in all year long and it’s pretty amazing we finished like we did. Pete did a great job and it couldn’t have been more a more exciting race. Really, think about it. He was down to his last horse in the last race of the year at Maywood and leaving from an outside post and that horse gets there for him. That’s pretty clutch in my book and I congratulate him for a job well done.” 
Procopi, who has been training off and on for some 15 years now was thrilled to get his first training title. 
“I’m honored to share the training title with a great trainer like Dave McCaffrey,” said Procopi. “The 2011 season was a great one for us and very fulfilling because it really was the first year I took over training on a full-time basis. Angie Affrunti is my assistant trainer and I couldn’t have done this without her. We have five other people working for us and they all do a great job with the horses. We do the best we can and we always try to send them out there ready for their best efforts.” (Balmoral/Maywood)
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