Ask Gary Miller what draws him to the silks-and-saddle world of horse racing and he'll answer in four words the thrill of victory.
During working hours, Asarco LLC's vice president, commercial, is primarily responsible for overseeing sales of the company's full line of products. When the hours are his own, however, he enjoys spending time at the racetrack.
With a program in his back pocket, a pencil behind his ear, a cigar in reach and wearing a baseball cap, Miller is the picture of the classic horse owner. He chooses the trainers but doesn't train the horses himself. He doesn't groom the horses, although occasionally he will wash them, walk them around the track or let his daughter feed the steeds carrots, apples and peppermints.
Miller has owned a stake in more than 50 race horses over his lifetime. "While golf and tennis are fun, as I get older, horse racing gives me the excitement of sports," he said. "Whether your horse is worth $50,000 or $5,000, it's thrilling. There's no way to describe the feeling of watching your horse coming down the stretch with a chance to win the race. It gives you the thrill of playing sports."
Miller's love of the sport has also provided him a good way to catch a short break from the mining and metals business, although he is quick to credit his metals trading know-how for keeping him in the saddle, so to speak.
The sport of kings has cost Miller—and won him—huge sums of money, he said. Over the years, he's managed to break even through the use of good money management techniques he learned from trading metals.
Miller's interest in horse racing began when he started working as a valet parking attendant at the Monmouth Park Racetrack near his hometown of West Long Branch, N.J.
The time was the 1970s, he was in college and the pay was $1.25 per hour plus tips. "It was good for college kids," he recalls. "You could make $20 to $25 a day or more on weekends. Anyone who made that much was a hot shot on campus."
Soon he became friends with trainers at the track and began buying stakes in some of the local horses. His first big win came in the early 1980s, just a few weeks after purchasing a 60-percent stake in a horse. Ten percent of the purse went to his mother as one of her most memorable mother's day gifts.
After graduation, Miller and his former baseball buddies got together to form the "Atlantic Eight," named after a road in Long Branch called Atlantic Avenue. The group continued to invest in several horses throughout the early '80s and, in 1983, struck gold with Relaunch Lass. The horse "did very well for the group" at Monmouth Park and continued to do well in the ensuing five years in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.
In the late '80s, Miller and his friends mourned the loss of Relaunch Lass after she died giving birth to a foal. Miller was out of the country on a business trip to Japan when he got news of the death, and was one of several men who got together over the phone to comfort each other. Relaunch Lass had been bred to Mining, who finished second during a Breeders' Cup Classic race. They had been looking forward to meeting a second generation of championship horses.
"When we lost her, I didn't lose passion for the sport," Miller said. "I just realized this is the game we're in." After the death of the mare, he withdrew from horse breeding for 10 years, but is now back in it. The group remains close with Relaunch Lass' trainer, Jimmy Ryerson, attending social gatherings and attending Kentucky Derby parties together.
In 2001, Miller moved to Arizona to assume a new post with Asarco and parent Grupo Mexico SA de CV, and took with him a tradition of buffet lunches with friends and family at the racetrack to Turf Paradise in Phoenix. He often brings customers, suppliers and friends to see the races.
Miller says the key to raising a successful horse is making sure that the animal is surrounded by people who respect it. He funds one to three horses every year, all raised by veteran trainer Jacque Guerra with the assistance of her husband, Vince Guerra, a seasoned jockey. When the horses retire they are relocated to farms, where they are riden as pets or perform as jumpers in shows.
Over the years, Miller has gone from being a part-time investor to becoming a serious owner, importing horses from as far away as Chile. He's also actively involved in various horse racing industry organizations. For two years, Miller has served as an elected member on the board of directors of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which works to improve the service of the tracks and stable workers. He's also been on the board for two years as an alternate. Miller
One of the few forces that could come between Miller and his hobby are his 13-year-old daughter, Haley, and eight-year-old son, Max. If the children didn't like horse racing and visiting stables, Miller said, he'd have stopped.
Fortunately, Miller has been able to share his passion with Haley. Dating back to her early childhood when the family was living in New Jersey, the two have made it a father-daughter tradition to get together for breakfast and watch the horses train.
Miller has even registered his current stable name, Halemax, after his children.