Miller wasn't born with a silver bit in his mouth. Maybe that's why he so appreciates the good times money can create. He was born in 1913 in Woodland, Calif., where his father, Earl, died in an influenza epidemic five years later. Young Delvin was raised by his grandfather, Thomas Miller, who owned, bred, trained and drove standardbreds on his farm in Avella, Pa., the current site of Meadowcroft Village. In 1929, at 16, he drove a pacer named Donna Jones to a fourth-place finish in Burgettstown, Pa. That earned him $9 and led to a lifelong career. In 1933 Miller was packed and ready to enter Penn State, but the first day of the academic year and a chance to race at a county fair conflicted. The county fair won, in a not very close decision.
In 1943 Miller was drafted and, in a rare military match of man and ability, was sent to India to participate in the provisioning of pack mules for American and Chinese forces in the China- Burma- India theater. Three years and two Bronze Stars later, he resumed his racing career.
He also decided it was time to become an owner. In 1948, with $6,000 and the promise of some financial help from Duke Kelly, a Winston-Salem car dealer, Miller went off to a standardbred auction at Lexington, Ky. When the sale was hammered down, Miller thought he had bought an 8-year-old stallion for $20,100. But the auctioneer said the price was $21,000. Miller was furious, and it took Kelly to come up with the extra cash. Seven years later, in 1955, Miller sold the horse, Adios, for $500,000. "I'm a poor man," he said at the time, "and a poor man can't afford to own a horse as valuable as Adios." Of the 589 foals Adios produced over a 20-year career at stud, an incredible 500 won races, earning a total of $19,293,292. Says Miller, who bought back a one-third interest in the horse in 1956, "When I sold Adios, I stopped reading the funny papers and started reading The Wall Street Journal."
Adios, who died in 1965, is buried on the grounds of Meadow Lands. Miller purchased that 220-acre site and six buildings for $35,000 in 1946. He sold it four years ago for $600,000.
Miller has many stories of how luck often rules the game of racing. He once bought a trotter, Quick Pride, for $5,200. The colt made $179,514 racing as a 2-year-old, whereupon Miller sold him to Stanley Dancer for $350,000. That was 1971, and Quick Pride went on to win $231,210 for Dancer that year. But the following year he earned only $29,509, and died as a 4-year-old. In 1970 Miller again shelled out $5,000, this time for the mare Delmonica Hanover; the 1974 Prix D'Amerique winner became his alltime favorite racehorse and earned him $832,925 over her five-year career. He sold her for $300,000 in 1974. "I think good," says Miller of his talent for investing in standardbreds, "and I don't remember that bad."
Perhaps the most difficult memory test for Miller would be to recall a celebrity he hasn't met—and befriended—over the years. He points at pictures on the walls of the office he still maintains on Meadow Lands Farm: "There I am with Hoot Gibson. There's Ty Cobb and me. Jesse Owens and me. There's Hope and me." So, did Miller know Clark Gable? "No. But I knew his father." Miller went fishing with Babe Ruth. "It was fine," he says. "We caught some fish." He played golf with Joe Louis. There he is at the opening of Disney World with Shoemaker, Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle.
Miller used to order his vodka and water at the original Toots Shor's saloon on 51st Street in New York City. "If Toots liked you, he'd give you a special place," he recalls. Naturally, Miller had a special place, right up front where he could be seen whiling away the hours with politicians like Hubert Humphrey, actors like Don Ameche and, always, athletes.
Nothing much has changed, except that many of the old gang are gone—including Shor, and the saloon bearing his name is now down in the 30s, on a side street across from Madison Square Garden. But there are always new faces to meet and new places to hang out—and always the good times. Like the party in Miller's honor at Pompano to celebrate his entering his eighth decade of harness racing. The guests included Whitey Ford, Julius Boros, Palmer, former Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes and the Goodyear blimp, which cruised overhead.
Arcaro speaks for eight decades of horsemen and hundreds—nay, thousands—of people from all walks of life when he says, "I'm just so proud to be Delvin Miller's friend."