For 76-year-old Farmington ex-Navy deep sea diver, electrician, business owner and rancher Danny Miller, raising quarter horses — most of which go on to become successful race horses — is all about family.
Danny and his wife Sandra, 72, began raising horses in the late ‘70s. Typically, they sell the horses as yearlings, but if one or two don't bring what Danny thinks they're worth, the couple keeps and runs the quarter horses themselves. This is a couple that, even while raising horses, doesn’t horse around.
“We work our butts off, but our happiness has been working and building together,” said Danny as he walked into his home office filled with trophies, plaques, photos, a saddle and other memorabilia.
Back in the ‘80s, Bill Robbins married the couple’s daughter, Christine. He immediately caught “the bug” and began raising horses himself. It was two years ago when Robbins told Danny he wanted a filly out of the couple’s best mare, Cassandra Crest.
“Bill asked me, ‘Would you let me get a baby out of your mare?’,” Danny recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll pay the stud fee and all.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll raise you a baby.’ He told me he wanted a girl and I said, ‘All right, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’m gonna’ breed to that stallion anyway.’ His name is Apolitical Jess. It’s about a $9,500 stud fee. I told him, ‘If you want to, we’ll both breed her to him and if one of them is a girl, you can have it. If it’s two girls, take your pick. If it’s two boys, take your pick.’
“We had two boys, so I gave Bill his pick. He asked me, ‘Which one’s the best?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know which one’s best. All I can tell you is that they’re both good. Until you line ‘em up, you don’t know which one has the biggest heart, but they’re both good.’ He picked one and named it. He has a weird sense of humor and he’s extremely bright. That’s why he named his horse Apocalyptical Jess. It come from Trump running against Clinton and both sides said it will be the apocalypse if the other guy wins.”
Danny and Sandra took their colt to the auction in Oklahoma City where he brought $105,000 and was taken to his new home in Southern California.
But what about Apocalyptical Jess?
“Bill raced his colt and it won the All American Futurity held at Ruidoso Downs on Labor Day in Ruidoso, New Mexico,” Danny said. “That’s the Kentucky Derby of quarter horse racing. The only difference is that the Kentucky Derby is about a million-five purse as far as dollars. This one’s a $3 million purse.”
Sandra describes what happened last month at Ruidosa Downs as a “real David vs. Goliath story.”
“And we were David!” she said, laughing. “Bill's colt beat over 300 yearlings with the fastest qualifying time and he won his trial heat by nearly four lengths. Only nine horses were in the finals on Labor Day, but the other eight came from wealthy owners and huge farms with lots of helpers. Bill's colt came from our 33 acres and only Danny and me to take care of him.
“It's a family story — Danny and I; and Christine, Bill and their daughter, Mallory — one family. Then there was trainer Blane Wood and his son, Trey — one family. Blane's dad trained the horse that won the All American Futurity in the late 90's and Blane had tried several times, but never won. The race on Labor Day was the 60th running of the futurity. Bill's jockey who rode the horse in the trials decided not to ride him in the finals, so another jockey named Raul Ramirez rode Apocalyptical Jess for the first time and won!
“For several months, Bill would purchase a horse and tell his daughter Mallory, ‘I'm sorry, hon, but I had to spend your college fund." It was kinda’ the running joke, but when we were all standing in the winner's circle, you could almost see a light bulb come on over Mallory's head, and she yelled, 'I can go to college, now!'"
As for Danny, he is proud of his business and loves his family and church. Throughout his life he’s striven to work hard, live honestly and enjoy each day to the fullest and Danny’s still doing it in his mid-seventies.
“I’ve had a great life and my wife and I have a good time,” he said. “In September we went to Ruidoso for a big dinner, we went to the races, we won, we drove home. We drove all night. We left there like at 10:30 in the morning and arrived here at 9:30 in the morning.
“We cleaned up everything, got horses ready to leave again. The next morning, we got on a plane and went to Santa Barbara, California, for a wedding. That weekend we went to a horse sale in Oklahoma City and sold three horses before returning on Sunday.
“We came back and this past weekend I put 400 bales of alfalfa in the loft and 220 bales of straw up there, halter-broke some horses and took some pictures of them. We mowed the grass yesterday, picked all the apples off the tree. We’ve been cooking apples every night this week. This next week we’ve got to tear down the garden.”