- Published: Wednesday, 21 December 2016 00:35
Joe Miller had quite an impact on the Maryland racing community during his decades of service.
Miller, who died Dec. 15 at age 53, worked at the Maryland racetracks for about 30 years, most recently as a member of the track maintenance crew. But he is best remembered as the long-time horse ambulance driver, a difficult job that requires a special type of person.
In 2015 Miller was recognized with the MTHA “Special Unsung Hero Award” for his contributions. He manned the ambulance not only during racing but during morning training at Maryland tracks.
Miller, of Kingsville, Md., was profiled in a 2013 New York Times story along with MJC track photographer Jim McCue, who assisted Miller whenever with his own love of photography. Miller was known for regularly taking photos of morning training and wildlife, including eagles that have been spotted in the Laurel Park infield.
“Joe was always there,” Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association President Tim Keefe said, “and we always knew he’d be there. He loved being out (on the track) with horses and people. He was just a really good guy. It’s a tragic loss.”
Miller was ambulance driver in 2006 when undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro fractured three bones in his right hind leg at the start of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course and was euthanized eight months later because of complications from laminitis. MJC Director of Racing Georganne Hale said Miller rode in the back of the van with Barbaro when the colt was transported to New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania for treatment after the Preakness.
“If they learned anything about laminitis that can help other horses, then OK,” Miller told Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred in a profile written about him and his career on the racetrack.
But dealing with catastrophic injuries and euthanasia can take its toll. Miller eventually was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and, to assist with his recovery, was reassigned to the track maintenance crew.
Trainer Mike Trombetta likened the job of track ambulance driver to working in emergency care. “Some of these horses are left in bad positions and it’s critical to get them to where they can get treatment,” he said when Miller was recognized by the MTHA. “His is a difficult job, but someone has to do it and it boils down to the best way to handle it is with care and compassion.”
Jeff Kreimer, a member of the ambulance crew, said Miller’s background as a horseman served him well. He not only drove the ambulance but was always on the lookout to prevent equine injuries.
“Joe would have a keen eye for a sore horse or a rider having problems,” Kreimer said. “He would be on the radio before you knew it.”
Miller began as a tractor driver for the MJC after running the shedrow for Richard Delp when the trainer had numerous stakes runners. In 1997 he left his job as an assistant trainer and was hired by then-track superintendent John Passero to handle the ambulance duties.
Miller is also remembered by the local racing community for driving to Ohio to adopt a pit bull he named Einstein who was in need of rescue. They formed a very close bond.
“Einstein was the love of his life,” Hale said. “Jim and Einstein were inseparable. Jim also loved photography—it was his hobby. He would often take pictures of people galloping horses in the morning and always took pictures of the eagles (in the Laurel infield).”
“I talked to Joe a lot because I watch my horses from where he was (stationed),” trainer Katy Voss. “He had a heart of gold and he really cared about horses. Joe would send me pictures of my horses all the time, and everything he sent had a watermark on it. I would forward them to the owners.”
The MTHA has tentatively scheduled a memorial service at Laurel for Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 11:30 a.m. Further details will be announced when they become available.
The following was submitted to the MTHA by Jeff Kreimer and Karen Zeiler, who work on the MJC ambulance crew and knew Joe Miller for about five years:
We have some very fond memories. The first time we saw him sticking his head out of “Joe’s Shack” and said hi, I thought he was a rough, gruff guy who really didn’t wish to hold much of a conversation. Were we wrong!
I think to the mornings when Pollack Eddie, Clark, and Lisa would come over and get their dose of “harassment” from him. I would scratch my head at the not- so-friendly conversation they had. K Marie would get the Steeler harassment, too! Of course everyone would depart with a smile and get one last dig in. Often the comments were undiscernible due to the outrider riding away.
There was always more harassment the next day. Eddie would give a defiant fist pump as he rode away, too!
I think of Joe bringing his “cat” Einstein to work with him. Einstein always had to mooch the (ambulance) in the morning, Krista and the jocks in the afternoon on live days. Einstein, a “vicious pit bull,” had the good life. He would get his snacks and then belly rub and then nap on his bed. If we would walk over and didn’t see Joe, we would look in the window and see him on the floor playing with the vicious pit bull.
Then there were the mandatory mints for Romeo. Katy Voss would have to stop so he could get the mints or Romeo would not be happy and be very reluctant to go past “Joe’s Shack.”
He would send us pictures of Einstein enjoying the spoiled life and the eagles flying around the pond fishing. They were his birds! He knew we didn’t do Facebook so he would email us the pictures.
I always loved the nicknames he would call out as the outriders and exercise riders rode by—Pollack, Dudley, Munchkin, Bo Bo. Oscar would always blow kisses! Whoop! Whoop! Always a “Hi Ted” and a reply of “Hey Joe.”
We sat in his chairs that I believe his dad put together. Those chairs have weathered the many days that Joe has spent on the track—the good days and the bad. It wasn’t easy keeping those chairs together, as was Joe. Joe cared so much for the horses. It was a love and a passion for him.
Now, when we are all working on the backside and look up and see the eagles, we will know that Joe is up there with “his birds” looking down.