By Mike Paradise
During my 48 years of writing about Illinois harness racing I thought I saw all there was to see about our sport.
Tonight, for the first time I’ll get to watch newlyweds drive against each other in a pari-mutuel race for “family bragging rights.”
The sixth race conditioned pace brings together a pair of Erv Miller trained three-year-old’s with Erv’s son-in-law Atlee Bender leaving from post six with the pacer Certifiable while the Illinois Hall of Famer’s daughter Hanna Miller is at the lines of TE’s Raider going out alongside from the six slot.
Atlee and Hanna tied the knot in late March and one thing they’ve certainly have in common is their love of horses and harness racing,
They’ve been around horses most of their young lives and currently run Erv’s Midwest Division at the Indianapolis, Indiana Fair Grounds where they are responsible for “about 50 horses.”
I asked Atlee who had the idea was it to race against each other and he replied sheepishly: “It was my wife’s,” as I detected a bit of a laugh coming from the phone. Hanna answered the same question quite differently. “No, I think it was my husband’s.”
No matter who tossed down the gauntlet to determine “bragging rights” it was a great idea because both have proven to be a top-notch driver.
Atlee is visiting the Hawthorne winner’s circle at a 19.2 per cent clip, good for sixth place in the driver standings with 15 winners and recently had four first place finishes on a single card at Hawthorne.
Hanna certainly has the pedigree to be an outstanding horseman and she’s been just that.
Her father Erv is a nationally renowned trainer closing in on 6,000 career winners. The Arthur, Illinois native’s horses have earned over $90 million dollars.
Hanna’s brother Marcus, now 32, was a perennial Top Five driver on the Chicago circuit for years before heading out to Pennsylvania. Marcus has notched over 3,700 career wining drives.
Their “Uncle Andy” (Miller) is a former multiple Illinois driver champion who most likely will get his 10,000th lifetime winner sometime later this year.
Meanwhile “Aunt Julie” has sent out over $2,000 winners as a trainer including many national prominent pacers and trotters.
Hanna took amateur driving circuit by storm and in 2015 became the first woman to be named the National Amateur Driver Champion and it was a unanimous vote by the United States Harness Writers Association.
Hanna also won the same award the next year when the young lady represented the USA in the World Amateur Driving competition in Hungary in 2016 where she finished second.
Tonight, Atlee’s sixth race drive Certifiable is listed as the 3-1 favorite while his wife is steering a 12-1 morning line longshot TE’s Raider II.
Atlee didn’t agree with the big difference in their horse’s first flash odds.
“The two horses are much closer than that,” said the 29-year-old Goshen, Indiana native. Hanna agreed. “Toss out that last line on my horse when he made a (likely speed) break. The horse was full of go”, replied his 28-year-old wife.”
It ought to be an interesting 200-mile drive back from Hawthorne to Indianapolis for the newlyweds.
One of them figures to do most of the talking.