HOLLYWOODBETS.NET-sponsored trainer CLIFFIE MILLER (55) is a jovial straight talking trainer who tells it like it is. He began training way back in 1979 with just 6 horses and has come a long way since. His stables are based at Flamingo Park in the Northern Cape and he currently has 65 horses in his care. Despite the lack of graded races in the province, he has tasted success in graded company with his smart mare, the now retired, Grandalea. The yard enjoys support from many of South Africa’s prominent owners in the form of Mary Slack, Greg Blank and most recently, Braam van Huysteen, amongst others and during the 2012/2013 season had amassed 39 winners. This Saturday is the Flamingo Park Racing Festival and the Cliffie Miller yard will be represented in most of the feature races. Cliffie has a particular liking for the son of Ravishing, KINGOFMOUNTAIN who should give a very good account of himself in the Racing Assocation Flamingo Mile, the day’s main feature event. WINNING FORM wishes Cliffie Miller Racing everything of the best on the day and in its future endeavours.
What is your name?
William George Clifton (Cliffie) Miller.
What is your star sign and birthdate?
Leo. I was born on 14 August 1957.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Born in Jagersfontein (mining town in the Free State) and I grew up in Kimberley.
Where do you live?
Tell us about your family?
I have my mom, one brother and two sisters. My brother Louwrens manufactures motor cycles “choppers” and has won many awards for the best bike/chopper at bike shows and has been invited to compete internationally.
Do you have a ‘nickname’?
Yes. Maruti, which means minister in Tswana.
Rum and coke and red wine.
I like any type of music.
Rugby and bowls.
Favourite soccer team?
Favourite holiday destination?
I don’t have much time for holidays in this business. I do enjoy the North Coast of Natal.
What is the characteristic you like most about yourself?
I am very straight forward, honest and trustworthy. I also love animals. Over the years, I have adopted 37 cats plus a few dogs which I feed every day, twice a day at the stables.
Where did you go to school?
Northern Cape high school in Kimberley.
What tertiary qualification did you achieve?
How did your interest in horse racing begin?
I bought two palomino riding horses and was given permission by the stewards of the Griqualand West racing club to keep them at the racecourse. My interest then moved towards thoroughbreds.
Has racing always been your passion?
Yes, for the past 30 years.
Do any, or all of your family share your passion for the racing game?
No, but Heather is the closest I have to family in this game and she definitely shares my passion.
Who was the first trainer you worked for? How long were you with him and how valuable was that experience?
I have never worked for any trainer. Learnt the hard way by trial and error. We used to have a trainer in Kimberley by the name of Norman Champion from whom I learnt a fair amount. I also learnt from the late Peter Miller who was already at the Griqualand West racing club when I started.
In which year did you take out your trainer’s licence and how many horses did you start with?
1979 and I started with six horses.
Which were the best horses you worked with early on in your career?
Eastern Eagle, he won 14 races.
Do you recall having your first winner as a trainer?
Yes. I won with a horse in Bloemfontein by the name of Jean Bleu. I bought him as a throw out from the late Basil Benjamin.
Are you a man that keeps up with your statistics? If so, how many graded winners have you had in your career?
Yes, I do keep up with statistics. Being based in Kimberley makes it difficult to win graded races as we don’t get the stock. However, my very good mare Grandalea did win a graded race for me.
Where are your stables based currently and how many horses do you have in your care?
Flamingo Park racecourse. I currently have 65 horses.
Tell us about your team?
My team is managed by Heather, she treats all the injuries and does the feeding. I have recently employed her nephew, Neville as a stable employee who assists with the management of my 14 grooms. 5 of them are workriders.
Marco van Rensburg is your stable jockey. How important is it for a trainer to have a stable jockey?
I believe it is very important to have a stable jockey and Marco plays a vital role in my yard. We trust each other.
Does Marco ride work for you or do you only use your grooms?
No. I have 5 competent workriders (grooms).
Which other jockey’s do you use?
Mostly Francois Herholdt.
You are sponsored by HOLLYWOODBETS.NET. How did you become involved with them?
I trained a few horses for Hollywood which Matthew Lips arranged.
How important to you is the sponsorship?
It is an added incentive to do well.
What are the benefits to you to be sponsored by Hollywoodbets.net?
Firstly, it is a privilege to be associated with a team like Hollywood. They very generously provide kit for my grooms in the form of overalls, caps and t-shirts bearing their logo and mine.
What does Hollywoodbets.net expect of you in return for their sponsorship?
That the grooms wear their kit on a race day and that winners leave the parade ring wearing their Hollywood branded sweat blankets.
Do you think you could do more for the help they give you?
Yes. I inform patrons of the benefits of having a betting account with Hollywood.
Do you think it would be beneficial for racing, in general, if all trainers were sponsored?
Difficult question. It happens with formula one racing and that is very successful but they work in teams. Training horses is more individualistic.
The Flamingo Park Festival is this weekend; tell us about what happens during the weekend?
There is a prize giving on the Friday evening at the casino where the top trainer, jockey and horses are awarded for their excellence during the past season. The Saturday festivities include a marquee tent which is erected adjacent to the RA lounge and owners, trainers and patrons alike, experience the generous hospitality of the Racing Association and Phumelela.
You recently had KINGOFMOUNTAIN winning for you. In your post-race interview you said he will be aimed at the RA Flamingo Mile. How has he been since that win and what chance do you give him in this race?
He is an up and coming four year old in Kimberley and moves beautifully on the sand. At the weights, I believe he could be a big runner. He is a very easy horse to work with and is as honest as they come.
What other horses will you have in the race and what do you make your dangers?
I might nominate AFRICAN GLADIATOR although I personally believe he is more suited to a bit further. It is difficult to say what dangers are in the race until the fields become available.
There are two other features on the day. Firstly the Betting World Sprint. What horses will you have running in that race and tell us about the runners?
All going well, I will have ZEZINHO BELO in the race.
The other race is the Diamond Stayers. Which horses will you have running in that race and tell us about the runners?
AFRICAN GLADIATOR and possibly CAPITAL GAIN. We have discovered that African Gladiator can settle off the pace and run on which makes him rather suited to this distance. Capital Gain is coming back from a very long lay-off and will only be a runner if he is well by the time of declarations.
Tell us about some of the better horses in your yard that the punters can follow in the future?
MAESTRALE is a nice sprinter and CALL THE CHALLENGE should be a horse for the future.
Do you have any unraced horses that will be taking to the track soon that could help the punters?
Yes. Colourful, Disturbia and Tobe Heather. We will see, once they are working harder.
Which trainer is your biggest competitor in Kimberley?
I believe every trainer is my competitor but if I look at the statistics, I must say Japie Visser.
Do you think Flamingo Park is on the right track and what changes, if any, would you like to see there to make racing better?
For training purposes, it is my opinion that the track surface could be slightly softer some days. This is a difficult scenario as we train and race on the same surface. The visitors’ boxes could definitely be revamped.
What advantages do you think there are for an owner in Kimberley?
Mainly the cost. Our training fees compared to the rest of the country are substantially lower and horses that aren’t performing in bigger centres and could still win a race in a smaller centre, deserve a chance in Kimberley.
What advice would you offer to potential owners of racehorses?
Get the right person to advise and assist you when you purchase a horse, whether it is a yearling or older horse.
You seem to get quite a lot of support from KZN trainers by them sending horses to you. Who gives you the most support and what is the procedure when getting the horses?
Michael Miller and Dennis Drier. Michael or Dennis will phone and enquire whether I am interested in horses that they are sending out. I lease some and they pay for some.
Would you like to pay tribute to some of your loyal patrons that have been with the yard over the years?
Yes. Mrs. Slack is a loyal owner and very easy to train for. Greg Blank has been a staunch supporter of my stable. One of the better horses I have trained “Martini’s Way” came from him. Braam van Huysteen is a new patron and we get on very well. Rob Whittaker is a friend of mine and has returned to the racing game and I am very happy to have his support in the yard. At this stage I have a wonderful base of owners in the likes of Anton Procter, Greg-Royden Turner, Butch Fitzgerald, Jonathan Kaplan, Gavin Fell and Darryl Maree.
Do you ever go to the national yearling sales and what is your procedure in buying the horses?
Yes, if there are patrons who are interested. I look at the individual first and then the pedigree and of course you need to put a monetary value on every horse you wish to buy.
What stallions really excite you at the moment?
Ravishing and Judpot.
What does a typical day in the life of Cliffie Miller look like?
I rise at 4am in the summertime, go to the stables, check the horses and start training. Nominations and declarations are done during the morning training session. I am chairman and green keeper for a local bowling club so after training, I go to the club and check on the greens etc. In the afternoon, I fetch feed if necessary and go back to the stables at 4pm for the afternoon check and feeding routine.
What is the best advice you have been given with regards to your career as a trainer?
Keep your horses in the worst company and yourself in the best.
What is your philosophy on the racing game?
Racing and gambling is a culture, and not every person is suited to its many highs and sudden lows.
What are your short and long term ambitions for yourself as a trainer?
My ambition as a trainer is simply to achieve the best I can with each and every horse in my care.
Does the maxim, “Behind every successful man is an equally successful woman,” apply to Cliffie Miller?
Yes. 33 years ago Heather Reddie started in this racing game with me; she has a hands-on approach and takes care of the entire stable management. She has a keen eye for horses and I trust her judgment.
Gavin van Zyl