Keeneland

'Master of the Turf' dead at 89

Jockey Jerry Bailey hoisted the trophy with trainer MacKenzie "Mack" Miller, left, and owner Paul Mellon after Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 1993.
Jockey Jerry Bailey hoisted the trophy with trainer MacKenzie "Mack" Miller, left, and owner Paul Mellon after Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 1993. ASSOCIATED PRESS

MacKenzie Todd "Mack" Miller, a Versailles native and Racing Hall of Fame horse trainer, died Friday at at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center hospice unit. He was 89.

"He was an old-fashioned gentleman living in modern times," Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said Saturday. "He was very honorable and a very, very special person."

Mr. Miller trained Sea Hero, the 1993 Kentucky Derby winner, for his longtime employer Paul Mellon. The Derby press fondly dubbed them "the old men and the Sea Hero." By that point, Mr. Miller had been in racing for 44 years and said he no longer expected to win the sport's top honor.

"It's great. It's the epitome. It's the best; it makes you want to cry a bit," Mr. Miller said at the time.

Mr. Miller graduated from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., and attended UK. In 1947, he began his career as a $125-a-month worker in the broodmare division of Calumet Farm in Fayette County. Later, he transferred to Calumet's training division and eventually started his own public stable.

Mr. Miller came to success as a private trainer for Charlie Engelhard's Cragwood Stable and Mellon's Rokeby Stable. He was a longtime friend and breeding partner of R. Smiser West, the late owner of Waterford Farm near Midway.

Mr. Miller was called "Master of the Turf" in recognition of the years he spent in New York producing turf champions such as Assagai in 1966, Hawaii in 1969 and Snow Knight in 1975. He also trained multiple Grade I winner Java Gold.

He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. He was the Honor Guest of the Thoroughbred Club in 1993. He retired from training in 1995 to divide his time between homes in Versailles and Aiken, S.C.

"The last few years as he had gotten older, he would come to Keeneland for the races, and it would absolutely brighten our day when he came," Nicholson said.

Mr. Miller is survived by his wife of 59 years, Martha McCauley Miller; his daughter, Martha Queen of Chattanooga, Tenn.; his son, MacKenzie Todd Miller Jr. of Austin, Texas; and two grandchildren. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Scott Miller Jr. and Mason Miller.

There will be a private family burial in Versailles Cemetery. A memorial service will be held at noon Tuesday at Versailles Presbyterian Church, 130 North Main Street. Contributions are suggested to the Grayson Foundation, the Gill Heart Institute or the Racetrack Chaplaincy.

Blackburn & Ward Funeral Home is handling arrangements. The guest book is online at BlackburnandWard.com.

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