FAIR HILL -- Steeplechasing this spring has been pretty much the "Blythe and Sanna" show.
The card at Fair Hill yesterday was no exception.
It was 22-year-old Blythe Miller's turn to shine.
And she did, setting a course record for 2 3/8 miles over hurdles in the $25,000 Miles Valentine Novice Stakes on a lightly raced gelding named My Lear.
Overlooked at 9-1 odds, My Lear paid $20.20 to win, beating more highly regarded Christoroberto by 6 3/4 lengths. Longshot Miss Una F. finished third, followed by Elberton Fling. The 6-5 favorite, Nobelist, broke down after jumping 11 of the 15 fences.
Earlier in the spring, Miller dominated the Baltimore-area timber races, becoming the first woman to win both the My Lady's Manor and Grand National point-to-points.
Her attempt to sweep all three of Maryland's spring timber classics on the Chilean-bred gelding Cabral was thwarted when her best friend Sanna Neilson beat her in the Maryland Hunt Cup.
Yesterday Neilson sat on the sidelines, but she had more than a passing interest in My Lear. Her stepfather, George Strawbridge, Jr., owns the horse, but it is trained by Blythe's father, Bruce Miller. So, there were some paternal ties in the race as well.
Both families are neighbors in rural Cochranville, Pa.
Bruce Miller explained he picked out My Lear last year after he saw the horse run in a few hurdle races as a 3-year-old. Previously My Lear had failed to break his maiden at the Maryland flat tracks when trained by Jerry Robb.
"I thought when I saw him that he was a good jumper," Miller said. "He fell in his last start at Atlantic City [race course], but we bought him anyhow. He chipped a knee in that race, and we gave him nearly a year to heal."
Returned to the races in April, My Lear won in his second start and was freshened a month until his stakes-winning effort yesterday. He was timed in the 2 3/8 miles in 4 minutes 24 1/5 seconds, three seconds faster than the former Fair Hill record.
Even though the fathers of both girls manage My Lear, there was no question who would ride him.
Sanna Neilson rides only timber races, the slower, longer jump races contested over upright wooden fences. She has developed into quite a talent. A week after her win in the Maryland Hunt Cup, she won the Virginia Gold Cup.
But Miller rides both timber races and the faster hurdle races, which are run over lower brush fences that accentuate speed. These races are dominated by professional male jockeys, but Blythe has been beating them with regularity this spring.
On May 11, the weekend she graduated with a degree in interior design from Mount Vernon College in Washington, she won four races on one card at the Iroquois, Ky., hunt meet, including a victory in a $100,000 hurdle stakes.
Now, Miller has her sights set on riding My Lear in some of the rich steeplechase stakes at Saratoga in August.
But she cannot take the standard 10 percent fee that winning jockeys usually earn. Miller is still an amateur, and can only accept money for expenses.
She wants to protect her amateur status, giving the Maryland Hunt Cup another shot next spring with Cabral.
Although several horses broke down or were pulled up on yesterday's card, there were no falls in any of the jumping races. Many horses were scratched because trainers did not want to risk their horses on the hard going.
Director of racing Gregg Morris said he was satisfied with yesterday's Memorial Day turnout. The crowd of 13,628 exceeded the head count at Pimlico and the simulcast outlet at Laurel. But there was quite a difference in the betting. The flat tracks attracted over $1.7 million in bets. Fair Hill only took in $240,576 in wagers.