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PIERCE, MILLERICK VOTED INTO HALL OF FAME, LEGENDARY JOCKEY, TRAINER SANTA ANITA ICONS
ARCADIA, Calif. (June 10, 2010)—Legendary big-money rider Donald Pierce, Michael “Buster” Millerick, who gained his greatest fame as the long-time conditioner of Hall of Fame gelding Native Diver, and champion colt Harry Bassett, winner of the 1871 Belmont Stakes, were selected for induction to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, it was announced Wednesday by the Hall’s Historic Review Committee.
Born April 13, 1937 in Clebit, Oklahoma, Pierce won four Santa Anita Handicaps and was considered one of America’s top big-money riders during the 1960s, ‘70s and into the early ‘80s. He led all North American jockeys in stakes-won in 1973, winning 32 added money events.
Regarded as a great judge of pace and a strong finisher, Pierce won the Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1967. He retired in 1985 with 3,546 wins, 351 of them in stakes and $39,018,422 in purse earnings from 28,740 career mounts.
At the height of his career, Pierce set a California stakes record, winning five consecutive runnings of the Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park from 1969 through ’73.
“I’m very honored and I’m very proud to be going into the Hall of Fame,” said Pierce. “The first time I was on the ballot was 27 years ago and it’s been so long, I really didn’t think this would ever happen. I was very fortunate to ride for some great people and I was fortunate to get on some very good horses.
“I’d have to say the highlight of my career was probably my first Big ‘Cap, in 1960 with Linmold. That race kinda put me on the map and it really helped me pick up other stakes horses and got my career rolling. I don’t know if people today realize how big racing was back then, but in the ’50s,’60s and ’70s, we were averaging like 30,000 people a day at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.
“It was great to be a part of that and it’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Like any jock, I always wanted to win the (Kentucky) Derby, and when we turned for home in ’68, I thought I was on the winner with Don B, but he went wrong and never ran again.
“This (Hall of Fame induction) is a great moment for my entire family and I want them to be a part of it. If I have one regret, it’s that Shoe (Bill Shoemaker) is gone. He was my best friend and he meant so much to my career. He would’ve been elated that I’d finally be joining him.”
Throughout most of his career, Pierce and the majority of his contemporaries operated in Shoemaker’s gargantuan shadow, evidenced by Shoemaker’s record 17 consecutive riding titles at Santa Anita from 1951 through 1967. Pierce was Belmont Park’s leading rider in 1962 and he was leading rider on four occasions, 1967, ’68, ’71 and ’72, at the Los Angeles County Fair, which conducted racing at that time on a half-mile bullring.
In addition to Linmold, Pierce won the 1962 Santa Anita Handicap with Physician, the ’65 running with Hill Rise (whom he lists as the best horse he ever rode) and the ’72 Big ’Cap with Triple Bend.
He also won the Santa Anita Derby twice, in 1964 with Hill Rise and in ’79 with Flying Paster.
Best known for his work with eventual Hall of Fame gelding Native Diver, California native “Buster” Millerick saddled his first winner, Happy Fellow, at Santa Anita on Jan. 4, 1935. Millerick operated a public stable until his retirement in 1984.
In the interim, the highly respected Millerick would win training titles at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park. Prior to setting off on his own, Millerick had worked for eventual Hall of Fame trainer Tom Smith, of Seabiscuit fame.
His greatest success and acclaim came in partnership with the California-bred Native Diver, who Millerick conditioned as a 2-year-old through his final start at age 8. Referred to as “The Black Horse” by his regular rider, Jerry Lambert, Native Diver won 37 races, including 34 stakes and amassed earnings of $1,026,500.
A true measure of Millerick’s worth as a trainer are Native Diver’s overall achievments in 1967. It was then, at age 8, that Native Diver won the won the seven furlong San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita, the six furlong Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park and his third consecutive Hollywood Gold Cup at 1 ¼ miles. This was all en route to a record-setting performance on Sept. 4 in the Del Mar Handicap at a mile and one eighth, the final start of his career.
Although he could appear to be gruff to the uninitiated, Millerick was well known for his generosity and love of the horses in his care. Other top Millerick-trained horses included Countess Fleet, Count of Honor, Fleet Nasrullah, George Lewis and Kissin’ George.
Upon his retirement in 1984, Millerick ranked second all-time in wins at Del Mar, fourth at Hollywood Park and fifth at Santa Anita.
Millerick passed away on Sept. 30, 1986 at age 80.