Dual national men’s champion rider Richard Miller, a figure synonymous with point-to-pointing in the Wessex Area, has died at the age of 87.
A man whose wide smile earned him the nickname ‘The Jolly Miller’, he won the men’s title in 1972 after riding 21 winners, and 1973 when he won 23 races, this during a period when eight-time champion David Turner was in his pomp. It was an era when point-to-point riders had professions outside of horses and rode in the sport as a hobby when the hunting season ended – anyone who worked in hunt service or was employed in a racing yard was regarded as a professional and therefore ineligible to take part as a rider.
Miller, who later became a Master of the Portman Hunt and a chief steward, ran a dairy farm at Woolland near Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Stockily built, he would shed stones to ride in races, but the effort proved worthwhile. He was particularly hard to beat at Badbury Rings, where he rode more than 50 of his 178 winners. He also won two hunters’ chases.
Routing his opponents at Badbury Rings when the finish was at the top end of the course
His son Michael, who became a leading rider in the Wessex area, said: “Dad had a fantastic life and lived to a good age. He hadn’t been in the best of health in recent years, but he continued to live at home until the end, which was always his wish.
“Everyone thinks they live through the best of times, but Dad undoubtedly rode during a cracking era for point-to-pointing and hunting. He never spent a fortune on horses, and I remember going down to Devon towards the end of the season towing a trailer behind an old Land Rover blowing out dust and soot, but he had a lot of fun.
“His love of horses came from his father, who was a keen hunting and racing man, although Dad learned to ride on a donkey.
“His knowledge of Badbury Rings [before the current layout] was second to none and he passed that down to me. The only problem was he told everyone else as well. It was all the chat after a day’s hunting or racing which he loved. He would sit down at tea and talk about it all the way through, retracing what happened in a race or where hounds had run.”
A Dorset man to his core, Miller was born in 1933. His grandfather had won the Portman Hunt’s welter-weight race in 1906 and 1907, and that love of horses and racing passed down the generations. He started point-to-pointing relatively late at the age of 19, but rode until he was 50, and his winning tally is all the more impressive when it is remembered the season did not start until mid-February and there was no racing on Sundays.
'The Jolly Miller' - dual national champion Richard Miller
Perhaps the best horse Miller rode was Debonair Boy, owned by his uncle, Richard Draper, and who at one time in his career put together a sequence of 15 straight wins. One of Miller’s two hunters’ chase wins came on Debonair Boy, and the partnership also landed a division of the 1975 Coronation Cup. Rich Rose, one of two horses on which he scored victory in the Lord Ashton of Hyde’s Cup (1973) – the other being All A Myth (1975) – the Percy Tory-trained Court Gardens and Quintina were other good horses with which he was associated.
His final win came appropriately at Badbury Rings when successful on Prestbury in the Portman Hunt Members’ Race of 1983. It was the last race on the card, but a large crowd of locals remained behind to welcome in the winner. He brought the curtain down on his career a couple of months later after finishing second at Umberleigh’s Torrington Farmers meeting on Calroc.
After quitting riding he trained successfully and saddled the hunters’ chase winner Skip ‘N’ Time, who was ridden by Michael and owned by fellow farmer Martin Rose, who said: “Richard was an all-round horseman who had a very good eye for buying horses and could get them fit on the hill near his home.
“He had strong views and if you went to the sales with him and he didn’t like a horse you didn’t buy it. He liked Skip ‘N’ Time, who was bred locally, and so we went to the sales and bought the horse.
“I was only a young lad when Richard was at his peak as a rider, but it was a vintage era with the likes of Stewart Tory, Robert Alner, Eddie Whettam, Godfrey Maundrell and John Dufosee all competing against each other and Mike Felton about to come on the scene.”
Miller (nearest camera) upsides with John Dufosee
Miller is survived by his three brothers, by his wife Priscilla who is known to friends as Spill, sons Andy and Michael, daughter Carrie and eight grandchildren.