When CZ Rocket powered to victory in the Hot Springs Stakes on March 13, what did it really mean?…For starters, it means his conditioner got to enjoy a hugely satisfying drink of a very high octane beverage.
Peter Miller has enjoyed a very nice run as a Thoroughbred trainer in recent years. Multiple training titles at Del Mar (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018) and a perennial contender at Santa Anita means this hard working golden state guy knows how to get to the circle. Wins in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint with Stormy Liberal (2017, 2018) and Belvoir Bay (2019) along with victories in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Roy H (2017, 2018) have put the man who was a groom under Charlie Whittingham in rarified air.
When the 2020 Breeders’ Cup rolled around, Miller looked to be loaded as he brought a white hot C Z Rocket to Keeneland on a five race win streak. A bad trip a big run by veteran Whitmore left Miller’s Florida-bred tasting defeat for the first time since being claimed by his current coach at Oaklawn Park last April.
Feeling he had the best horse that day, the competitive California native was eager to get a shot at redemption. The Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn on March 13 was the spot. Not only would the Rocket get to hook up with Whitmore again, but it would happen in that old man’s back yard. The now eight year old had won this race the past four years and looked primed to pounce again in a savvy seven horse field.
The signature move for the legendary Ron Moquett trainee has been a big kick in the stretch that leaves others in his wake. He had gotten the jump on Miller’s charge in the Breeders’ Cup and the closing Rocket just couldn’t make up enough ground late. A front-end speed favoring surface at Oaklawn had most wondering if these two late running sprinters would have enough dirt to get it done.
As the race unfolded and fast fractions were set up front (21.65 opening quarter, 44.69 half mile), there was Whitmore looming large. Displaying the kick that has netted him over $4 million in on track earnings, it looked to be his race again. But wait a minute, hold the nannie goat, here comes the Rocket. Displaying his own huge finish, C Z gobbled up ground with every stride and eclipsed his Breeders’ Cup nemesis by a neck at the wire.
It turned out the perfectly timed ride by jockey Florent Geroux allowed C Z Rocket to out-Whitmore Whitmore on his home dirt. Needless to say, this road win says a lot about this Rocket and perhaps even more about the abilities of Peter Miller.
“We could have won at the Breeders’ Cup with a better trip so this was a big race for us as competitors,” says Miller. “We felt like the Rocket was ready to run his race coming in. This was a very gratifying win for us. I have been lucky enough to have some great horses over the years and some really nice sprinters.”
When it was Miller time at Oaklawn on March 13, they were serving up Rocket fuel.