Bruce Miller Is Foxhunting’s Grand Maestro

Photos by Jim Graham

Bruce Miller may be Cheshire Hunt country’s finest horseman, with a powerful legacy that speaks for itself.

It was a common scene in Cheshire Hunt country. Thanksgiving Day, 150 or so members had gathered in Unionville for the 11 a.m. fox hunt. Joe Davies and others had been there since 10:15 or earlier. But Davies’ father-in-law was still at home in Cochranville, three miles away at Fox Ferret Farm. F. Bruce Miller, the joint-master of Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds, was a crucial missing person.

Suddenly, at 10:56, Miller sprung into action like a hound on a fox’s scent, and raced to the site. By 10:59, he was ready to go. “He epitomizes everything great about foxhunting and shuns the silliness of worrying about who’s wearing what, gossiping, coffee-housing or any of that,” says Davies, the husband of Miller’s daughter, Blythe. “He’s never been caught up in the pomp and circumstance of wearing the scarlet coat. His job is to lead the field, show good sport and sportsmanship—and he does so without barely ever saying a word.”

Bruce Miller
Bruce Miller

Now a decade removed from leading the hounds, Miller spent the height of his foxhunting career with Cheshire huntsman Ivan Dowling. When they’d smile at each other and get that glimmer in their eyes, there wasn’t anything they wouldn’t take on. And there hasn’t been much the 88-year-old Miller hasn’t taken on in his equestrian pursuits—though his health is failing to the point where he’s unable to chat these days. As a legendary trainer for 60 years, he produced 3,700 starters from a small stable of horses that never numbered more than 15. Over 560 were winners, producing $10 million-plus in earnings on the flat and over fences. Miller made his mark in steeplechase, most notably in the 1990s with Hall of Fame horse Lonesome Glory, a five-time winner of the Eclipse Award that decade. He also trained two other Eclipse winners—2000’s All Gong and 2012’s Pierrot Lunaire. Lonesome Glory was bred by Walter M. Jeffords Jr. of the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company and raced initially by his widow, Kay, who owned a farm in Lancaster County. The longtime foxhunting master there introduced Miller’s father to the horse. “He told me I had to go see this two-year-old,” Miller once recalled. “I’m glad I went to look.”

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Lonesome Glory flunked as a flat racer and a show horse. But in the patient hands of Miller and Blythe, the Transworld gelding soon won nearly every major race over hurdles and chase fences in America. He took first in 30 of his 52 starts, including 17 races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, retiring with a then-record $965,809 in earnings under NSA rules ($1.4 million when you include bonus money). “He had just wonderful conformation, good size, great bones,” Miller has said. “Lonesome and Blythe were a perfect pair. He was a brilliant jumper from the get-go. It’s hard to say if he was the best horse ever, but Lonesome ran for a long time, had a really great record and ran against some very good horses.”

Miller could be considered the region’s best all-around horseman based solely on his legacy. The ultimate accomplishment in American steeplechasing is winning the Maryland Hunt Cup. Davies and his wife own seven Hunt Cup trophies between them—three winning rides for Joe, one for Blythe, and three for Joe as a trainer. The family added an eighth last May when the couple’s 19-year-old son, Teddy Davies, set a new course record. As trainers, the duo has now produced the last six consecutive Hunt Cup winners.

Bruce Miller on the way to a chase in Cheshire Hunt country.
Bruce Miller on the way to a chase in Cheshire Hunt country.

Blythe rode more than 300 winners in over 1,000 races on the flat and over fences between 1978 and 2002. She first retired in 2003, then rode again as an amateur, winning the 2011 Maryland Hunt Cup and the Grand National Steeplechase, both with Private Attack. As a trainer, she saddled more than 30 winners in 200 starts between 2009 and 2015. “It was when I turned 16 and began riding in races that he began to be hard on me,” says Blythe, who also rode for legendary trainer Jonathan Sheppard and was one of a few females making a mark in the sport back then. “I didn’t mind—I adore him. I always took his help in so many ways. I worked my whole life to get dad’s attention.”

Miller’s son, Chip, has a steeplechase racing record that includes 212 NSA wins as a jockey. He took the championship in 1996. “I competed against my sister, with my sister and for my father,” he says. “To say that was unique would be an understatement. We both had a different experience with horses because of Dad, and so we probably should’ve been successful. I won’t deny that.”

Chip’s brother-in-law rode more than 100 winners in 500 races from 1979 to 2005. Davies won the 2005 Hunt Cup on the Miller-trained Make Me a Champ, the same horse Blythe rode to first place in the 2002 Virginia Gold Cup. “It was Bruce who gave me the instructions to win that day,” recalls Davies. “He said to just stay out of that horse’s way and deliver him around the last turn. When Bruce would say something, it gave you such confidence. What Bruce would tell you, you could bank on.”

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Russell B. Jones Jr. shared Cheshire joint-master duties with Miller and also rode horses he trained. In 2003, when Mrs. Nancy Penn Smith Hannum stepped down as Cheshire’s master after 58 years, it took three people—Miller, Jones and Nina Gill Strawbridge—to fill her shoes. “We knew the deal,” says Jones. “We had to maintain a reputation.”

Jones and Miller both retired after Cheshire’s centennial season in 2012–13. Jones stopped actively foxhunting two years ago at age 85, though he still follows the hounds in a car. Miller, he says, was a standout as a field master. “Nobody knew the country better, and Bruce was a fearless, beautiful rider,” Jones notes. “He had an intuitive sense of which way a fox would run, so he had people in the right places 98 percent of the time.”

Bruce Miller comes from excellent stock. His father, Fulmor, was the longtime huntsman at Huntingdon Valley Hunt in Bucks County. Miller began whipping in at age 12. He was an adult when he started hunting and riding point-to-points, moving to Unionville specifically for Cheshire and Mrs. Hannum. His Fox Ferret Farm was 18 acres, but the neighboring Strawbridges shared their mass acreage for riding, hunting and training. Without that, the family wouldn’t have led the life it did. “When it’s not yours, you gravitate to gratitude,” says Chip, who still lives in Unionville. “Still, as field master, dad put in the years and the miles foxhunting. It’s the most challenging discipline in horse riding—if you do it the way dad and Mrs. Hannum did it.”

Throughout his training career, Miller was always best at meticulously matching rider to horse. “He never gloated or even talked about it,” his daughter says. “He never took credit.”

Miller first raced as a jockey in 1966. He took his first winner, Wyoming-bred Jimmy Whit, over timber at the Andrews Bridge point-to-point event in 1970. Miller’s favorite horse over fences was John Irving’s Eastmac. The pair fell in their debut at the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1972, but they returned to finish second a year later.

Throughout his training career, Miller was always best at meticulously matching rider to horse. “He never gloated or even talked about it,” Blythe says. “Proud of his horses, he never took credit.”

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Indeed, Miller is known as a profoundly quiet, modest man and leader. “He never proclaimed to be an expert on much,” says his son-in-law. “But in racing and foxhunting, you never questioned him.”

Retired Cheshire field member Patti Miller was always in Bruce’s pocket—meaning she was among the immediate 10 riders in the first flight behind him. “Whoever would follow the field master better be a bold, nervy rider—especially behind Bruce, for God’s sake,” she says. “Bruce led in a forward way. He went where the hounds went, and if that took getting over a four- or five-foot post-and-rail fence, so be it. He was a hunt servant, and he took that job very seriously. He saw the big picture, and he didn’t have to be the center of the picture.”

A purchasing agent for race horses, Miller recalls one of their last rides together. “He accelerated down a half-frozen hill to a fence with the hounds. We all gulped, looked at each other and said we’d better go. And so we did—over a fence five feet high,” she says. “Three or four of us got over it. The rest decided discretion was the better part of valor. He was like that until the end.”

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