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Lis Mara: The discovery of a lifetime
Thursday, March 1, 2007 - by Timothy M. Jones, USTA web newsroom correspondant

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Springfield, IL --- Lis Mara, recently honored as both the United States (Dan Patch Awards) and Canada’s (O’Brien Awards) Older Pacing Horse of the Year, was the discovery of a lifetime for owner Mike Gulotta and trainer Ervin Miller.

Gulotta had approached Miller about looking over possible purchases for the MJG Racing Stable, but little did they know that the big son of Cambest would become one of the top pacers in North America.

Purchased in June of 2006, Lis Mara won his first start for the new connections (with original owner Andy Willinger still maintaining his share) in a blistering 1:48 against fellow 4-year-old Open class pacers at Woodbine. The race was just a glimpse of what was yet to come.

Lis Mara rocketed to wins in the Canadian Pacing Derby final, Breeders Crown elimination and final, and was also honored as July USTA Horse of the Month. He won 10 of 17 starts in 2006, but the remarkable aspect of those wins is that from June 10 to September 10, nine times he raced sub-1:50 miles. Seven of those miles were under 1:49, never finishing worse than second. And by the way, he also shares the world race record for 4-year-olds with Jenna’s Beach Boy, with his 1:47.3 Breeders Crown triumph.

Ask Erv Miller what made Lis Mara blossom as a 4-year-old and he replies, “He had an ankle and knee that were bothering him. But we also were informed by the previous connections that he may have had a palate problem. Our vet scoped him and confirmed that. He also thought the horse would be OK. That’s why he has to be rigged so he doesn’t pull too much. We use a No Choke plate.”

The training regimen Miller set up for Lis Mara may have also had something to do with the horse’s success. Miller is known for an uncanny ability to gauge a trainee’s workload. From the beginning, he thought Lis Mara could handle a more vigorous training program.

“I don’t know if it actually was the training program I set up for him that made him step up the way he did. The horse has to be ready to race so fast, so we may train him pretty stiff in preparation for that. It may have been he just needed tightening up a bit.

“He’s such a big, strong horse; I could tell he could handle the workload. I think a lot of people are, maybe, scared to work a horse hard. If the horse isn’t ready for the work, and you try to train too hard, they end up going backwards.

“I also think the problems he had as a younger horse -- he just wasn’t mature enough to race at his full potential. That’s not uncommon. It appears to me that the older he gets, the better he gets.”

When Miller took over training responsibilities for Lis Mara, he also had to pick a driver. Any number of the top drivers probably would have jumped at the chance to sit behind the budding world champion. Miller settled on Brian Sears.

“Brian listens and respects the way I want my horses driven. Most of Lis Mara’s races, I had Brian race him on the front end. But I also needed to see if the horse could race from behind. So one of his prep races, I don’t recall which now, I told Brian to try Lis Mara off of cover and see how he reacted. He kicked off cover late and sprinted home in 26 and a piece to win. Question answered.”

Versatility in a race horse, a good race horse, is a trait embraced by any trainer. Lis Mara’s ability to wing it on the front end, or kick off cover with a strong brush leaves plenty of possibilities once the wings of the gate fold. It’s a quality that affords him to be very competitive in the bigger stakes races. And what’s good for Lis Mara, may be bad news for his competition. Miller states that the Cambest stallion is training extremely well in Florida this winter. He’s also matured even more and filled out very nicely.

“He’s a great looking horse. You would never know he was a stud the way he acts around the barn. He’s another Classic Photo-type (Miller trained this colt to winnings of almost $1.4 million in 2005) with his calmness and intelligence. You almost have to walk another horse directly up to him to get a reaction. The majority of the time, he’s really quiet. He only gets aggressive if you make him so. It’s not because he’s a stallion either. It’s just his personality.”

Lis Mara is eligible to all the major events in 2007. Miller’s plan is to race him conservatively his first few starts to determine his fitness. Just as any other horse in the Erv Miller Stable, the horse will be the one responsible for showing what he is, or is not ready for.

“We’ll try and get him qualified the first part of April. The Dan Patch at Hoosier Park is the end of April, then there is the Graduate at The Meadowlands the first of May. We should know by then what the plan will be for the rest of the season.”

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