Milkes determined to succeed with new horses
Mike Milkes looks at the racing forms in the Horseman's Lounge before his 3-year-old, Rivershire, races at Arlington Park.. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 8, 2011 3:42AM
Michael Milkes spent one day of the year with his father. Together they spent it at the race track.
His father, working 18-hour shifts every day except Labor Day, took his son Michael on his day off to watch the jockeys and horses race to victory.
“When I’d pick a horse that won, I felt I succeeded in (my father’s) eyes,” said Milkes, a Lincolnshire resident.
His close relationship with his father spurred his love for horse racing, but it wasn’t until 1988 that he started investing in the business. Now at the age of 74, he has found success with his latest horse, Rivershire , which placed third at the Illinois Stakes Race at Arlington Park in June.
Three-year-old Rivershire is unlike other horses that Milkes has bred. As the breeding process is extremely formulated, he believes he has now found the perfect balance.
“Rivershire is very unusual in that he is very laid back,” he said. “He goes about his business with assurance.”
The horse’s resilience continues to show as Rivershire recently won his second race in a row at Arlington Park.
“At first, it appears that he’ll never make it,” Milkes shared of his prized horse, “but when he’s out there competing, the other horses have a hard time passing him.”
Besides Rivershire, Milkes said, he has two 1-year-old horses that he bred currently training. While the horses are not ready to compete yet, Milkes has lofty goals for their careers.
“I think they’ll be more successful than Rivershire,” he said.
While he’s hoping for success for his horses, he is also hoping for a resurgence in the horse-racing market. The business has seen a dramatic decline since its peak in the 1930s to 1960s. Many would say the main reason for its slipping popularity is the array of other gambling options.
Milkes says that one remedy would be for the gambling expansion bill to pass through the state Legislature. The bill would allow slot machines within horse tracks.
Lawmakers passed the measure in May, but it is on legislative hold for lawmakers to work out a deal for Gov. Pat Quinn to sign it.
One way Arlington Park is aiming to bring in more people to the race track is adding evening races this fall. Milkes believes that once people come out to experience a horse race, they will be pleasantly surprised.
“You’re out in the fresh air and hear the people in the stands cheering for their horse, and there’s an excitement there,” he said. “Once people find that, they’ll find that that’s better than rolling the dice or pulling the slot.”
In the horse-racing world, there are three types of races: claiming, allowance and stakes. The stakes races are the most prestigious as they have the most prize money available.
While large sums of money are at stake, Milkes said, rarely is there a success story with horse owners in the racing business. He said that only one out of four times does a horse win.
“So you will be unsuccessful 75 percent of time,” he said. “That’s a downer.”
Yet he doesn’t see himself stopping anytime soon. Owning an insurance agency in Chicago since 1962, he is a man who never quits until the job is complete.
“I’ve succeeded in everything I’ve always tried,” he said. “I’m determined to succeed in this business.”