LAUREL -- Calling it a "nice change and a nice challenge," jockey Donnie Miller Jr. said yesterday that he is leaving Maryland to ride regularly on the Northern California circuit.
"I've done about everything I can do here," said Miller, 27, one of Maryland's top riders for 10 years.
In the past several years, Miller's business had slacked off to the point that he was no longer even a top-five jockey; he is eighth at the Laurel Race Course meeting.
Miller said he was offered an opportunity to ride regularly at Golden Gate Fields and other San Francisco-area tracks for former Marylander Bryan Webb, one of the top trainers on that circuit.
In purse structure, the Northern California circuit is comparable to the Maryland circuit.
Miller won the 1983 Preakness aboard Deputed Testamony, and has won virtually every other major race on the Maryland circuit. He was leading rider many times at Laurel, Bowie and Pimlico race courses, and gained acclaim as the regular rider for the popular gelding Little Bold John.
He said his last day to ride regularly at Laurel would be next Saturday, when he has the mount on Ritchie Trail in the Jameela Stakes. He said he also would return to ride He Is Risen, a 3-year-old with a 3-for-4 record, in the Private Terms Stakes on March 3.
Otherwise, one of Maryland's favorites is gone.
"When I started riding [in November 1980], I set a goal of being here 10 years and doing well," Miller said. "It's been 10 years and four months. I've done everything I can do here.
"Maybe this will be a prelude to going on to Southern California [where the nation's best jockeys ride]. I'm going to try and concentrate on getting off to a good start. I haven't even thought about a time commitment for staying there, because I just assumed I'll do well.
"It's something different. Things were great here, but it's time to move on."