Golden Edge by Ed Golden | Richard Migliore has his act together. A devoted family man of traditional Italian background, the 44-year-old Long Island native also is one of racings most respected and popular representatives.
In addition to winning more than 4,000 races, he holds four of the games most cherished prizes: an Eclipse Award as the nations outstanding apprentice jockey in 1981; the Eddie Arcaro Award from the New York Turf Writers as outstanding jockey in 1981 and 1985; the Mike Venezia Memorial Award (for extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship) in 2003; and this year, Santa Anitas George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, voted on by fellow riders to those whose careers and personal character earn esteem for the individual and the sport.
Migliore has been a refreshing addition to the Southern California riding colony since arriving from New York nearly two years ago to ride full time. He is pleasant, polite, friendly, candid, articulate and ingratiating, traits that are rarer by the hour in todays me-first society.
He estimates he has ridden 27,000 races in an exemplary career of more than 27 years. It hasnt always been a day at the beach. He suffered a near-fatal neck injury when thrown from Madam Alydar in the first race at Belmont Park on May 30, 1988. The accident was later aired on the television series, "Rescue 911."
Migliore was sidelined six months. He broke his left leg and injured his Achilles tendon in a freak paddock accident at Belmont nine days before the 2005 Breeders Cup and lost the mount on Mile winner Artie Schiller.
But his passion and compassion for racing still flares, and a spark ignited those emotions after the national furor created by the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles following her second-place finish to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby on May 3. Protestors ignorant of racing emerged from their dungeons built on vested interests to rail against racing, shooting from the hip, as is their wont.
Led by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), objectors accused Eight Belles trainer, Larry Jones, of using steroids on the filly, criticized owner Rick Porter for running her against colts, and said her 20-year-old rider, Gabriel Saez, could have pulled her up before the injury.
Maybe the protest group should call itself PETA Rabbit, because its logic borders on the stuff of fairytales, according to Migliore.
"You cant always tell when a horse is going to break down or suffer a heart attack," he said. "Sometimes you can feel a horses stride start to deteriorate, but most of the time, its completely sudden and theres no warning. For anyone to blame Saez for Eight Belles injury is awful. PETA has very little understanding of our sport and our horses. To vilify a kid whos done absolutely nothing wrong is a crime."
It could have been worse. If the breakdown had occurred during the race, it could have made the chariot scene in "Ben Hur" seem as tame as a carriage ride in Central Park.
"Youve got a 20-horse field and everybodys riding as hard as he can its the Kentucky Derby," Migliore said. "If Saez felt anything amiss, theres no way he wouldnt have reacted appropriately and started to ease her. The race was over (Eight Belles was nearing the end of her gallop out when the injury occurred). Everybody was relaxed. I was about 30 yards behind her (aboard Bob Black Jack, who finished 16th after leading for six furlongs). Eight Belles was almost from a gallop to a jog when her injuries occurred.
"Theres no way that kid could have had any inkling there was anything wrong, and you know what? I dont think anything was wrong until the moment it happened. When you think about how much weight a horse distributes on each ankle at any given time, when one gave way, in that split second, the horses instinct is to try and catch herself, and all that weight is transferred on to the other ankle, but it was an absolute freak event. I have never seen anything like it since Ive been riding, and I hope I never see it again.
"But it really burns me that people who probably dont care that much about Eight Belles have a knee-jerk reaction and have a platform to use her on their agenda. Its just wrong. A fatal injury could happen to a $10,000 claiming horse anywhere in the country on a given day and PETA doesnt bat an eye about it.
"In the past 41 years, there hasnt been a fatality in the Kentucky Derby. While we should be celebrating a victory by a brilliant race horse (Big Brown) and the potential for a Triple Crown winner, this is what our industry has to deal with now. Its another black eye from people who just want to get up on their soap box with no knowledge of our game.
"The other thing that gets me is, they say, We make these horses run. Theyre bred to run, and I would love to invite these people who are vilifying racing now to watch wild horses. Horses are herd animals and flight animals, and they run. Horses in the wild break legs more than they do in horse racing. People may not believe that, but I guarantee it, and a wild horse thats injured suffers until a prey animal gets it.
;"The protests are absurd and Im sick of hearing people sound off when they should take a step back and gain knowledge and learn how much our horses are pampered and how well theyre taken care of. Nothing else matter but their agenda, and it just galls me."
Migliore did concede that the practice of whipping horses could be modified.
"Obviously, there can be excesses," he said, "and Id like to see stronger guidelines. But jockeys are caught in the middle. If I know the horse Im riding has given me everything, but I dont hit it again, the public thinks Im not trying. But Im a horseman, and its taken me 27 years of riding to get to the stage where I dont care now what anybody thinks. I do what I think is right.
"But if the pressure of whipping was removed from a young rider whose horse has nothing left to give and he was supported by racings governing bodies in that respect, people screaming that a rider wasnt going all out for a minor placing would be more understanding and those who dont understand wouldnt protest.
;"You cant have it both ways." he continued. "Education is needed on both sides. You dont want to beat a horse for no reason, but even now, whips we use are designed not to welt or cut a horse. I could hit you with one and it wouldnt hurt. Horses run more from the threat of being hit than actually getting hit. More horses react negatively from actually getting hit."
As for Saturdays Preakness, Migliore says its Big Browns race to lose.
"Big Brown made me a believer," he said. "Going into the fourth start of his life, winning from post 20 in the Kentucky Derby, not only did he do it, he did it in style, with panache. Hes a serious horse."
The homestretchNormally, there isnt one word on racing in a Tuesday edition of the Los Angeles Times, but because of Eight Belles fatal breakdown in the Kentucky Derby, there were 75 inches in its sports section on May 7, in addition to a 15-inch editorial stating that "The racing world would be smart to put a higher priority on reining in horse injuries and deaths, before public outrage leads to calls for more draconian controls."
Public outrage in horse racing wont happen, not with weekday attendance at major tracks like Santa Anita and Hollywood Park barely numbering 3,000 live souls, thanks to papers like the Times ignoring racing with virtually zero coverage (including not one word on the Santa Anita Derby a day before the race), unless theres a fatal breakdown in a race like the Kentucky Derby.
In its story, the Times listed eight stakes horses that had fatal breakdowns, dating back to Ruffian in 1975, nearly 40 years ago. Talk about a stretch to make a point. (Dont tell PETA, but I once stepped on a cockroach).
Report from the Barclay Tagg barn has Tale of Ekati, fourth in the Kentucky Derby at 37-1, pointing to the Belmont Stakes on June 7, Elysium Fields turned out for a 30-day vacation in Kentucky, and Nobiz Like Showbiz about to resume training.