He was a longshot to be a jockey from Day One. He was 5-feet-4.
During his first summer at Saratoga at the age of 15, his first time away from his Long Island home, Migliore was one of eight young kids working as hotwalkers and grooms for trainer Steve DiMauro. Migliore’s “Uncle”, Father Joe Romano of nearby Clifton Park, was a good friend of DiMauro, and supplied groceries for many of the young horsemen when they were short of cash. “They wound up betting more on horses than they should have”, he said. “I wound up as their grocery shopper. They were living in a Third World country in the backstretch. It was awful. I remember the room they lived in. They had rats bigger than cats. It was horrible.”
On the night before the Saratoga summer meet ended that year, Father Romano took Migliore to Mangino’s, a fine restaurant on Saratoga Lake. “Richie says to me, ‘Father Joe, next year I’m going to be a jockey.” Father Romano said. “I looked down at his feet. His foot was bigger than mine. How is he going to be a jockey? But he did.”
True to his word, The Mig rode his first race just 13 months later on September 29th, 1980. He was 16. He rode his first winner, Good Grip, at The Meadowlands, October 24th, 1980.
Then he kept winning races as though he’d never stop. He not only broke Steve Cauthen’s record for earnings by an apprentice jockey for a single year, he needed only the first 7½ months of 1981 to complete the task at Saratoga. He also was tied with five-time defending Saratoga riding champion Angel Cordero, Jr., for the 1981 title with only three days left in the meet. The Mig’s incredible year ended abruptly, when he went down in a gruesome spill which landed him in the hospital. Cordero finished as the leading rider on the way to his unfathomable record of 11 consecutive Saratoga titles.
The Mig returned six months later, and finished as the leading rider in New York with 269 victories, 51 more than Cordero in second. But then he had to endure the loss of his bug, the five-pound weight allowance given to jockeys for a year after their fifth career win. This precarious transition can be devastating to a young rider.
But The Mig stuck it out, and in 1985, led all New York riders again with 257 victories, 23 more than Jorge Velasquez in second.
Migliore would finish third in New York in 1985 and second in 1997, 1998, and 2003. “One of the things I’ve told Richie, I was always proud that Richie started here in New York, and endured here… in the world’s roughest place to ride.” His wife Carmela said. “Racing is at its finest in New York.”
Carmela knew. She did dressage and was an exercise rider and assistant trainer for Steve DiMauro. “She was a very talented horsewoman.” Father Romano said. “I think she knew more about horses than Richie. He and Carmela are a good team.”
They teamed up after Richie proposed to Carmela outside the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs in 1985.
She had seen his success and weathered his devastating injuries, none more frightening than the near fatal neck injury on May 30th, 1988, which nearly left him paralyzed after he was thrown from his mount, Madam Alydar, in the first race at Belmont Park. “The doctor told me I’d never walk again.” Migliore said. The incident was featured on the TV show, “Rescue 911” nearly four years later. “It was the same injury as Christopher Reeves, one different vertebra.” Carmela said. “It was horrific. People don’t realize.”
Father Romano was at the OTB Tele-Theater in Albany that afternoon and saw the race on TV. “They were very nice to me and I got through on the phone. That was awful (but) he said he was going to ride again.”
He was back on Thanksgiving Day and won a race on Glimmer Glen.
In 1999, Migliore suffered a broken arm, an injury so severe that it took twenty screws and two plates to correct, keeping him out of action for seven and a half months. And then he resumed his career.
Tenacity is just one of Migliore’s attributes. “Richie, wow! He’s very generous, very kind.” Father Romano said. “Good husband, good father. Very family-oriented. He’s very loyal. He’s very sensitive, which is a source of hurt sometimes. Hard-working guy. He’s a very astute professional. He’s a good spokesman. He’s always very popular. He’s a very gritty competitor. He’s a genuine person.”
That is why The Mig was the 2003 winner of the Mike Venezia Award, which honors riders who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship. It’s named for the popular New York jockey who was killed in a 1989 accident at Belmont Park. Then he won the prestigious 58th George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2007, presented by Santa Anita, and voted on by jockeys around the country.
Though he said he felt strange doing it, one morning at Aqueduct, The Mig honored the request of a long –time racing fan, who had died and was cremated. The man had asked that his ashes be thrown over the track at Aqueduct by his favorite jockey, and Migliore couldn’t say no to the man’s widow, and did it.
Other times, Migliore had driven to Saratoga Springs from Long Island to appear on a panel previewing the Breeders’ Cup in a free seminar at the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.
Though he had never ridden a super horse that provided him his first win in the Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup, he is forever identified with one of the most popular horses to ever race in New York, the New York-bred Fourstardave. Richie rode him 25 times, including the last 13 of his incredible 100-start career, which included winning at least one race eight consecutive years at the Saratoga summer meet, regarded by most as the toughest meet in North America, if not the world.
Richie thought Artie Schiller might be his special horse, after his spectacular debut at Belmont Park, July 16th, 2003. Hindered by the nine post in a field of 12 in a six-furlong maiden turn race for two-year-olds, Artie Schiller broke 12th, was 10th by 14 lengths after the first quarter of a mile, was 10th by 8¼
lengths at the head of the stretch, and came flying down the center of the course to win by a neck, a spectacular finish. “He walked in that day and said, ‘Mela, that is some special horse.” Carmela related. “He said, ‘two-year-olds don’t run like that. He’s a serious stakes horse. He could be my Breeders’ Cup horse.’”
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens gave Artie Schiller three starts on dirt, with only a third to show for it, but on grass, the son of El Prado out of the Majestic Light mare Hidden Light, made one other two-year-old turf start , rallying for second in the Pilgrim Stakes.
At three, after winning an allowance race, Artie Schiller won the $100,000 Woodlawn Stakes, the Grade 3 Hill Prince, finished second in the Grade 3 Virginia Derby, then captured the Grade 2 Hall of Fame Stakes by 4¼ lengths at Saratoga at even money and the Grade 2 Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park by 5¼ lengths at odds of 3-10.
That’s why Artie Schiller went off the 7-2 favorite in a field of 14 in the $1.5 Breeders’ Cup Mile in Texas in 2004. It’s impossible to know if Migliore’s broken wrist was a contributing factor in Artie Schiller’s 12th place finish, because the horse was boxed in and lacked room most of the race. Migliore knows – now – that he should not have ridden him with the injury. “I didn’t realize I had done as much damage as I had, and I’ve got to be frank: I wasn’t searching for it, either. My desire superseded my common sense.”
He paid the price, losing the mount to Edgar Prado. But afterward Artie Schiller followed a 2005 debut victory in the Makers Mile at Keeneland, with narrow losses in the Dixie Handicap and Manhattan Handicap. Jerkens gave The Mig another chance. Handled flawlessly by Migliore, Artie Schiller finally wore down Silver Tree to capture the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga by half a length.
Though Artie Schiller finished second by a head to Funfair in the Kelso Breeders’ Cup Handicap, Migliore and Jerkens were confident he was primed for a top effort in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Belmont Park where he had four wins, two seconds and a third in seven lifetime starts.
Only this time, nine days before the race, The Mig injured himself so severely that he couldn’t even try to ride Artie Schiller. He watched Gomez win the race he knew he could have won. Then Migliore battled through his broken leg and tendon injuries in rehab. He was out four months, returning to ride on March 1st, 2006. He struggled to retain his business. “I think when I came back this time, people weren’t looking at me the same way”, he said. “I was treading water. I wasn’t riding as many good horses as I should have. I’ve seen good riders who didn’t retire when they should have. I thought, ‘If they couldn’t recognize it, am I doing it?’I felt in my heart that my desire was there. I still had the same enthusiasm. I was having a hard time getting people to see me that way. I was getting so discouraged.
“I had to look in the mirror. You can blame other people, but you find answers by looking at yourself. I wasn’t hustling, hitting a lot of barns like an 18-year-old kid. I was going to people who rode me, people who were in my comfort zone.”
But many of those people were no longer comfortable using Migliore on their horses. One New York trainer who had ridden him a lot asked The Mig if he wanted to know the truth. Migliore said yes. The trainer said, “I don’t have to ride a guy with so many battle scars. I can use a younger guy who hasn’t been in the wars.”
Migliore turned away, got into his car, driving around the backstretch. “I got very emotional, all teared up”, he said. “If he was looking at me that way, other trainers were looking at me the same way.”
He finally stopped his car. When he got out the first person he was Ron Anderson. “I took it as a sign”, he said. “California racing was always something I wanted to try. I just threw it out there. I said ‘If I ever gave California a shot, would I have a chance?’ He said, ‘You ride good. You’re not riding good horses.’”
Anderson did more than give Migliore a pep talk. He said if Garrett Gomez didn’t have a problem with Anderson taking on The Mig on a second client – agents in California can represent two riders; agents in New York can only represent one – Anderson would be Migliore’s California agent. Anderson has not regretted that decision. “Richie is Richie; he’s a worker.” Anderson said. “They like workers in California. He’s a horse person and a real professional to begin with, which works anywhere. He rides a very good race. He’s very knowledgeable. The riders all look up to him.”
Taking off didn’t become a problem. The Mig found success in California, saying, “I’ve been really fortunate. People have been really accepting.”
Editor’s Note: After a hugely successful riding career, and widespread popularity, Migliore returned to New York where he has retired from racing and now works as a racing analyst. International Horseracing Digest wishes him many more glorious moments to come.