09/16/2009 11:00PM

Changes lead to a revitalized Migliore


The freshly hatched farm boy Richie Migliore was working his way down the Hudson River Valley late Thursday morning, heading for work at Belmont Park. Earlier in the week, he was rabbit hutch shopping at the local Agway. In the coming weeks, he needs to deal with some serious equipment purchases. Then there's the winter ahead, which always hits sooner than anyone expects, but he's already got a guy who will plow his long driveway for $150 a pop.

Yes, that Richie Migliore, the New York racing institution, Long Island's favorite son. After spending most of his 45 years as a hardcore suburbanite who grew up a loud shout from the Belmont backstretch and entertained himself with trips to the city, including the occasional wine appreciation class at the top of the World Trade Center, Migliore is now one with the land.

Or, at least he's getting there. The Migliores - Richie, Carmela, and their four kids - moved to the countryside at the beginning of September and have settled into a big farmhouse on 10 acres.

"This was the first morning off I've had in about 10 days," Migliore said. "Usually, I get up around three-thirty, quarter to four to be at Belmont by six. But today, I had nothing I had to work, so I slept until six-thirty, took the kids to school, and had coffee with Carmela. And now this beautiful drive. I am so happy."

On the face of it, Migliore has crafted for himself and his family a graceful life to enjoy beyond his career as a jockey. That career, though, is far from over, especially in light of recent developments that have drawn him into the embrace of the world's most powerful racing stable. There is no truth to the rumor that Migliore's eye color on his New York driver's license now reads "Godolphin blue." But he wouldn't mind if it did.

In recent months, Migliore has become an integral part of the New York-based Godolphin operation, run on a day-to-day basis by assistant trainer Rick Mettee. The best jockeys are not necessarily, by extension, the best work riders, but the articulate, analytical Migliore slips easily between both worlds.

"I think he's a very good work rider," Mettee said. "I trust his judgment a lot. As the fall goes on, I think you'll see us using him more and more."

More and more may already be happening. On Friday, in an allowance race at Belmont, Migliore was scheduled to ride the 2008 Eclipse champion 2-year-old Midshipman in his long-awaited return to competition for Godolphin. And on Saturday, the jockey will be at Louisiana Downs to ride Regal Ransom in the $750,000 Super Derby.

Last spring, there were pockets of support for Regal Ransom to win the Kentucky Derby, based not only on his victory for the home team in the UAE Derby but also his striking appearance and vigorous training at Churchill Downs. The colt stayed close to the Derby pace and was fighting for the lead at the top of the stretch, but faded from there to finished about 14 lengths behind Mine That Bird. The Super Derby is his first race back.

"After working him, I understand why people thought highly of him before the Derby," Migliore said. "He gets a lot of air. When I worked him the other day, he worked 59 and 2 as easy as a horse could ever do that. I couldn't have gone any slower, unless I pulled him up to a canter."

Migliore's best win of an otherwise quiet Saratoga meet came aboard Godolphin's Flashing in the Test Stakes, with head trainer Saeed bin Suroor on hand.

"Even if I hadn't won a big race on her, she's one of those horses you have to love," Migliore said. "So much class, so generous. You can't wait to get up and go get on her. The night before you lay out the boots, the flack jacket, like a 14-year-old kid again going to the farm the next day."

Between 14 and 45, Migliore has fashioned more comebacks than Sinatra. In recent seasons, an injury cost him a Breeders' Cup win in 2005 with Artie Schiller. When business sagged upon his return, he ventured to California and made a serious splash, but his absence was hard on the family. He returned to New York, with mixed results, then made a spectacular curtain call at Santa Anita to win the 2008 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint aboard Desert Code.

Migliore will be back at Santa Anita to ride Desert Code in the Morvich Handicap on Sept. 30, opening day of the Oak Tree meet, and to work with the string of Godolphin horses coming to town in anticipation of Breeders' Cup dates. The domestic branch of the operation includes not only Regal Ransom, Flashing, and Midshipman, but also the crack sprinters Gayego and Vineyard Haven and such fillies and mares as Music Note, Cocoa Beach, Sara Louise, and Seventh Street. The mere proximity to such beasts on a steady basis has been tonic for Migilore's racing soul.

"I was struggling with my frustrations," Migliore said. "I had to regroup a little bit and look at myself a little differently. If guys don't want me in the $10,000 claimers as much any more, maybe I can make more out of less. Besides, I've always done well when I could ride for a big stable where I could work with the horses and the trainer in the mornings, feel like part of a team, and help apply the philosophy of how they want things done, teaching the horses how to run.

"Obviously, when you get the quality of Godolphin to work with, and sit on those horses, and feel that kind of power, that's the original attraction to being a jockey," he added. "I think somewhere along the way you can get a little bit jaded. To find that feeling again is exciting."