02/05/2014 3:16PM

Jay Hovdey: Migliore finds warmth in television spotlight


That big smile on Richie Migliore’s face displayed this Sunday during the Fox Sports 1 broadcast of the Donn Handicap from Gulfstream Park will be 100 percent sincere. Never mind that it’s Migliore’s first serious shot as a racing analyst on a major television network, or that it’s a chance to share his passion and knowledge about the game he loves with the largest audience of his newfound TV career.

For all of that, Migliore will just be glad he’s finally warm.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Migliore said Wednesday from his farmhouse in the Hudson Valley in New York. “There was over a foot of snow overnight. We are completely snowbound. It’s above my knees just walking from the house to the barn. This is the toughest winter we’ve had for a long time.”

Migliore should know. He’s a native New Yorker who has never lived anywhere else for very long, even during a 30-year riding career that produced 4,450 winners, $160 million in purses for his clients, and an Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding apprentice of 1981.

Now retired, Migliore is best described as a gentleman farmer, racing broadcaster, mentor, and public-relations asset who works primarily for the marketing and media departments of the New York Racing Association. With the debut of the Fox series, which is funded by The Jockey Club, Migliore has positioned himself to join a list of former marquee riders like Eddie Arcaro, Bill Hartack, Jerry Bailey, and Gary Stevens who made the considerable leap from white pants to the analyst’s seat on a network racing telecast.

[Donn Handicap: Get PPs, watch Sunday's card live]

“The Jockey Club Tour on Fox” includes nine shows from eight different racetracks, with seven of the broadcasts on Sundays and the other two on Saturdays. In several cases, the dates of races have been shifted to be part of the series. Greg Wolf of TVG will serve as series host, with fellow TVG personality Simon Bray joined by NYRA’s Andy Serling as handicappers. Alyssa Ali of Arlington Park will be the sideline reporter.

“I think we’ll be playing in part to the people who watch the big events – the Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Cup,” Migliore said. “Hopefully, it will be a blend of new viewers with casual fans and handicappers more familiar with the game.”

Migliore appears weekly on NYRA’s “National Racing Report” with Serling and Jason Blewitt, broadcasting from a studio at the track. He was on the last leg of his commute to Aqueduct for the show last Monday morning, cruising through the snow in his Prius, when it happened.

“Just as I get to Linden Boulevard, I see this kid weaving in and out of traffic, losing control,” Migliore said. “So, who does he take out? Me. Wipes me out on the Van Wyck Expressway. He hit me in the rear quarter panel and spun me out completely, into the exit lane, so it was scary. Plus, I was out there in the snow for four hours with the police.”

The good news is the show was canceled that morning, which leads to the bad news that Migliore didn’t need to be on the Van Wyck after all. But wait a minute. Go back. Migliore survived more than 30,000 races despite suffering a catalog of horrible injuries, including a broken neck in 1988 that he rebroke in early 2010, leading to his retirement at the age of 46. Just how scary was it? Were there flashbacks?

“Funny you should ask,” Migliore said. “As I was spinning, I thought, ‘Well, here comes the pain.’ It was the same feeling as when you go down in a race and hit the ground knowing you’re okay, but here comes the pain because something’s going to run you over. Luckily, in this case, it didn’t come.”

Migliore figures that he rode 23 of his 30 seasons at Aqueduct during the winter. His work for NYRA these days includes a mentoring program for apprentices, most of them riding in harsh conditions for the first time.

“These guys are really earning their money this winter,” he said. “If it’s not snowing, it’s brutally cold, low 20s or less. I talk to them about taking care of each other out there, especially if it’s windy, and not putting themselves into positions where there’s no margin for error.”

There is also the matter of protective apparel, since jockeys only can bundle up so much and still function. Migliore treated his apprentices to a video featuring veteran Mike Luzzi.

“He showed how you wrap your fingers in masking tape for another layer inside your gloves,” Migliore said. “That was something I taught him 15 years ago.”

And who taught Migliore?

“No one,” he replied. “I came up with that one myself. On cold days, necessity is the mother of invention.”

About the only hardship Migliore will encounter Sunday at Gulfstream is heatstroke. Temperatures should be in the low 80s. The Donn, at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, will be topped by last year’s 3-year-old champion, Will Take Charge, and 2013 Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary.

“Any time you get to be part of a new project, it’s exciting,” Migliore said. “I’m hoping with these shows we reach even more people so they can see just how cool our sport is.”