10/30/2013 8:42AM

Jay Hovdey: Migliore shares secrets of quirky Turf Sprint

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Barbara D. Livingston
Caracortado, who has raced just once in the past 21 months, will get a new rider in Gary Stevens for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.

At least one of the ideas in presenting 14 Breeders’ Cup races over two days of festive competition is to crown the champions of the various Thoroughbred divisions. But since there does not exist 14 championship divisions, some of these races end up being run just for the fun of it.

Hello Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

Never mind the Marathon, or the races offered for 2-year-olds on the grass. The Turf Sprint is the million-dollar joker in the deck, the court jester to the regal Turf and Classic. The race made no particular sense when it was introduced in 2008, designed as it was to tap into a class of animal not normally recognized as being among the premier members of the breed, and it makes even less sense today, after five different winners whose names have yet to be chiseled anywhere in stone.

The saving grace of the Turf Sprint is that, for the fourth time in six years, it will be presented at Santa Anita, which means it must be run at about 6 1/2 furlongs on a downhill course with a right-hand turn that crosses the dirt track a quarter of a mile from the finish.

You’ve got to love any grass race that includes the terms “about” or “dirt” or “right-hand turn” in its particulars, let alone the alarming reference to “downhill.”

“I really got a kick out of riding the course,” said Richard Migliore. “After making lefts all your life on flat ground it’s nice to do something a little different.”

Migliore, who won 4,450 races during his New York-based career, can be found during the Breeders’ Cup delivering astute commentary for HRTV telecasts. Before his retirement in 2010 he found success in California as well, taking to Santa Anita’s downhill turf course as if he had been raised on its dips and switchbacks. Migliore won the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in 2008 aboard Desert Code, at 36-1.

“There are a couple of keys to riding it,” Migliore said of the course, known simply as The Hill. “First of all is having a horse that enjoys the course. I think a lot of horses lose their confidence running downhill, and that first descent is more substantial than people realize. They can start checking themselves, because they lose their balance a bit, and they almost waste more energy trying to slow themselves down.”

On the other hand, the horse who handles the course without flinching can provide a glorious ride. It’s the closest to flight they will ever come.

“I also think riders having experience coming down the hill is very important,” Migliore said. “When you get to the dirt you’ve almost got to be even more patient coming from behind, take a breath, wait, wait, and then go. It’s only a couple of seconds, but it could feel like the longest two seconds you’ll ever experience.”

Migliore waited those extra beats with Desert Code, got a clear run, and got up to beat Godolphin’s runner Diabolical and Frankie Dettori by a half-length.

The Turf Sprint will be run on Saturday as the fourth Breeders’ Cup race on the card. Eight of the likely runners can boast critical hillside experience, including Mizdirection, the defending champion, and multiple hillside stakes winners Chips All In and Unbridled’s Note.

[BREEDERS’ CUP 2013: See DRF’s top contenders]

Then there’s Caracortado, the Lazarus of the Breeders’ Cup contingent, who raced only once at age 5 and just once this year at age 6. This is the same Caracortado who, in an earlier life, won the Robert Lewis Memorial at 3, the Del Mar Mile at 4, and just missed in such major events as the Kilroe Mile, the Shoemaker Mile, and the Malibu Stakes for his breeder, trainer, and part owner, Mike Machowsky.

Caracortado has been away so long, with only a recent fourth-place finish in the past 21 months, that it was reasonable to question the identity of the chestnut in the first stall in Machowsky’s Santa Anita barn. And no, just because the webbing said “Caracortado – 135th Preakness” that didn’t mean it was him.

“Look at his face,” Machowsky insisted. “There’s the scar.”

Yep, there it was, a three-inch souvenir from early farm life running downward along the bridge of his nose, which is how he got his name – “Scarface” in Spanish – in the first place.

It was Caracortado’s right front foot, however, that nearly derailed his career. It happened at some point while he was winning the Daytona Stakes down the hill in January of 2012 with a breathtaking finish.

“Take a look,” Machowsky said, raising the foot in question. “He lost the whole frog and left behind a silver-dollar sized hole that took forever to grow back. You can see how it’s kind of puckered there at the heel. It will never look normal. But with a patch and an egg-bar shoe he’s been going on it just fine.”

Caracortado returned to competition on Sept. 27 to finish fourth in the Eddie D Stakes over the Turf Sprint course and distance. Gary Stevens will be riding him on Saturday for the first time.

“I watched the video of the Daytona,” Stevens said earlier this week, after breezing Caracortado a half on the grass. “That’s how you win a race like this.”

And what does Stevens think about Santa Anita’s downhill grass sprint? He has only been riding it since 1984.

“You kidding?” he said with a grin. “It’s the best race in the world.”