01/29/2010 1:00AM

Keeping a clear head while in a fog

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Barbara D. Livingston
Jockey Richard Migliore, who sustained a concussion on Jan. 23, hopes to resume riding in about a week.

ARCADIA, Calif. - During a practice session last Tuesday in Aspen, Australian superpipe snowboarder Torah Bright fell while attempting a Switch Backside 720, banged her head and suffered a concussion. Two days later, back in the pipe, Bright went down again, this time trying a Crippler 540. She was briefly hospitalized with what was suspected to be another concussion, then released, but withdrew from this weekend's Winter X Games. Bright's agent, someone named Circe Wallace, assured everyone that Bright would "recover" in time to compete at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which begins on Feb. 12.

Ignoring for a moment that Circe was also a mythological goddess who turned humans into animals by use of a magic potion, this is what all agents say, no matter the nature of the athlete they represent. If the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund had a nickel for every time an agent said his rider would be back in two, three, or six weeks and wasn't, the fund would be fully funded.

Of more significant interest is the fact that those in Bright's corner seem to be publicly unconcerned with the growing evidence that multiple sports concussions suffered during a short period of time have the greatest potential for causing dramatic and lasting damage that looks like Alzheimer's disease or dementia, even though that damage may not manifest itself for years down the line.

Richard Migliore can be forgiven if he was not following the Torah Bright story over the past week. He suffered a concussion of his very own during the first race Jan. 23 at Aqueduct when his mount, Honest Wildcat, sustained a fractured right foreleg. The horse was euthanized, but not before a dazed Migliore crawled to the stricken animal in an attempt to quiet his fears.

"I couldn't see for a few seconds, but I could hear," Migliore said Friday afternoon. "I felt he was right behind me on the ground. As soon as I got enough focus that I could get myself upright, I saw exactly where he was. Somehow, he had skinned off both his blinkers and his bridle in the fall. Landing head first like he did, I knew he got his bell rung pretty good, too, and when he came around to his senses, instinct would take over and he would get up and try to run.

"If he had any chance to be saved, though, the last thing you wanted was him running on his broken leg. A horse needs to get his head up to get his legs under him, so I thought if I could hold his head down, if possible, maybe he wouldn't hit that panic stage.

"After help got to him, I wanted to get up," Migliore added. "That's when I realized I had no legs myself. I looked like I'd been punched by Mike Tyson. My legs were going everywhere, like a newborn foal."

It has been a while since Migliore's ongoing study of his ability to recover from race-related trauma included concussion data. He says it was about two years since the last one. At 45, Migliore knows when to go and when to say whoa, and with head injuries, as opposed to the run of the mill bone poking through the skin, extra precautions must be taken.

"Concussions don't fight fair," Migliore said. "You start feeling better, then you push too much and it sets you back. You have to be a little patient and let Mother Nature do its thing."

As he spoke, Migliore was driving, slowly, on the backroads near his farmhouse, a couple hours north of New York, heading to the local village for provisions from his favorite deli. It was Migliore's first time behind the wheel since the accident. His wife and caretaker, Carmela, said it would be okay.

"I always go with how I feel, and I know when I'm a little bit delicate," Migliore said. "Today's the first day I'm feeling more like myself. I don't have a real headache, just a dull one. I'm not fuzzy anymore. But I definitely felt off. I'd walk to the mailbox and back and get a little nauseous. My depth perception was affected a little. Just the normal concussion kind of stuff."

With another week's rest, Migliore feels confident he will be able to return to riding and pick up where he left off at the Aqueduct winter meet. Recent victories in the Ruthless Stakes and Jimmy Winkfield Stakes have helped him get off to a good start for 2010, as he continues to add luster to a career of 4,439 victories.

If, while housebound, Migliore tunes into the Winter X Games, he will hear all about Kevin Pearce, the American snowboarding star who suffered serious head trauma on Dec. 31, and updates on Torah Bright and her concussions. At least, it was suggested, Mig can find comfort in the fact that there are athletes who are willing to take risks as crazy as those taken by jockeys.

"Maybe not comforting," Migliore replied. "Maybe it's disturbing."

Still, the daredevil DNA cries out. Migliore's soon-to-be 13-year-old son Luciano began snowboarding down the driveway not long ago.

"I took him up to Catamount, a ski area not too far from here, so he could try snowboarding someplace nice," Migliore said. "I was sitting by the lodge watching him. And I'm telling you, it looked like so much fun. I called Carmela and said, 'You know, I'd like to do this.'"

His wife's reaction?

"No way."