04/04/2007 11:00PM

Migliore has made transition in style

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ARCADIA, Calif. - He hasn't taken up surfing, doesn't insert the word "like" into, like, every sentence. He has yet to take a lunch with Spielberg, or been on the Warner Bros. back lot. He hasn't had plastic surgery, has not had his hair dyed blond, and does not put sprouts on his tofu burger. Jockey Richard Migliore is still the New York boy he was his entire life until last November, when he moved west.

But Migliore has gone California, all right. He's here to stay. With three weeks to go in Santa Anita's meeting, Migliore is fourth in the jockeys' standings, trailing only Garrett Gomez, Victor Espinoza, and David Flores. Not only has he classed up the jockeys' room, but his riding skill and professionalism have endeared him to trainers who never had met him six months ago. He has mounts in all 11 races Saturday at Santa Anita, including King of the Roxy in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

"I don't know what I expected, but this has far exceeded my expectations," Migliore said between races in the jockeys' room the other day. "I just wanted a fair chance. I've gotten all that, and more. I'm more comfortable here now. I feel I belong. Before, I kind of came at it from a tourist perspective."

Migliore, 43, was a mainstay in New York for over two decades. In the last few years, a series of injuries - most notably a broken wrist just days before he was to ride Artie Schiller in the Breeders' Cup Mile - significantly affected his business. When the opportunity arose to come to California last fall with agent Ron Anderson, who handles business for Gomez, Migliore figured he had little to lose.

"I felt like my opportunities had waned the last couple of years," Migliore said. "It seemed I was always coming back from injuries. I couldn't expect trainers to wait, and in the meantime they established other relationships. I'm not so arrogant to think I can't be replaced.

"I came here with enthusiasm and focus. And having Ron Anderson gave me instant credibility. He's not a guy who deals with junk. If he thought it would work, that made others take notice."

Migliore did the rest. After a purposely light season at Hollywood Park's fall meeting, he got off to a fast start at Santa Anita, and business followed in kind.

"He's a no-nonsense guy," said trainer Jeff Mullins. "He tells it like it is, and he gives 110 percent every time. He's not afraid to work. When he gets off a horse, he doesn't give you a b.s. story. If it's a bad horse, he tells you. If he screwed up, he tells you. He doesn't mix words. I like that."

The hardship for Migliore has been on the personal side. Migliore and his wife of 20 years, Carmela, have four children - sons Joey, 16, Phil, 12, and Luciano, 9, and daughter Gabrielle, 5 - who have remained in New York, though they came here this week for Easter vacation. During Migliore's break between races the other day, Joey and Luciano were hanging out with their father in the jockeys' room.

"It's been difficult," Migliore acknowledged. "Everybody has had to make sacrifices, from my 5-year-old to my 16-year-old to my wife. In some respects it's been easier for me, because I've got a singular focus, to be a successful rider. I'm a long ways away. Sometimes you wonder if you're doing the right thing. But this is how I support my family."

Migliore said his family will join him for the summer once the school year ends. In yet another sign that he has gone California, he will spend the summer at Del Mar, forgoing Saratoga for the first time.

"The plan is for them to come to Del Mar," Migliore said. "After that, I don't know. Joey is going to be senior in high school. It's almost a little overwhelming. We're just doing it in steps."

Two recent steps are further evidence Migliore is getting comfortable here. Anderson left this month for Kentucky and then New York with Gomez, so Migliore will now be represented by agent Scotty McClellan, who also has jockey Alex Solis. And Migliore finally moved out of the extended-stay hotel he has been in since November and into a home in Sierra Madre, Calif., near Santa Anita.

"I've got nothing but good things to say about being out here," Migliore said. "The traffic is bad, but it's bad in New York, too. You've just got to learn the times of day to go certain places.

"I'm still in the exploring stage. I like to hike. On off days, after I take care of my errands, I'll go on a hike. The weather is great. When you get a day off in New York in the winter, what are you going to do? Huddle in the house?"

Spoken like a true Californian.