08/11/2004 12:00AM

Migliore knows slump-breaking


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ten years ago, Richard Migliore sat a young jockey down and taught him a lesson. The jockey was in the middle of a long Saratoga skid. Frustration reigned. Migliore knew where he was coming from.

"You try too hard," he said. "Relax, you can't pick them up and carry them. Next time you ride, go out there and give the horse a race. Do nothing. Believe me, when you get to the three-eighths pole you'll be exactly where you want to be."

Last week, that jockey - not so young and now retired from that side of horse racing - returned the favor.

Migliore was lamenting his first week at the Spa. One win over the first five days had Migliore overthinking and overworking. He has a tendency to do that. No jockey has ever wanted to succeed more than this one, a 24-year veteran who has spent his entire career riding in New York.

"You're trying too hard," Migliore's onetime pupil said. "Calm down, you know what you're doing. Don't press, it'll work out."

Perhaps the advice made no difference, but Migliore went out and won 10 races to place himself in the top five on the Saratoga jockey table. Now, everything looks different.

"It helped me take a breath and say, 'Stop. You're too old to put yourself through this nonsense. You built some equity, you don't live and die with every race. You're capable of riding, you don't have to prove you belong here,' " Migliore said. "That's something I've struggled with my whole life. I've won big races and gone out and got beat in the last and felt like, 'I've been found out - I'm a fraud.' "

Migliore won the apprentice jockey Eclipse Award in 1981. He's homing in on his 4,000th victory and still he battles confidence. It can be elusive, come and go at whim. When a jockey has it, he makes moves without thinking. Boom, he's through a gap and gone. When a jockey doesn't have it, the gap appears and instead of reacting, he thinks about it and it's long gone.

Jockeys don't necessarily get hot or cold but their confidence comes and goes, and that makes a difference in how they ride. On Monday, Migliore won the Hall of Fame Stakes with Artie Schiller. It came after a double on Thursday, a triple on Friday, one win on Sunday, and two earlier on the card that day.

Artie Schiller was a standout. And Migliore rode him that way. Not safe. He didn't go outside to avoid any snafus. Not desperate. He didn't force things to happen. He simply put the odds-on favorite where he should be and the horse did the rest. Good horses make all jockeys look good.

"When you ride several horses that put you where you need to be, you move your hands and they're all there, it flows over to everything else you do," Migliore said. "We probably get too much credit when we win and too much criticism when we lose. It's horse racing, not jockey racing. All of us at this level are professional, but confidence can take over and make a guy ride above his normal good level."

At Saratoga, all the wins and losses are magnified. If Migliore won only one race over five cards at Belmont or Aqueduct, nobody would notice or care. But at Saratoga, suddenly he was in a slump. The jockey is buried in the freezer of perception. And nobody can freeze his own mindframe like Migliore.

"I wasn't to the point yet, where I can get - but I was certainly on that slide of 'I gotta make it happen,' " Migliore said of his start to the meet. "There's something about the atmosphere here and I guess the feeling of urgency. People talk about the duck [going winless for the meet] up here. You certainly want to jump off winning so you can build on that success. I remember coming here one year and winning three races the whole meet. It was a 24-day meet then, but I went home unhappy 21 days. That was a rough meet."

Migliore doesn't hide his frustration. He wears everything on the outside - when things start to go bad, he almost tries to will it away, pumping on horses' necks like he's trying to scrub the world of its sins.

There was a time when volatility would take over. Like the time stewards disqualified his mount at Saratoga several summers ago. Migliore lost it. He smashed the jocks' room phone from the wall and took off the rest of his mounts. His oldest son, Joey, was there.

"Good thing for me Jerry Bailey headed him off before he saw his father act like a total idiot," Migliore said. "You can make mistakes and be embarrassed by it but you'll overcome it. The impressions you make on your children are a lot harder to overcome. I don't like that side of myself, so I don't want to show it to my kids. That tempers things - maybe I don't like it, but I go on and handle it now."

Migliore's 40 now, with four kids and a beautiful wife. Phones are safe but advice still goes a long way.