10/24/2001 12:00AM

Migliore's New York state of mind


ELMONT, N.Y. - Richie Migliore has a long scar at the base of his throat dating back to early June of 1988, when he needed 8 1/2 hours of surgery to fuse three vertabrae and graft a piece of his hip to the bones in his damaged neck. Sometimes, because of the nerve damage, his hands and feet still tingle and go numb.

Migliore has another long scar on the inside of his right forearm and one to match along the outside of the same arm thanks to the two operations required to repair a compound fracture sustained in July of 1999. He still has two steel plates and 16 screws in that arm, and sometimes, when he wrestles with his kids, there will be a twinge of pain he describes as the grating equivalent of "nails on a chalkboard."

Such trauma should have retired Migliore long ago. And there are other, lesser dents and dings, the identifying tattoos of 21 years as a professional jockey. But none of them hurt more than the broken heart he suffered on Sept. 11, 2001, along with millions of other native New Yorkers, when terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

"I didn't really hit me how emotional I was about the topic until I started putting pen to paper," said Migliore, who wrote a personal commentary about his sense of loss, and hope, for The Blood-Horse magazine. "I had to keep pulling up. The flood kept hitting me."

Richard Francis Migliore, the 1981 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice and nine-time meet leader at New York racetracks, was born 37 years ago in the Long Island town of Babylon. He was raised in Brooklyn, Bay Shore, and, from the age of 14, on the backstretch of Belmont Park, where he bunked in a tackroom at Steve DiMauro's Barn 46.

"Steve got me started and taught me a great deal about the business," Migliore said. "But he didn't just help me to be a good jockey. He helped frame the person I am. He taught me how to be a man."

DiMauro is retired, and now John Kimmel has the barn. The twist of fate is not lost upon Migliore, who considers Kimmel his chief patron and friend.

"That's where I lived, in that room next to the office," Migliore said, nodding toward a spartan bungalow. "It was the ultimate story of running away with the circus. This was my family, and Belmont Park was my backyard."

His roots spread wide as well as deep. Migliore has one brother on the police force in Cold Spring Harbor, another brother who's a sheriff in Islip, and a best friend with the NYPD based in Manhattan south. You get any more New York than Richie Migliore, and you might as well run for mayor.

That's why the terrorist attacks on his city hit him so hard, and not just because he lost a cousin, by marriage, in the collapse of the Twin Towers. Charles Lucania was his name. They do not expect to find his remains.

"I used to take a wine course at Windows on the World," Migliore said Wednesday morning, draw day for the Breeders' Cup.

"It was the year I'd broken my neck. I'd go every Monday night, kind of a diversion, because I still wasn't riding. I've been up there so many times, and again last fall, when I just wanted to go up there and look at the city." He stopped, savoring the bittersweet memory of the breathtaking view.

"It's almost still surreal to me that it actually came down," he said. "This will take a lot of healing."

And there will be scars, just like Migliore's. Migliore's scars are the price he has paid for more than 3,000 wins and the security of his wife, Carmela, and their four children. Joey is 10 and the oldest. He has two younger brothers, Luciano and Philip. Baby sister Gabrielle Rose was born just last month.

"That's it," Migliore promised. "We finally got our girl."

Now, it's time for a Breeders' Cup. For all his success, Migliore has never broken through on the big day. He has had some live mounts - horses like Hidden Lake, Dollar Bill, and End Sweep - but there was only a third with Mourjane in the 1985 Turf to show for it.

He will try to change that on Saturday in the Distaff aboard Spinster Stakes winner Miss Linda, who is trained by Kimmel and owned by Leland and Robert Ackerley. If he does, there will be a genuine celebration for a hometown hero.

"People bandy about that word 'hero' way too much," Migliore said. "Sure, there are inherent risks in what I do. But the risks I take aren't selfless risks. There's monetary rewards. There's glory.

"Then here are guys who run into burning buildings to save lives. Guys who run toward the bullets, not away from them, to protect and save people's lives at the risk of their own. You can never compare an athlete to what they do, because an athlete has his own agenda. I'm just a guy who's lucky enough to get paid to do something I really enjoy."