10/20/2005 11:00PM

Mig's attitude beats his timing

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Enough already. Whoever's sticking pins in the Richie Migliore voodoo doll, give it a rest.

After Migliore's latest bad break on Thursday in New York, word got around that the longtime rider finally had decided to donate his body to science, but science said no thanks. They had already seen their fill of Mig's anatomy.

They all hurt - the broken neck (1988), the shattered forearm (1999), the fractured wrist and ribs (2004) - but for some reason this one drove the pain deep into Migliore's usually resilient heart.

There he was, at one moment safely astride a 2-year-old named Tactical Rhythm for Jimmy Jerkens in a corner of the Belmont paddock, just waiting for the post parade to begin, when a loose horse suddenly bolted into Migliore's mount from behind, spooking the young colt into a frenzy.

"My horse got up in the air, leaped forward, and came down with his head between his legs," Migliore said Friday. "I thought I sat him pretty well. But then the second time, he went right when he came down and I was going left. My foot got hung up in the stirrup for just a second. All my weight went one way and my left leg stayed straight."

Tactical Rhythm and his assailant, Trippi's Storm, both were deemed fit to run, although both were well beaten. In the meantime, Migliore was being loaded into an ambulance and sent to yet another emergency room.

"No one had to tell me it was broken," Migliore said. "When it happened, it felt like a thunderbolt going through me. The sound was so graphic, and knowing it was me that just made that noise made me a little nauseous. I was in pain, but I when I was on the ground I started crying more because I thought about what was coming up and what I was going to miss."

The break, according to Migliore's orthopedist, was very clean. There were also strained tendons and ligaments, but, as Migliore said, "Even that could have been a lot worse." The leg will be put in a cast some time next week, once the swelling has subsided, and the prognosis is for a full recovery in four to six weeks.

What could not have been worse, however, was the timing. Migliore was ripe for a big day at Belmont in Saturday's series of stakes for New York-breds. And he was especially excited about his prospects in the Breeders' Cup, in which he was scheduled to ride Artie Schiller in the Mile and Nothing But Fun in the Distaff. In a 24-year career fraught with untimely injuries, this one had "Why me?" written all over it.

If nothing else, the drama in the Belmont paddock on Thursday offered another layer of conclusive proof that nothing can ever be taken for granted around a Thoroughbred racehorse. Injuries can occur during paddock procedures just as frequently as they can during a race. The only difference is velocity, and that is countered by the dangerous variety of landing surfaces, from flower beds to concrete drains.

One of the most infamous paddock incidents took place in the spring of 1969 at Hollywood Park. Bill Shoemaker had returned to action the previous February after a 13-month recovery from a severely broken leg. He was riding in top form, with mounts such as Kentucky Derby contender Arts and Letters at his command.

On April 30 - six days after Shoemaker and Arts and Letters won the Blue Grass Stakes by 15 lengths and just three days before they were set to team in the Derby - a filly named Poona's Day flipped over backward and crushed Shoemaker against the vine-covered wall of the saddling paddock, fracturing his pelvis and rupturing his bladder.

"Because of the internal injuries, I was sick for a while," Shoemaker told biographer Dan Smith. "I had to lay still and couldn't move. I thought, 'Damn, I don't think I will get on another horse as long as I live.' "

Shoemaker was back in three months and rode for another 20 years. Migliore keeps alive the same kind of flame. With more than 4,100 winners, along with purses exceeding $140 million earned by his mounts, the 41-year-old Migliore stands as one of the game's most stalwart citizens.

"I constantly feel like I have to keep proving myself," Migliore said. "It's like there's always something I can learn, something I can add to my repertoire. And when you stop doing that, maybe it's time to start thinking about doing something else."

Migliore also went down just before last year's Breeders' Cup, but he sucked it up and rode hurt, then took time off to mend his injured wrist and ribs. He celebrated his comeback by winning the Aqueduct 2005 winter title, so don't bet against him to do it again.

"I was looking around the hospital last night and thinking, 'I wouldn't trade with any of these people,' " he said. "My situation wasn't great, and the timing was bad. But it's not the end of the world. I've just got to pick my head up and do what I do - get stronger and come back better."