03/03/2011 2:26PM

Q&A: Richard Migliore

Barbara D. Livingston

Retired jockey, winner of more than 4,000 races, now works for HRTV and the New York Racing Association’s television department. His duties for NYRA will also now include an apprentice riding program.

Birthdate: March 14, 1964, in Babylon, N.Y.

Family: wife, Carmela; sons, Joseph, Philip, and Luciano; daughter, Gabrielle

Got into racing because . . .? “I just always loved horses. I loved going to the racetrack as a kid, and was lucky enough to incorporate the two, to make a career, a life, out of it. I worked at the pony rides at Coney Island, then a riding academy on Long Island, then I got a job with a racehorse farm that had Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. They used to have a Quarter Horse meet on Long Island at a place called Parr Meadows. I’d get on horses there in the morning, and the farm in the afternoon. The first real racehorses I got on were Quarter Horses. I only finished ninth grade before I started riding professionally.”

Was it hard having to retire so suddenly last year? “It was very difficult. Some days it’s still very difficult. I knew I was closer to the end of my career than the beginning, but I was enjoying the relationship I’d forged with Godolphin through Rick Mettee, working with horses of that caliber. I figured I’d pick the time to retire, but then I had a fall and had it quickly taken away. It wasn’t as tough when I hurt so bad. I was just dealing with getting my health in order. It was difficult when I started to feel better. I would have wanted to make a comeback, but I knew there was no way I could, and that was hard. I still felt like I had things to accomplish and could do the job well. I didn’t think my skills had diminished. I thought I was riding pretty well when I got hurt.”

How’s your health now? “It’s good. I have to manage a few things. I have circulation problems, numbness in my feet and hands because of nerve damage in my neck. The way I broke my vertebrae, they were all compressed, and the nerves were pinched, so I don’t have the same feeling I used to have. But I don’t have too much to complain about.”

How have you found the transition to television work? “I like it a lot. It’s fun. It’s a topic I’m very comfortable with. I love taking about horses and racing. It’s the one thing I’m very knowledgeable about. It’s not finance or politics. I’m talking about things that I know.”

Was that something you wanted to do when you retired, as opposed to training or being a jockey’s agent or sailing around the world? “I hadn’t given it that much serious thought. It came about after I announced my retirement, when Amy Zimmerman of HRTV contacted me. When we spoke after I announced my retirement, she planted the seed, but I told her I needed to feel better first. She told me to call when I felt better. That’s how it came about. I wouldn’t rule out being a trainer at some stage of my life. To be a successful trainer, like a jockey, you have to sacrifice your personal life. Now, there’s still time for my family. If I was training, I’d still be away from home a lot. Maybe I’ll do it when the kids are all off to college. I love working hands-on with horses. Right now, I’m fortunate to live on a farm, so I get my horse fix at home. And I do the TV stuff, so I’m around the track. So I’m satisfied on both levels.”

What are your responsibilities for HRTV? “I’m doing the ‘Pursuit of the Crown’ shows on Thursday nights and Sunday nights. I do them from home on my webcam. I can call Todd Pletcher and talk about Uncle Mo, or call Kiaran McLaughlin, and they can open up to me because it’s a different relationship. I’m not just a guy trying to get a story.”

What are your TV responsibilities with NYRA? “Doing the dark-day simulcast shows, on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I’m more and more involved in the ‘The National Racing Report’ on Wednesdays.”

NYRA recently announced that, through the racing department, you will oversee an apprentice program for jockeys. What are the goals of that program? “Give them some insights and information so they learn without having to pay the price for making a mistake. I did it for a long time, I’ve been a student of the game for a long time, and I was a top apprentice in New York. I know some of the things they are trying to deal with at this level. I want to open up the program to kids that haven’t even ridden yet, kids on the backstretch that are just getting started. Some kids pick up a few bad habits, and it’s harder to undo a bad habit than not get into one beforehand. If I can work with them before they ever ride and they don’t start doing something they shouldn’t, it’s easier on them to learn and easier on me to teach.”

Do you wish something like that had been around when you started? “It would have been helpful. I was fortunate in that I came up with arguably the best New York colony ever assembled. Angel Cordero Jr., Jorge Velasquez, Eddie Maple, Jacinto Vasquez – one Hall of Famer after another. It was hard competing to get mounts, but at the same time you are riding and learning from the best. But even if a guy like that takes you under his wing, and has nothing but the best intentions for you, there’s still a question in your mind – ‘Since we’re competing for the same mounts, is he giving me the right information?’ Looking back, I don’t think they had anything but my best interests at heart. But in my capacity now, I’m not competing with them. I competed, but I’m no longer a competitor with them. That’s the uniqueness I can bring to this.”

Best horse ridden? “That’s the hardest question anybody could ask me. I was fortunate I rode a lot of good ones. Hidden Lake was a jockey’s dream. She never needed a trip. If they went fast, she’d come from last. If they went slow, she’d go to the lead. If there was a little hole, she’d go through it. If you had to come around, she wouldn’t hang. She was the greatest to ride. It’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s like saying pick your favorite kid. Kip Deville, I got the biggest kick out of him. I got him to relax, and he repaid me with the Kilroe Mile and the Sir Beaufort. More recently, Flashing, she was another horse I worked hard with to relax and not have her bear out so badly. I always enjoyed it when I worked hands-on with a horse, had more of a relationship. Going back, Win, he was a very good horse. Desert Code, I just loved that horse. He was quite a character.”

Best horse seen? “I never saw him live, but Secretariat has to be the benchmark. Seattle Slew was the first top horse I saw up close. I saw his Wood Memorial, the Belmont, his last start in the Stuyvesant. I was there when he beat Affirmed in the Marlboro Cup. I saw him beaten by Exceller in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. That was the greatest race I’ve seen in my life. The hair stood up on my arms just now thinking about that race. You can argue who’s the greatest horse, based on what you saw on the racetrack, but for what he did on the racetrack and as a stallion, there’s a good argument that he’s the greatest horse when taking in the whole package as a stallion and a racehorse. I used to go visit him at Three Chimneys. The energy coming off him was indescribable. It was almost like he had electricity coming off him. Only felt that one other time, when I was around Zenyatta.”

Hobbies? “I like to cook. It’s very relaxing. Now that I can eat what I cook, that makes it better. I’ve found every which way to prepare fish, and I make the greatest salads. I make rack of lamb, pork tenderloin. Between me and Carmela, who’s an unbelievable Italian cook, we’ve got everything covered.”

Future ambitions? “I want to be a positive impact on the game and for the good of the horses. I can’t stress enough what horses have meant to my life and what they’ve given me. I need to be as active as I can making sure retired Thoroughbreds have good homes and are treated properly. Every horse should be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. I finished ninth grade, that’s it. Horses took me all over the world. I saw places I never would have seen because of horses. They’ve given me everything that’s good in my life. I have to embrace that and take responsibility for what they were able to do for me.”