10/14/2010 2:25PM

Retirement years have their ups and downs, too


Most of the time it is pretty easy to comply with the hard and fast house rule of Thoroughbred racing – the one that goes, “What have you done for me lately?” Still, there are tales told that from time to time need faithful revisitation, if only for the simple fact that they failed to provide satisfactory endings. Here are three of them, from the not-so-distant past:

Greg Gilchrist saddled his last racehorse on May 5 of this year and turned heel on a lifetime – minus an Army hitch – as a trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses. He was 62, and healthy enough to be able to do just about what he pleased, short of ballroom dancing.

With horses like Lost in the Fog, Soviet Problem, and Wild Wonder on his r é sum é , Gilchrist figured to have no trouble hanging out a shingle as a bloodstock agent or a racing manager. It has been more than five months now since Gilchrist went out with a winning race at Hollywood Park, and since there have been no reports of interstate flight, or a run for Congress, it was time to rattle the cage.

“Fishing’s been no good because it’s been so hot, but I walk four to six miles every morning, and go hard,” Gilchrist said the other day from his home in Castro Valley, after returning from his power hike. “Now in about an hour and a half or so it will be time to hydrate. My bartender makes a real good Bloody Mary martini. Couple of those sets you up just right for the day.”

Gilchrist has been advising the Bay Area-based Blinkers On Stable, and they have come up with a nice 2-year-old daughter of Congrats named Turbulent Descent, who won her debut last Sunday at Hollywood Park for trainer Mike Puype as if stakes are in her future.

“She wasn’t named when we bought her, then coming back here from Florida the plane took a real dive, and she poked a hole in her ankle,” Gilchrist said. “It wasn’t bad, but Mike had to lose a little time with her. I told the owners that if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to tell that story standing in the winner’s circle someday after a Grade 1 race.”

Thoroughbred trainers, rarely being in the line of live fire, usually get to pick and choose their moment to retire, if they ever retire at all. Jockeys, on the other hand, play a different game with the fates, pushing the limits of risk and reward. Most of them ride until the privilege is taken away.

Even at 46, Richard Migliore knew for a fact he had more than a few very good years left as a professional jockey. Then he went down at Aqueduct last January, tried to play hurt for a couple months after that, and then succumbed to the awful truth that the repairs to the severe neck injuries he had suffered some two decades earlier had come hopelessly apart and that he would need another extensive, dangerous surgery.

The surgery was a success, at least from the angle that Migliore is walking, talking, and thinking lucidly enough to seek out racing prospects for a budding clientele and offer occasional guest commentaries during HRTV broadcasts from New York. He announced his official retirement in June, just before the Belmont Stakes, ending a career of 4,450 winners on the toughest circuits in the land.

“I can’t really do as much as I’d like until the bone grafts take completely,” Migliore said this week, while walking his dog through the woods of his farm near the Hudson Valley town of Millbrook, N.Y. “I asked my doctor the other day if I could at least get on a couple saddle horses I was looking at for my daughter. He said absolutely not. But at least I asked. I think that’s a step forward.”

Migliore will be high-profile on the HRTV coverage at Churchill Downs during the week of the Breeders’ Cup. Conveniently, Migliore also will be honored during Breeders’ Cup week in Louisville with the Mr. Fitz Award from the National Turf Writers Association at its annual dinner. The Mr. Fitz singles out individuals who exemplify the best aspects of the spirit of Thoroughbred racing.

“It’s a wonderful honor, and I’m very grateful,” Migliore noted. “A lot of these very nice things seem to be happening to me now that I’m through riding, and my reaction is sometimes, ‘Why now? I’m so over.’ But then I’m grateful to be remembered at all.”

It’s impossible to forget Global Hunter, who took his last good step as a racehorse on the Fourth of July at Hollywood Park while winning the American Handicap in a thriller over a stubborn Temple City. But in winning Global Hunter fractured the sesamoids in his right front ankle, triggering a chain reaction that ruptured supporting tissues and luxated the bones in his lower leg.

That night, as a result of a heroic effort among trainer A.C. Avila, owners Shawn Turner and Monty Pyle, and Dr. Doug Herthel’s staff at Alamo Pintado Equine Hospital in Los Olivos, north of Santa Barbara, Global Hunter got the transportation and the emergency surgical procedure he needed to fuse the joint. This gave him a chance, but only a chance. Veterinary history is full of such wounded warriors who didn’t make it.

Chalk one up for the good guys this time. Global Hunter is doing great, according to Herthel, and actually was scheduled to move this very week from the hospital to nearby Magali Farm, where he will continue his recovery.

“He’ll require close watching for the next couple of months,” Herthel said. “But there’s no reason he won’t be a very happy, pasture-sound stallion.”

Laminitis, which ended Barbaro’s battle, has been on the losing end this time.

“He was even eating so good we had to start watching his weight,” Herthel said. “It’s been a real honor and privilege to help this guy. He’s a real fireball.”