It's been "two years in the making," as jockey Richard Migliore said, but "The Iron Deputy Show" finally premiered on June 14, opening to rave reviews. The theater was the $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II), and a star-studded cast added to the festivities. The Iron Deputy story line is simple: loyal and dedicated jockey devotes himself to horse; trainer and owners persevere through hard times, showing extreme care and patience; and the result is a rising star in the older horse division. After an elated Migliore dismounted following Iron Deputy's 21/2-length victory in the slop, John Moore, who owns the colt with his wife, Susan, said to his rider with all sincerity, "Thanks so much for sticking with him." Migliore answered, "Thanks for sticking with me." To anyone outside the Iron Deputy camp, those comments wouldn't have much meaning. But to Migliore and the Moores, they meant everything. Migliore, who recently was awarded the 2003 Mike Venezia Award for riders who exemplify extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship, has ridden the star-crossed Iron Deputy in all his races, has worked him on a number of occasions, and has remained firm in his belief that this was a gifted racehorse. Last summer, Migliore made a decision that surprised many in the industry. He had just ridden Magic Weisner to a fast-closing second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and was set to ride the colt back in the $1-million Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I). But when trainer Jimmy Jerkens decided to run Iron Deputy in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) on the same day, Migliore elected to ride the son of Silver Deputy instead of Magic Weisner, despite the fact he hadn't run since winning the Count Fleet Stakes on Aqueduct's inner dirt track seven months earlier. Not only did Magic Weisner finish second in the Haskell, earning $200,000, but Iron Deputy had to take up sharply in the Jim Dandy, unseating Migliore, who was taken to Saratoga Hospital by ambulance after complaining of pain in his already damaged right arm. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured. "I felt so badly for Richie," Susan Moore said. "He never asked for anything to ride our horse, and then he winds up getting hurt. He's been so loyal to this horse; that should be a story in itself. You don't see many people show that kind of dedication without asking for anything. He'll always have the mount on Iron Deputy for as long as he wants to ride him." That could be a long time, considering where this horse is in his career and where he's been. Migliore has seen Iron Deputy sustain one setback after another just as he was ready to make a name for himself. With a stress fracture, foot abscess, and nagging quarter crack finally behind him, he has been able to put three races together for the first time in a year and a half, and has been making great improvement in each one. After blowing allowance horses away by 111/4 lengths at 11/8 miles on May 4, all he managed to do in the Brooklyn was defeat Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Volponi; Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) winner Evening Attire; three-time grade I winner Harlan's Holiday, who was coming off a second in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I); and Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) runner-up Saarland. "Jimmy has been like a maestro training this horse," Migliore said. "He just orchestrated his work tab for this and he had him honed to run a big race. I truly believe he should be undefeated, but it's been one disappointing setback after another. Because of Jimmy's and the owners' patience, they're going to be rewarded this year. He moves so much better. I used to have to jog him once around before he loosened up, but this year he hits the track and jogs off like a soldier. When Jimmy tells me to work him three-quarters in 1:12, all I do is open my hands and he goes three-quarters in 1:12. I don't ask him for anything." As for his loyalty sticking with Iron Deputy all this time, Migliore said it really wasn't that difficult a decision. "Let's be honest, when I chose to ride him in the Jim Dandy over Magic Weisner, I wasn't exactly hitching myself to an empty wagon," Migliore said. "I was actually going to Pimlico to ride him in the Sir Barton on Preakness Day, which is how I wound up with the mount on Magic Weisner. Even though (Iron Deputy) came up with a quarter crack the day before and couldn't run, I still had committed to go down there. So, it was Iron Deputy who was responsible for me getting the mount on Magic Weisner in the first place. Jimmy rides me on a lot of horses, and the owners are the nicest, most genuine people you're ever going to meet. You just wish all the people you ride for had the feeling for the horses and the understanding of the business that they do. They're the complete package as far as owners go." Iron Deputy, a $45,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July 2000 yearling sale, was sent off at 6-1 in the Brooklyn, the longest price of the five starters. At about 4:30, a severe thunderstorm quickly turned the track into a sea of slop. That moved up Iron Deputy, who was the only horse with true early speed, and who was carrying only 114 pounds, eight pounds less than Volponi, Evening Attire, and Harlan's Holiday. When Harlan's Holiday blew the start after having his head turned at the break, Iron Deputy shot to a clear lead, while setting solid fractions of :23.46, :46.84, and 1:10.03. Saarland was closer up than usual, with Volponi tracking from the inside. Harlan's Holiday was put into contention, but would have nothing left for the stretch run. Turning for home, Migliore felt confident, as he still had a ton of horse under him. He kept Iron Deputy well off the rail, enabling Volponi to come through a wide gap on his inside. But Iron Deputy wasn't stopping. Jose Santos angled Volponi to the outside and made one more run at the leader, but couldn't get closer than two lengths. Iron Deputy was still striding out strongly as he hit the wire 21/2 lengths in front, covering the 11/8 miles in 1:47.84. It was another three lengths back to Saarland, with Evening Attire a non-threatening fourth. Jerkens said he has no specific plans for Iron Deputy, and will take it "one race at a time." For Migliore and Iron Deputy, it's on to bigger and better things.
"It's funny how things happen," Migliore said. "This was a giant step for him. Now that his issues seem to be sorted out, thanks to Dr. Jerkens, I really feel he's a horse to be reckoned with."