Richard Migliore with trainer Doug O'Neill.

Richard Migliore with trainer Doug O'Neill.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Migliore: Belmont a Challenge for Mario

Former jockey Richie Migliore says Mario Gutierrez needs to study huge Belmont oval.

Richard Migliore won 1,352 races at Belmont Park over a 30-year career that ended two years ago because of serious injuries he incurred while in the saddle. Migliore, who scored in 78 stakes at Belmont Park, offerred a few words of advice to Mario Gutierrez, who will seek to win the Triple Crown over Big Sandy aboard I'll Have Another  in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9. Migliore will also give Gutierrez a personal tour around the racetrack June 7.

"The biggest thing is the sheer size and scope of Belmont Park, which is so different than riding at a one-mile track," Migliore said of the mile- and-a-half Belmont oval. "You get so conditioned as a rider to want to move forward as you get into the second turn to get into position and get into the race. The problem at Belmont is when you do that you still have 4 1/2 furlongs to go, not three furlongs."

Once jockeys switch their mounts to the 'go' position, it's nearly impossible to turn them back off, which has led to Belmont Stakes being lost by premature moves. The other unique facet of the race is its 12-furlong distance, the longest dirt race in the country for 3-year-olds.

"How many times do you ride 1 1/2 miles in this country?" asked Migliore. "You're not used to riding that distance, and then when you compund that with Belmont not being your home track, it can be a recipe for disaster. Ideally, you'd want to ride there for several days before the Belmont. You'd want to do a lot of homework and watch a lot of videotape. And you'd want to physically walk the racetrack because that gives you an idea of its immensity."

Migliore, who works for HRTV as an analyst, feels that Gutierrez can overcome his unfamiliarity with the race and the track given what he's seen of him in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

"I think this kid has the right personality and demeanor," Migliore said. "He seems like a cool customer. We don't know what's going on inside his head, but outwardly Gutierrez seems very relaxed and enjoying the moment. He doesn't seem to be overthinking it or worrying about things, and he seems very in sync with this horse.

"He has a lot of confidence in him and has a handle on how much horse he has underneath him. In the Preakness (gr. I) he waited until the horse got on his right lead and then set him down. Part of it could be he's ridden him four times and has never lost on him. I know from experience when you haven't been beaten on a horse, it's hard for you to see him losing.

"I thought maybe he'd go to a left-handed stick in the Preakness but he never switched sticks and it ended up that was the right move. It got me thinking about Steve Cauthen. Cauthen never hit Affirmed left-handed until the Belmont Stakes when he really needed it. Is this kid following suit by design? I'm seeing these funny parallels that maybe mean nothing, but maybe they do."

As good as the rider has been, the key player in the race will be I'll Have Another himself, and in particular how he is able to adapt to the unique Belmont racing surface and the pressure of three tough races in five weeks. Here, Migliore also sees signs for optimism.

"I'll Have Another seems responsive to his rider's cues; he waits to be told when to move and seems pretty unflappable. So I think they're the right combination coming into this. He is the kind of high-energy horse that gets a lot of air and puts a lot into his training, which is key in getting 1 1/2 miles. Now it's just a matter of dotting your I's and crossing your T's and doing your homework."