By Claire Novak and Evan Hammonds
Jockey Richard Migliore, a veteran of the New York circuit and a respected member of the local racing community, announced his retirement from the saddle the morning of June 2 at a press conference at the Garden Terrace at Belmont Park.
A winner of 4,450 races--3,959 of which were at the New York Racing Association tracks of Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga--“The Mig” announced his decision three days before the running of the 142nd Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
“It’s no big surprise why we’re here, my career as a jockey is over,” said Migliore, a 46-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s not by choice: I was in the doctor’s office on Wednesday of last week and he assured me that I would never ride another Thoroughbred again. He works on many NFL players and said if you have a level two fusion, you have to retire. I have a level four fusion.”
Migliore wore a neck brace to support repairs done in a May 4 operation in which two plates and eight screws were inserted into his neck. He said doctors fused the C-4, C-5, C-6, and C-7 vertebra, along with the T-1 vertebra in his back. The injury had resulted from a Jan. 23 racing accident at Aqueduct where he was thrown from his mount, Honest Wildcat. In addition to other serious injuries sustained over the years, Migliore had fractured his neck as a 24-year-old.
“I still held out hope until last Wednesday; then it became apparent that it was time to turn the page and start the next chapter,” he said. “Racing and horses have been so good to me that it’s hard to let go. In my mind I knew it had to end sometime, but in my heart I wanted it to go on forever.”
Among more than 30,000 runners ridden by Migliore in his 30 years in the saddle were Funny Cide, Kip Deville, and Wando. Desert Code gave him his only Breeders’ Cup victory in the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in 2008. He owns 12 riding titles on the NYRA circuit.
“Horses have given me everything in life, everything good in my life stems from horses,” Migliore said. “The emotion that I feel now is just knowing I won’t get to do it now, and that makes me sad. But I’m also understanding of the fact that my situation is a lot better than a lot of other guys, and I’m sure many people would trade places with me having to make this announcement. The biggest thing I feel is gratitude that I got to live my dream.”
Migliore began riding races in 1980 at the age of 16. The next year, he was the recipient of the 1981 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice with 269 wins, and was also awarded the Eddie Arcaro Award from the New York Turf Writers Association that year and in 1985.
He won the 2003 Mike Venezia Memorial Award from NYRA for “extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship,” and was the leading jockey of New York-breds in 2004 and 2005. In 2008 he was given the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award by his peers, an honor bestowed upon riders whose careers and personal character bring respect and esteem to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
In New York, his top victories came aboard horses such as Hidden Lake, Artie Schiller, Better Than Honour, Catinca, and Saratoga legend Fourstardave.
While he raced mainly in New York, he did move to Southern California in the fall of 2006. He returned to New York in the summer of 2008.
Long known for his smarts on a horse, his biggest wins outside of the NYRA circuit came aboard horses such as Friends Lake in the 2004 Florida Derby (gr. I), Volga in the 2003 E.P. Taylor Stakes (Can-IT), and Tenski in the 1998 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT). While in California he won three grade I races in 2007 with Student Council (Pacific Classic), Kip Deville (Frank Kilroe Mile), and Norfolk (Dixie Chatter ).
In all, Migliore won 15% of his 30,102 mounts in North America. Along with 4,450 wins, he had 3,985 seconds, and 3,728 thirds. He has just over $160 million in purse earnings. He has 178 graded stakes victories on his resume.
“I’m so fortunate that I got to start my career here at Belmont and finish on the big stage in New York,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of all the opportunities that I was given and all of the people who let me ride great horses.”
Migliore also thanked his four children and wife, Carmella.
“She pulled me though a lot of times when I didn’t think I could continue, and her strength was my strength,” he said. “You can’t be afraid to fail; you have to go out there and try, and if you fall on your face, you fall on your face. But the people I’ve always admired dust themselves off and get up and go on, and that’s what I’m trying to do at this time.”
Migliore said he hadn’t made any decisions as to whether he would pursue a full-time career in the racing industry, but he mentioned Thoroughbred retirement as a charity close to his heart.
“I want to be as big an advocate as I can for retired Thoroughbreds and give back to the horses that have given me so much,” he said. “I want to make sure every horse is given the respect they deserve.”