It was August, 1994 and I was on a tirade that only I could muster. I was already a quick 0-for-3 at Saratoga that summer. Radnor maiden winner To Ridley, 4-1, finished second to Casual Flash in the opening allowance. No ride in Warm Spell’s Smithwick. Third on Roberto’s Grace, part of the favored entry, well behind Petroski in another allowance. Second on Dunn’s Gap, the favorite, to Hurler in a claimer.
I was keeping score – 0-for-3 at Saratoga in 1994 and more importantly, more grating, 0-for-career at Saratoga. I had just begun my seventh season and I was still winless. Bad trips. Bad rides. A bunch of seconds. I had seen Chip win there. Blythe. Chuck. Teter. Delozier. Thornton. Becky Driver. I was winless.
In the middle of a tirade in my corner of the jocks’ room after Dunn’s Gap lost, I heard a voice over my shoulder.
“Um, can I say something to you…?
I looked up from my tack bag. Richard Migliore, the veteran flat jockey, 11 days after winning an allowance race on Fourstardave and somewhere in the middle of a 152-win season that would eventually lead to 4,450 career wins, stood over me.
I knew enough to stop the tirade, stand up and listen.
“I’ve been watching you for years and you’re pressing. You’re a good rider, but you’re pressing. When I catch myself pressing, forcing things, trying to make things happen, I take a step back and say, ‘OK, I’m giving this horse one, just giving him one, ride for fourth.’ And you know, when you do that, you’ll get to the quarter pole, or wherever it is for you guys, and you’ll find you’ll be exactly where you want to be, with horse. Just try it, go out there like you’re giving the horse one.”
A week later, I rode To Ridley in a two-other-than allowance. In just his third career start, above his conditions, he was still sent off favorite. And I gave him one. Doing 138 pounds, I found a sweet spot, switched him off and found myself heading to the last down the back in the sweet spot, inside and poised just off the pace. Then he made a mistake, we made a mistake, at the crucial second-to-last, he clambered through it, landing awkwardly and squandering the inside, stalking position. The race felt lost, gone, poof. I can’t say I heard Mig at that moment, but I can I say I had heard him the week before. I hovered, chilled, waited for To Ridley to gather himself, then began to rev him back up, a couple of easy crosses, reins filling, I still had horse, gathering momentum, staying inside and allowing the bend of the inner turf to spin us wide, like a back of a roller skate whip, sweeping two, three, four, five wide and passing Bryan Station, Hallelujah I’mabum, Cold Beauty and Texan Tycoon in and over the last.
To Ridley, a future Iroquois winner, reeled in Bryan Station to win by a half-length. My first Saratoga win. There would only be four more. In 13 years of trying.
Spent and satisfied, I melted back into the jocks’ room and sat down on my bench.
Migliore walked over and congratulated me.
“I gave him one, Mig. I gave him one.”
Migliore’s eyes widened and he smiled like a coach to a kid. He had made the difference.
Twenty-seven years later, Migliore and I are still talking horses, talking riding.
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