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Stride june 3, 2010 Issue No. 7

m agazine

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

‘The Mig’ Legendary jockey retires

Groom to a Queen

Belmont Park Runs to Lead on Day Care


Issue No. 7

June 3, 2010

Contents Main attractions 12

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COVER STORY ‘The Mig’ retires A neck injury has forced jockey Richard Migliore to retire; he talks to Stride Magazine about his remarkable career. By Bill Heller

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Attending the Queen Groom Mario Espinoza knows Zenyatta’s every mood. By Richard J. Beltran

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Backstreet Babies Anna House day care center at Belmont Park a blessing for track workers. By Amanda Haskin

Other Features 22 24

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Graded Stakes Races Third Jewel, First Party The oldest of the Triple Crown races has traditions all its own. By Scott Serio

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Best Day No Triple Crown at the 2008 Belmont Stakes, but a winning exacta ticket makes the day worthwhile. By Mary Suffling Keener

on the cover: Richard Migliore rides Flasing to victory in the 114th running of the Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct Race Track in Jamaica, NY last November. Photo: Sarah K. Andrew Stride Magazine

A subsidiary of ESW Media P.O. Box 4 Colora, MD 21917 A bi-weekly publication

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STRIDE MAGAZINE

CONTACT INFORMATION E-mail: stridemagonline@gmail.com Phone: 443.693.3454

June 3, 2010

EDITORIAL STAFF Publisher: Henry Hill Design Director: Dave Zeiler Photo Editor: Scott Serio Copy editors: Paul Bendel-Simso, Michael Marlow


Attending

Queen the

Behind Zenyatta’s success is the skill, and the love, of groom Mario Espinoza By David J. Beltran Photos by Charles Pravata

T

he sports world revolves around the star. The star quarterback. The star pitcher. The star running back. In recent months, horse racing has been captivated by its own star: Zenyatta. Her racing has amazed us, and her pre-race antics – those dressage-like moves – have endeared her to us. But in racing, as in other sports, we must not fail to recognize the supporting characters who make the star shine. And for Zenyatta, that support comes from her groom, Mario Espinoza. The groom is more than just a person who leads a horse over to the paddock on race day. He is the glue that holds the entire barn together, and his opinion about a horse’s readiness can determine whether or not it races. The jockey holds the limelight for the two minutes or so of a race, and the trainer maps out a training regimen or race campaign, but the groom spends more time with the horse than anybody else. Yet he often goes unnoticed, even as the star shines. And Mario Espinoza’s star shines as brightly as anyone’s.

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Photo: Bob Mayberger/Eclipse Sportswire

Mario Espinoza escorts Zenyatta, ridden by Mike Smith, after winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA last November.

Mexican roots

Born in the state of Mexican state of Michoacán, Espinoza came to the U.S. at the age of 16. “I grew up on a farm, and we always had horses. Nothing like these [thoroughbreds]. We had workhorses and some quarters.” As Espinoza learned the basic care of horses on his father’s ranch, he also discovered a fascination with racing. “A family friend would come back and tell us about the racetrack, and I would imagine how these horses were. I could not wait to come to the United States and see them.” Once he made it to America, Espinoza was hooked, enamored of the regal and sleek thoroughbred racehorse. He soon found work at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall, CA. After several years at San Luis Rey, Espinoza moved on to the racetrack. He worked for David Hofmans, caring for Breeders’ Cup Distaff Champion Ado-

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Mario Espinoza tends to Zenyatta and Mike Smith in the tunnel before the 57th running

ration. And although he didn’t groom him, Alphabet Soup was also part of the barn. “After about five years,” he said, “I then came over and began working for [trainer] John Shirreffs. And that’s when I met Zenyatta.” For those who work around the racetrack, something can happen when they

Once I begin to prep her for a race, her personality changes. She knows.

– Mario Espinoza

see a certain horse for the very first time, a thrill that sets a special horse apart from others. For Espinoza, that thrill came from Zenyatta. “As soon as I saw her, I knew she was special. All good horses have that. That that – which is hard to define, to grasp, to hold, to decipher. She had all that.”

Smart and fast

And, like most top horses, her intelligence was above that of ordinary horses. “All the top ones I’ve been around were smarter. They tend not to overdo things that might endanger them.” While lesser horses might persist in behaviors that can seriously injure them, “the top ones are a smarter group,” Espinoza said. “I knew [Ze-


Zenyatta and Mario Espinoza in the paddock for the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, CA.

of the Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, CA in May 2009.

nyatta] was different – she was mean, but at the same time she was sweet. She wanted to be left alone and be allowed to do things she wanted to do, when she wanted to. She acted like a lady ... a woman,” Espinoza added with a laugh. This horse wanted her liberty, but she also wanted attention. “She craves it and demands it. And of course I give her all the attention she wants.” But she can also be a handful. In video taken at the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Zenyatta can be seen pushing Espinoza, fighting him for her space. Like most top athletes, Zenyatta puts herself “in the zone” before a competition. “She is quite tranquil while in her stall, even on race day,” Espinoza said. “Once I begin to prep her for a race, her

personality changes. She knows. She wakes up and becomes another horse. She becomes focused, and she is fully aware of what she is going to do – what she knows to do. And that is to run races and win.” Earlier this year, the entire racing world was anticipating one particular race: the 2010 Apple Blossom Handicap, where Zenyatta was finally to race against her rival, Rachel Alexandra. Espinoza never mentions Rachel Alexandra by name. He refers to her as la otra yegua, “the other mare.” And when la otra yegua was scratched, Espinoza took it personally. “We knew the magnitude of the event. We – the entire barn – wanted to see them run against each other, to

finally show that we have the better mare. It was a big letdown. Hopefully, somewhere down the road, we’ll get our chance to show which is the best mare.” When asked to speculate about the hoped-for confrontation, Espinoza gave his take on the race. “The other mare likes to set the pace; our horse – my horse – runs from the back of the pack. Once Zenyatta is set down, she will not give up until she passes the last horse. [Jockey] Mike Smith told me it is as if she knows where the wire is at. Zenyatta will run her down.”

Father and child

The job of a groom is hard, involving long hours and plenty of patience. “I at times am up at 3:30 in the morning, and you really have to dedicate a lot of time to these horses, and there is plenty of responsibility. Especially when they are

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babies, for it takes months of preparation just to get them to the track.” A groom spends so much time with his charge that the bond becomes remarkably close. “I liken it to fatherhood,” said Espinoza. “You care for four or five horses, and you might have one that is a bit rebellious, another who is timid and not sure of himself, and another that is the complete opposite of another. One must learn how to handle each one as an individual. There is a lot of pride. It’s like watching your children develop.” Espinoza remembers the first time Zenyatta began her famous dance – a famous sign of her individuality. “I was preparing her for a workout. I took her out and she began to paw at the ground. All by herself. I thought she simply wanted to play, so I let her. After all, it was as if she wanted to put on a show. As soon as she sees the people, she starts doing it. The more the people applaud, the more she does it. She knows what she is doing.” She loves to dance, and she also has well-established tastes. Like all horses, she loves carrots. “She cannot get her fill of carrots. But she loves one thing more than carrots,” Espinoza said, pulling out a banana. “She loves them. I only give half of one a day, but she absolutely loves bananas. And beer. She gets a pint of Guinness Stout; she likes it in a dish.” From her endearing habits and quirks to her imposing size and phenomenal poise, Zenyatta is amazing. She knows she’s special, and so does her groom. “From what I’ve heard, they say that a horse like Zenyatta comes around every 10 years or so,” said Espinoza. “But I know that if I live two lifetimes, there will never be another horse that can come close to Zenyatta.” h

Top: Zenyatta and groom Mario Espinoza at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, CA. Bottom: Zenyatta, Mike Smith and Mario Espinoza after wining the Lady’s Secret Stakes at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Park.

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Photo: Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire

ful l s t ri de

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Ghost of Belmonts Past

There’s no way the horses could know ... but do they? Every Triple Crown hopeful who comes to Belmont Park must face the legend of the horse who turned in the greatest performance ever in the “Test of a Champion.”

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June 3, 2010

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After the F An injury ends jockey Richard Migliore’s career, but nothing can tarnish his glorious record By Bill Heller Photos by Eclipse Sportswire

R

Migliore walks with his son Luciano at Saratoga Race Track for the first time after his surgery. Reflecting on it later, Mig said it was good to get out, but the visit was exhausting.

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ichard Migliore knows where he should be: at Belmont Park. Instead, barely able to walk, the 46-year-old sits in the living room of his family’s new home in Salt Point, NY, halfway between Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course. He’s trying to wrap his mind around an inconceivable notion: that he’ll never ride again following neck surgery May 4 to fuse four vertebrae in his neck. “It just hurts to know I’ll never do it again,” he said.

June 3, 2010


Fall

Neck surgery in May has forced an end to Richard Migliore’s stellar three-decade career.


Little things can set him off, like watching a movie on TV with his wife, Carmela. They were enjoying A League of Their Own, until Madonna began singing “This Used to be My Playground.” This used to be my playground This used to be my childhood dream This used to be the place I ran to Whenever I was in need of a friend. Why did it have to end? Migliore cried like a baby. “A stupid song sent me off,” he said. “Belmont was my backyard, my playground,” he said. “I was living at the track since I was 14. It’s always been my refuge, where I’m most comfortable in the world. That’s how I feel at Belmont. That’s how I feel at Saratoga. I grew up at the racetrack. It was kind of like running away to the circus. It was the greatest life.” Until it was taken away.

Quick start

From Day One, his ambition to be a jockey was a long shot. Migliore’s uncle, Father Joe Romano, remembers having dinner with the 5-foot-4 15-yearold Long Islander, who had spent the summer as a hotwalker and groom for trainer Steve DiMauro at Saratoga. “Richie says to me, ‘Father Joe, next year I’m going to be a jockey,’” Romano recalled. “I looked down at his feet. His foot was bigger than mine. How is he going to be a jockey? But he did.” And success came galloping. “It happened really fast,” Migliore said. I went from being a kid who was just a huge, huge racing fan ... I remember sitting down by the jockeys’ room at Belmont and looking in there and thinking how much I wanted to be there. Cordero, Maple, Velasquez. I just wanted to be in the room with those guys. Then, to be out there and competing with them, and having the success I had ...” In less than eight months, Migliore had rocked Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct, rewriting history along the way, taking less than eight months to smash the single-season apprentice

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Richard Migliore is congratulated in the winner’s circle after winning the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint

earnings record of Steve Cauthen. “Steve Cauthen was one of the reasons I wanted to be a jockey,” said Migliore, who soon became known as “The Mig.” The Mig broke Cauthen’s record at Saratoga in 1981, reaching that lofty plateau less than a year after he rode in his first race at The Meadowlands on Sept. 29, 1980. “Breaking the record was the most amazing moment in a magical summer,” Migliore said. “It was overwhelming.” In August of 1981, Migliore battled

June 3, 2010

five-time defending Saratoga champion Angel Cordero Jr. for the riding title. But on the next-to-last day of the meet, harsh reality – the danger of riding thousand-pound thoroughbreds at nearly 40 mph in close quarters – intruded on the young phenomenon. The Mig went down in a frightening spill that nearly took his life. Cordero won the title, then six more as part of an incredible 11-year reign at Saratoga. The Mig won the Eclipse Award for Apprentice Jockeys in 1981 and, despite missing the final four months of the year, finished as the leading rider in


Mig aboard Scott’s Choice in the paddock before a maiden race at Aqueduct in Jamaica, NY on March 9.

Mig rides favorite Unbridled Belle to a third place finish in the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park last July.

t aboard longshot Desert Code at Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, CA, in 2008.

New York with 269 victories, 51 more than Cordero in second. Along the way, Migliore had to endure the loss of his bug, the 5-pound weight allowance given jockeys for a year after their fifth career win. This precarious transition can be devastating to a young rider. But The Mig thrived, and in 1985 led all New York riders again with 257 victories, 23 more than Jorge Velasquez in second. Migliore would finish third in New York in 1986 and second in 1997, 1998 and 2003. “One of the things I’ve told Richie, I was always proud that Richie started here in New York and endured

here in the world’s roughest place to ride,” Carmela said. “Racing is at its finest in New York.”

Serious harm

That 1981 injury was to be the first of many. In 1999, Migliore suffered a broken arm, an injury so severe that it took 20 screws and two plates to set, keeping him out of action for 7½ months. And then, again, he resumed his career. In 2004, he rode the favorite, Artie Schiller, in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Lone Star Park in Texas. He did it with a wrist injury he had suffered two days

Peppi Knows with Mig aboard score an upset at 7 - 1 in the 31st running of the Whirlaway, at Aqueduct in February.

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Darboy breaks through the gate and throws jockey Richard Migliore before the 5th race on Jim Dandy Stakes day Aug. 1, 2009 at Saratoga Race Track in Saratoga Springs, NY.

before the race. It’s impossible to know if the injury was a contributing factor in Artie Schiller’s 12th-place finish because the horse was boxed in and lacked room most of the race. Migliore says now that he should not have ridden. “I didn’t realize I had done as much damage as I had. And I’ve got to be frank: I wasn’t searching for it, either,” he said. “My desire superseded my common sense.” The following morning, Migliore discovered that his wrist was broken. He lost the mount, but trainer Jimmy Jerkens gave him another chance to ride Artie Schiller in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Belmont, where the horse had four wins, two seconds and a third in seven lifetime starts. This time, nine days before the race, The Mig injured himself so severely that he couldn’t even try to ride. With a broken leg and injured Achilles ten-

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don, the Mig could only watch as his replacement, Garrett Gomez, won the Breeders’ Cup Mile. It could have been Migliore’s first Breeders’ Cup victory. He ended up watching the 2005 Mile on TV in the jockey’s room with an old friend, retired Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Maple.

I’ve seen good riders who didn’t retire when they should have. I thought, ‘If they couldn’t recognize it, am I doing it?’

June 3, 2010

– Richard Migliore

After missing several months, Migliore returned to ride on March 1, 2006. But he struggled to regain his business. “I think, when I came back this time, people weren’t looking at me the same way,” he said. “I was treading water. I wasn’t riding as many good horses as I should have. “I’ve seen good riders who didn’t retire when they should have,” he continued. “I thought, ‘If they couldn’t recognize it, am I doing it?’ I felt in my heart that my desire was there. I still had the same enthusiasm. I was having a hard time getting people to see me that way. I was getting so discouraged. I had a look in the mirror. You can blame other people, but you find answers by looking at yourself. I wasn’t hustling, hitting a lot of barns like an 18-year-old kid.”


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rented a house. She got a great box right in front of the finish line. I win the big race. Then to have Carmela and all the kids with me in the winner’s circle. Life doesn’t get better than this.” The Mig also rode Student Council in the Japan Cup Dirt – where he failed to hit the board – and represented the United States in the Cathay Pacific International Jockey Challenge in Hong Kong. He had successfully reinvented himself. He finished 26th nationally in earnings in 2007 with nearly $7.2 million, and posted 115 wins, 128 seconds and 97 thirds from 864 starts. He then decided to return to New York in the summer of 2008, where he re-energized his career one more time. But he flew back to California to win his first Breeders’ Cup race, the Turf Sprint on long shot Desert Code at Santa Anita. In New York in 2009, Migliore won the Grade 1 Test Stakes and the Grade 1 Gazelle on Flashing. And as his four-bagger in late March at Aqueduct demonstrated, he still was a top rider in New York. “I’m just glad I got to ride where I did,” Rich Migliore sits with his son, Luciano, during his first visit to Saratoga Race Track after his surgery. he said. “At least I did it with the best. I did it on him. It was emotional. Who knew if he Mar meet. Benefiting from a great ride the big stage.” would take off in California?” To be able to win in New York against by The Mig, who swept to the lead on Carmela’s question was quickly an- the far turn and kept his 22-1 long shot Cordero, Velasquez, Vasquez, Maple swered. Her husband had a phenom- together when he started getting tired and Bailey, and still be around to win enal first year in California – finishing in the final 100 yards, Student Council races against young stars like Ramon fourth in the Santa Anita 2006-2007 won the $1 million Grade 1 stakes by Dominguez, Alan Garcia and Rajiv winter meet and winning Grade 1 half a length. Walking his horse back to Maragh nearly three decades later is a stakes with Kip Deville, Dixie Chatter the winner’s circle, The Mig spotted his testament to his staying power. and Student Council, who captured family in the crowd, traced an outline both the $1 million 2007 Grade 1 Pa- of his heart and pointed to them. Beginning of the end cific Classic at Del Mar and the Grade 2 That staying power kept Migliore go“It was a tremendous thrill,” Migliore $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup. said. “It was one of those rare days ing, and he recovered from spills and “I’ve been really fortunate,” he said where everything went perfect. Car- injuries that more than once could have at the time. “People have been very mela and the kids were there. We had ended his career. Until last spring, he

Reinventing himself

So, in November 2006, at age 43, Migliore took a gamble. After consulting with Carmela and their four children, Joseph, Philip, Luciano and Gabrielle, he moved his tack to California, where he would be represented by agent Ron Anderson, who also represented Gomez. “I felt heartbroken,” Carmela said. “And I would be lying now if I didn’t say people had turned their backs on him. I fully believe Richie has a lot of riding in

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accepting.” The Mig rode first call for trainer Bill Spawr, whose previous top rider was Hall of Famer Laffit Pincay Jr., and second call for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. The 2007 Pacific Classic was a stunner. Migliore was named to ride Student Council for trainer Vladimir Cerin just a week after Student Council had been entered in an allowance race at Saratoga. The horse had been sold, and the new owners decided to take a shot in the Grade 1 signature race of the Del

June 3, 2010


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Elusive Warning and jockey Richard Migliore before The Toboggan at Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, NY in March.

was still winning races in New York against jockeys who hadn’t even been born when he broke Cauthen’s record. The beginning of the end came at Aqueduct on Jan. 23, when his mount in the first race, Honest Wildcat, suddenly broke down, hurling Migliore to the track. He was diagnosed with a concussion, but in reality, he had fractured his neck. He’d been there before. He suffered a near-fatal neck injury at Belmont in May of 1998 when his horse, Madam Alydar, again in the first race, went down. “The doctor told me I’d never walk again,” Migliore said of that spill. The incident was later featured on the TV show Rescue 911. “It was the same injury as Christopher Reeve, one different vertebra,” Carmela said. “It was horrific.”

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Migliore returned to riding on Thanksgiving Day 1998, winning a race on Glimmer Glen, but the injury last January turned out to be too much. As late as March 27, The Mig won four races from just five mounts at Aqueduct, all the while enduring horrendous pain. On that day, he recalled, “My son Joseph drove me to the track,” Migliore said. “He stayed with me the whole day, then drove me back. I couldn’t see straight because of the pain.” He rode through April 7, finishing sixth on Success Fee in an optional claimer in his last mount. In May, he underwent the fusion surgery, and a stellar, three-decade career was at an end.

A life of highlights

The Mig isn’t used to letting go. Tenacity was one of his greatest strengths

June 3, 2010

as a rider. That tenacity and desire helped Migliore win 4,450 races, most of them in New York, with earnings topping $160 million. He won 10 riding titles at Aqueduct. He remembers Silver Screen, the winner on which he broke Cauthen’s record. “You don’t hear the announcer all the time in New York,” Migliore said. “The wind has to be right. And I’m at the eighth pole and I had my stick down and heard “Silver Screen in front by six,” and Marshall Cassidy saying, “Richard Migliore broke the record!” A few days later, he nearly broke every bone in his body when one of his favorite horses, Crème de la Fete, who was second and moving to the leader seeking his eighth straight victory, collapsed. That ended Migliore’s battle in the jockey standings with Cordero and


Maple. “But I stayed in Saratoga Hospital until after the meet, and I got to see the town,” Migliore said. Like just about every person in the equine universe, Migliore fell in love with the city of Saratoga Springs. And it’s where he proposed to Carmela, right in front of their favorite bookstore, Lyrical Ballad, in 1985. Carmela had done dressage and served as an exercise rider and assistant trainer for DiMauro. “We had known each other for six years,” Migliore said. “I won the stakes that afternoon on B.C. Sal for Mr. DiMauro. Carmela and I were always meant for each other. We had talked about getting married. We were walking in town. It was 7 p.m. Lyrical Ballad was one of my favorite places. The store was closed and we were standing in front of it, looking at the books in the window. The ring was burning a hole in my pocket. I pulled it out and asked her to marry me, and she said yes. She’s done so much for me. She’s taking care

You know how different that was for me? I can eat pot roast? I can eat a potato?

extraordinary sportsmanship and citizenship.” It’s named for the New York jockey who was killed in a 1989 accident at Belmont Park. That was the year The Mig was honored by the Association for the Help of Retarded Children at the 23rd annual Thurman Munson Awards Dinner. And in 2008, Migliore won the prestigious George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, which is voted on annually by jockeys across the country. One significant moment received less publicity. Though he said he felt odd doing it, one morning at Aqueduct several years ago, The Mig honored the request of a longtime racing fan who had recently died. The man had asked that his ashes be scattered over the track at Aqueduct by his favorite jockey – and Migliore couldn’t say no. Though he has never ridden a superhorse that provided him a win in the Triple Crown, he is forever identified with one of the most popular horses to

– Richard Migliore of me now, changing my bandages every day.” She also cooks for him, and now, for the first time in his adult life, Migliore can eat like a normal human being. “The other night, she made pot roast,” Migliore said. “You know how different that was for me? I can eat pot roast? I can eat a potato?” Even with all his accomplishments on the track, Migliore has been a big winner off it as well. He was the 2003 recipient of the Mike Venezia Award, which honors riders “who exemplify

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Upcoming Graded Stakes Races DATE

TRACK RACE

GRD.

DIST.

2010-06-04

BEL

Brooklyn Handicap

II

12.0

2010-06-04

BEL

Hill Prince Stakes

III

9.0

2010-06-05

BEL

Belmont Stakes

I

12.0

2010-06-05

BEL

Manhattan Handicap

I

10.0 T

2010-06-05

BEL

Just A Game Stakes

I

8.0 T

2010-06-05

BEL

Acorn Stakes

I

8.0

2010-06-05

BEL

Woody Stephens Stakes

II

7.0

2010-06-05

BEL

True North Handicap

II

6.0

2010-06-05

CD

Mint Julep Handicap

III

8.5 T

2010-06-05

HOL

Charles Whittingham Mem. Hdcp.

I

10.0 T

2010-06-05

HOL

Los Angeles Handicap

III

6.0 S

2010-06-06

HOL

Hollywood Oaks

II

8.5 S

2010-06-12

BEL

Ogden Phipps Handicap

I

8.5

2010-06-12

CD

Stephen Foster Handicap

I

9.0

2010-06-12

CD

Fleur De Lis Handicap

II

9.0

2010-06-12

CD

Northern Dancer Stakes

III

8.5

2010-06-12

CD

Jefferson Cup Stakes

III

8.5 T

2010-06-12

CD

Regret Stakes

III

9.0 T

2010-06-12

DEL

Obeah Handicap

III

9.0

2010-06-12

HOL

Californian Stakes

II

9.0 S

2010-06-12

MTH

Monmouth Stakes

III

9.0 T

2010-06-13

HOL

Vanity Invitational Handicap

I

9.0 S

2010-06-19

BEL

New York Stakes

II

9.0 T

2010-06-19

CNL

Colonial Turf Cup Stakes

II

9.5 T

2010-06-19

CNL

All Along Stakes

III

9.0 T

2010-06-19

HOL

Affirmed Handicap

III

8.5 S

2010-06-19

MTH

Pegasus Stakes

III

9.0

2010-06-20

HOL

Will Rogers Stakes

III

8.0 T

2010-06-26

BEL

Mother Goose Stakes

I

8.5

2010-06-26

CD

Debutante Stakes

III

5.5

2010-06-26

HOL

Beverly Hills Handicap

III

10.0 T

2010-06-26

MTH

Boiling Springs Stakes

III

8.5 T

2010-06-26

PRM

Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Hdcp.

II

9.0

2010-06-26

PRM

Iowa Derby

III

8.5

2010-06-26

PRM

Iowa Oaks

III

8.5

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ever race in New York, the New Yorkbred Fourstardave. Migliore rode him 25 times, including the last 13 of his incredible 100-start career, which included winning at least one race eight consecutive years at the Saratoga summer meet, regarded by most as the toughest meet in North America, if not the world.

Moving on

Eventually, Migliore will be at peace with the idea that his riding career is over. “I’ll always feel like I’ve never done enough,” he said. “I had never wanted to be a quitter, somebody who gave up. I’m not comfortable with that. I literally lived by the motto that winners never quit and quitters never win. There’s a piece of me that says I’m quitting, but I realize that’s absurd.” Others share that opinion. Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos, who rode in New York from the mid-1980s until he retired in 2007, was asked recently who was the toughest jockey to defeat in a stretch-long, tight race, “Richard Migliore,” Santos said. “This guy never gave up, even if he had horses of lesser quality. You had to go by him quickly, or you were going to have a long, hard battle.” Deciding to retire in 2007 was an extremely difficult decision for Santos. But, with the help of his doctors and his family, he realized, “Sometimes, enough is enough.” And that’s where The Mig is now. He knows he has no options. “I have loved every moment of it,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much it hurts not to put my boots on anymore and head to the track.” This spring, the New York Racing Association set up a huge get-well card for fans to sign to send to The Mig, to show him just how much he meant to New York racing. Carmela knew about the card, but kept it quiet, hoping to surprise her husband. Migliore, though, hadn’t gotten out of the habit of checking for scratches every morning at Belmont. When he went on the NYRA Web site, he saw a story about the card. “I cried,” he said. “I just let it go.” h


Richard Migliore basks in the glow of winning the 130th running of the Withers Stakes on Mr. Fantasy at Aqueduct last April.

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142nd Belmo

Third Jewel, First If you think no Triple Crown means no reason to go to Belmont, you got another think coming By Scott Serio Photos by Eclipse Sportswire

A

dd in equal parts Tiffany, Sinatra and Ruthless and you have the Belmont Stakes. But don’t forget the whiskey – you’ll need that to make the Belmont Breeze you’ll be sipping as you stroll around the grandstands and the Belmont Backyard. The oldest of the Triple Crown jewels, the Belmont Stakes is decidedly unlike the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. You might see a big Derby-like hat somewhere in the crowd, but no one is going out of their way to have “the hat” at Belmont Park. And the cozy confines of the grandstand and raucous mayhem of the infield that you find at Pimlico are also absent.

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ont Stakes

Party


142nd Belmont Stakes

Since the filly Ruthless won the first running of the “Test of the Champion” in 1867, New Yorkers have made the trek to Long Island for the late-spring event. And the site is worth the trek: Both the expansive grandstand and the shady picnic grove, the Backyard, are great spots to land. Whereas Churchill Downs does not have a blade of grass in the grandstand and everything has a pre-assigned seat and row number, Belmont is much more democratic. You can purchase premium seating ahead of time, but early birds can find grassy “premium” spots of their own. You might even find yourself under a shady tree, with a clear view of the track and party-savvy neighbors on the plot right next to you. The winner’s trophy for the Belmont Stakes was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1869 and is formally called the August Belmont Memorial Cup. But more modern images that the name “Tiffany” evokes fairly represent a good portion of the fans present. Think Holly Golightly at the races: simple, chic, elegant, and well-supplied with alcohol. Then you have Frank Sinatra. The lyrics of the Chairman of the Board’s anthem “New York, New York” sum up the aspirations of many of the fans, trainers, jockeys and owners: “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” From the wandering band, playing music that would make the man himself want to croon, or the Wiseguythemed patrons trying to channel “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” Frank is there in Belmont Stakes Day. The resilience and grit that characterized Frank Sinatra is part of the aura of the chase for the Triple Crown as well. Many seemingly worthy thoroughbred colts have come to Elmont, NY, to test the 1½ miles of “Big Sandy,” hoping to stamp their names next to Affirmed, Secretariat and

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Active-duty military band Afterburner performs at Belmont Park in New York on Belmont Stakes Day last year.

Omaha in the annals of history, only to fail. They were beaten in true New York fashion by unheralded long shots like Da Tara, Birdstone, Sarava, and the first to upset a Triple Crown bid in 1936, Granville. There will be no Triple Crown this year. That has already been decided. But the folks at Belmont Park have still put together an entertaining day of racing and a Belmont Stakes with some talented colts. Some people might try to trivialize the Belmont without the hope of a Triple Crown, but the race sets up the rest of the summer and the Three-

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Year-Old Championship. Ice Box ran a solid second in the Kentucky Derby and the big guy, First Dude, looks like he could be developing into a serious racehorse. As you enjoy your day, whether with a Belmont Breeze or any other drink of choice in hand, don’t forget to take in the sights. Belmont Park is magnificent. The paddock is a truly special place to watch horses pre-race and the Secretariat memorial is stunning. The Belmont Stakes has a character unto itself. If you decide you want to dress for the beach, bring a lawn chair and knock back a few beers, you will be welcomed at the Belmont Backyard. If Fifth Avenue chic is your goal, you’ll be welcomed as well. However you dress, just make sure you show up. Don’t listen to the people who just have nothing good to say about Belmont – they wouldn’t know a good party if it him the square between the eyes. And if Stride Magazine has anything to say about it, First Dude will be the life of the party, wearing a blanket of carnations as he is led to the Winner’s Circle. Turn to Page 28 for a look at the schedule the New York Racing Association has planned.


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142nd Belmont Stakes

Race Day Events

Opening Ceremonies 10:50am Kim Lively, lead singer for the USAF rock band, “Afterburner” will perform the National Anthem in the Belmont Park Winner’s Circle (see below for details on her band). A C-130 flyover will coincide with the conclusion of the singing of the anthem. The C-130 is a huge, four engine, turbo-prop military transport aircraft. It makes quite an impressive sight when it crosses the airspace over the park.

Belmont Park Backyard Stage Bands 10:00am – 12:00pm Afterburner, comprising members of the USAF Band of Liberty – this is the official rock band of the U.S. Air Force. Check out their bio page: www.bandofliberty.af.mil/ensembles/BandEnsembleBio. asp?EnsembleID=102 12:00pm – 2:00pm “Funk Filharmonik” takes the stage as the headline band. They are New York’s tightest funk band. Find their bio page here: www.funkfilharmonik.com/Funk_Filharmonik/ Funk_Bio.html 2:00pm – 6:00pm “Pink Noise” a Brooklyn-based, rock band plays classic rock/pop hits.

Empire State of Mind Approximately 6:15pm This year, upcoming R&B performer, Jasmine Villegas, will perform Alicia Keys’ hit, “Empire State of Mind” before the main race. Jasmine will sing in the Belmont Park Winner’s Circle. Please see the link to Jasmine’s bio: www.jasminevmusic.com/

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Strolling Entertainers 8:30am-2:30pm Buddy Merriam’s Bluegrass Trio (Stationed primarily at the Grandstand Entrance) 8:30am-2:30pm Harvey Snider’s Dixie-land Trio (Stationed at the West End - LIRR Entrance) 8:30am-2:30pm Vocalese - Barbershop Quartet (Stationed at the Main Clubhouse Entrance) 10:00am-4:00pm Ernie Munick will stroll the Clubhouse, and perform a fan-interactive show involving music and racing trivia. 



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Backstretch

babies

Thanks to Anna House, Belmont employees have a safe place to stable their kids

By Amanda Haskin Photos by Scott Serio Rosa runs on the playground at Anna House on the Belmont Park grounds.

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Above: Eluz finishes up her duties for the day at the stables of trainer Linda Rice. Below: Exercise rider Eduardo “Flaco” Escobar heads to the track for a morning workout.

I

t’s 6 a.m. on the Belmont backstretch, and 5-yearold Rosa Escobar is busy making a scrapbook. She rummages through a brightly decorated box of photos, pulls out one of her and her classmates, and proudly shows it to a visitor. Rosa is a girl of few words, but she expresses a great deal with a pair of wide, knowing eyes and a wildly astute grin. As she silently studies the visitor, she coyly smirks and buries her head back into the photos. Not far away, her parents are hard at work. Her mother, Eluz, is mucking out stalls in Linda Rice’s barn, and her father, Edward (better known as Flaco), is exercising one of Bruce Levine’s horses. Ordinarily, a hardworking racetrack couple like Eluz and Flaco would have to worry about where their youngest daughter is spending these morning hours. But they know that Rosa is safe and sound in the lively preschool room at Anna House, diligently working on the most perfect scrapbook ever. STRIDE MAGAZINE

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It is 5:30am and Rosa joins her classmates on the couch reading. Some “students” arrive at Anna House sound asleep at 5:00am and go straight from child safety seat to cot.

Anna House is the vision of the Belmont Child Care Association, run by Donna Bell Chenkin and supported by a multitude of horse owners, trainers, jockeys and racetrack employees. Their dream was to create an affordable day care center to provide education and a safe haven for the children of backstretch workers. That dream became a shining reality in January 2003, when Anna House opened its doors to its first five children. The center now has 52 children and a waiting list. Over the past seven years, Anna House has been a kind of guardian angel to many families. “In a way, we feel like we’re saving these kids,” Chenkin said. “Without us, I don’t know where they would be – probably in illegal day care or even kept in a car.” The vast majority of backstretch workers are Hispanic, many having recently immigrated, and they face a number of challenges: a language barrier, low wages, long hours, injury risks, and they rarely have family to turn to for support. Bring children into that world, and you face an even greater

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challenge. Where can these children go while the parents are off to work before sunrise? When that question was posed by a concerned Suzee and Jerry Bailey at a dinner party, it reached the ear of developer and philanthropist Michael Dubb, who quickly began to pioneer the creation of the center. The New York Racing Association donated land on the backstretch, and thoroughbred owners Eugene and Laura Melnyk contributed $1 million (the center is named after their daughter, Anna). A total of $3.5 million brought the 7,500-square-foot center to its feet. As you walk through the doors of Anna House, you see signs of the many benefactors who support the center, as well as legendary figures of New York racing. There is a mural of Woody Stephens’ five Belmont winners; an atrium dedicated to owner Betty Moran; a playground donated by Jeanne Vance called the Lemon Drop Kid Playground, after Vance’s 1999 Belmont winner; a garden dedicated to the late Marjorie Cordero; a photo of Barbaro in honor of contribu-

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tors Roy and Gretchen Jackson; and many other tributes. It costs roughly $1 million a year to keep Anna House open, and all of that funding comes from donations. The center opens at 4:45 a.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year, and provides the children with experienced teachers, warm meals, fun activities, and an emphasis on English education to prepare them for kindergarten. The children of Anna House range in age from 6 weeks to 5 years, and at the end of their last year, there is a big graduation ceremony, complete with caps and gowns. “It’s a big deal,” says Chenkin, “because for these kids it’s the first chance they ever get to be something special. It’s really beautiful to watch.” The ceremony leaves the kids with a sense of accomplishment and instills in the parents a feeling of pride in their children’s education. Chenkin’s husband, Stuart, says, “As a rule, some kids will cry when they come to day care, but our kids cry when they have to leave.” For couples like Eluz and Flaco, Anna House has been a godsend. Eluz came


here from Mexico City in 2003. She started out as a hotwalker and moved up to foreman, but a foreman’s schedule conflicted with her family life. Now a groom, she loves her job and loves her horses. “This is my favorite horse,” she says, standing in front of Trackmen’s Star’s stall. She leans contentedly on her rake, a proud smile on her face. Her day starts at 4 a.m.; she works until 11:30, comes back to feed in the afternoon, and still makes time to be with her family. Flaco was born in the Bronx, in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. He later moved to Puerto Rico but returned here in 1990. He has been riding for 25 years, and has previously worked for Todd Pletcher, Angel Cordero, and Alfredo Callejas, as well as for NYRA as a parking supervisor. Despite suffering a severe spinal injury from a riding accident less than two years ago, he’s in recovery and – amazingly – is riding regularly.

Just before 6:00am and breakfast and some impromptu dancing breaks out in anticipation of french toast.

Both of their daughters started at Anna House when they were 6 weeks old. The eldest, Jaz Marie, started kindergarten this past year. “Anna House has made such a big

difference in both my daughters,” says Flaco. “The kids leave here, and they already know everything in school. When my daughter got to pre-k and kindergarten, the teachers asked us,

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‘How come she knows so much? The other kids, they don’t know as much as she does.’ I told them about the day care we sent her to.” Back in the preschool room, it is fingerpainting time. The teacher is playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto 22 in E-flat major, and the kids are told to paint to the music. The result is a lyrical wave of lavender paint, full of whimsical wisps and graceful curves. The music is then changed to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (by request of the kids), and they start rhythmically drumming on the canvas, changing it into a chaotic cloud of dark purple. On the other side of the room, a cluster of kids are flipping through a storybook, one little boy is having a private writing lesson, and another is taking a nap on a bed of pillows and fleece blankets. The visitor feels a gentle tug at the back of her shirt and turns around to see a smiling boy wearing a tutu. He proceeds to demonstrate his most dramatic arabesque and reveals with a cute-as-a-button smile that he wants to be a ballet dancer. As the little Billy Elliot glissades away, Rosa still is captivated by her pho-

tos. This time she energetically shows off her flower-shaped name tag and, as a good little interviewee, teaches the visitor how to spell her name: R-O-S-A. Seeing her now, it is hard to believe that she was diagnosed with diabetes when she was only 1 year old. “I knew something was wrong,” Flaco says. “Her eyes were all black on the bottom and you could see her cheekbones. I said, ‘I got to take her to the hospital.’” He looks out the window to the sound of Rosa’s laugh and sees her climbing on the jungle gym. “We almost lost her,” he continues. When Rosa first came to Anna House, the entire staff went to the hospital with the Escobar family to meet with the doctors, to learn about diabetes and about how to administer insulin. Flaco checks the Rosa’s blood sugar every five hours and needs to watch over her while she sleeps to see if she becomes restless, an indicator that her numbers are high. He finally goes to sleep at 3 a.m. and wakes up for work at 4:30. “The doctors check her every four months, and they say she’s doing much better,” Flaco says. “This place has been

Rosa gets her blood sugar level checked before breakfast. Based on her level, Anna House staff prepare the proper amount for her insulin injection.

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Eluz nuzzles her favorite horse, Trackmen’s Star’s,


before mucking his stall.

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so helpful to her. They should children have been picked have something like this evup by their parents. In the erywhere. I don’t know what dimly lit playroom, teacher we would have done if we Jazmin Torres is cleaning up didn’t have Anna House.” and watching over a few napAnna House has been ping kids. Having come to a sanctuary, not only for this country when she was 5, children, but also for one Torres is a backstretch baby Kentucky Derby-winning herself. The niece of trainer trainer. “For the Belmont last Ramon “Mike” Hernandez, year, Chip Woolley [trainer she studied pre-med in colof Derby winner Mine That Flaco drops off Rosa for the day, the red bag containing Rosa’s lege but quickly realized it Bird] was stabled right next medication in hand. was not for her. When Anna door at Carl Domino’s barn,” House had an opening, she Chenkin said. “He would often wind each side of the building,” Chenkin jumped at the chance to be part of it, up hiding here in the playground with said. “We are full to the gills; we cannot and quickly discovered how much she the kids to avoid the media. Here was take any more kids. There are so many loved teaching. this big guy with his cowboy hat and needs to be met, especially with some “I get what the parents are going crutches. We have pictures of him here. of the younger children. I thought by through because we went through He’d go into the classrooms and the kids now all the big racetracks would have it, too. My brother was born here, but got to know him better than I did.” something like this. That was my mis- didn’t have an Anna House to go to. Despite all the families Anna House sion when I took the job; to see that What my brother couldn’t have, at least has helped since it first opened, there happen. But there’s no money out there other kids can have.” are many families still in need. “We’re right now. But we have a lot of good Visit www.belmontchildcare.org to going to be building two extensions people who really care.” learn more about Anna House and how starting in September; one wing on It is 11 a.m., and by now most of the you can help. h

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Photo: Bob Mayberger/Eclipse Sportswire

Lone Star victory Redding Colliery, ridden by Rosie Napravnik and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, wins the 14th running of the grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap for three year olds and up at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, TX, on May 31.

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f u ll stri d e

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bes t d a y

Kent Desormeaux struggles with Big Brown in the 2008 Belmont Stakes. His Triple Crown bid ended in a disastrous last place finish.

Hunch bet pays off big

Winning exacta makes up for Big Brown’s failure to earn Triple Crown

W

By Mary Suffling Keener e had gotten backside to go see the old man, Evening Attire. That was pretty exciting. He is a peppermint junkie. Then we walked around to catch a glimpse of one of the Belmont horses. We talked to some of the Japanese crew after they made the announcement of Casino Drive scratching. All you had to do is take a look at their face to understand the depth of their disappointment. We wanted to talk to Barclay Tagg, but he was busy on the phone. We wandered over to Big Brown’s barn. A reporter from the New York Times interviewed us. That was exciting, getting quoted in the newspaper on Sunday. Then Bobby Frankel came out with his new dog. We chat-

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ted with him briefly. He might not have liked people very well, but he loved that dog. I remember he opened the door and then gently picked up his puppy and put him in the back seat. The look of love he gave that dog is still in my memory. And then hitting the Belmont Stakes exacta paid for my Breeders’ Cup trip later that year. I used to work with a girl named Tara and my friend wouldn’t shut up about Denis of Cork. That’s how I got the exacta. I wanted to see a Triple Crown winner, and was disappointed about that, but I wasn’t disappointed about the $659 exacta. I was chicken and only played for $1, but it still paid for my plane ticket to the Breeders Cup!


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