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‘THE MIG’ AND HIS ‘MAGIC’ MOUNT
Published:May 16, 2014
There are few gaps on Richard Migliore’s riding resume that includes nearly 4,500 wins, more than $160 million in purse earnings, dozens of graded stakes, an Eclipse Award, a Breeders’ Cup victory and more serious injuries than he cares to count.
Migliore, who celebrated his 50thbirthday in mid-March, won more than a dozen stakes in Maryland, including the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie in 1997, the Grade 2 General George in 1998, two editions of the Federico Tesio (1987, 2002) and the Maryland Million Nursery (1994) and Distaff (2002). He also captured the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan in 2001 on Two Item Limit, trained by Stephen DiMauro Jr.
Twenty-one years earlier, Migliore made his first trip to Pimlico as an exercise rider for DiMauro’s father with a filly named Island Charm, who ran fourth in the Black-Eyed Susan.
Despite all his success, Migliore never won a Triple Crown race. But, he never came closer than on a cloudy Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course.
In 2002, Migliore had the mount on the Maryland-bred and based Magic Weisner, bred, owned and trained by the late Nancy Alberts. The bay gelding had won five straight straight races, four of them stakes, and was second in the Federico Tesio heading into the Preakness.
Magic Weisner drew post two in a field of 13 and was 40-1 on the morning line, but floated up to 45-1 by post time. Migliore had him near the back of the field through a half-mile as Menacing Dennis set the pace, followed closely by Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem.
“I let him drop back and just find his stride. I didn’t take him back, and I didn’t ask him to run early,” Migliore said. “He was a big long shot, and I really had it in my head that if I ride him just right, save ground, take my time and finish, then I can get a piece of it. It’s a big-money race, and it’s important to everybody that you get a check.
“About the half-mile pole, he really started leaning on me and giving me that confident feeling. I was thinking, ‘Wow, I could get a good piece of this.’ Coming to the quarter pole, I eased him out to the clear and he got to running. I went from thinking ‘I’m going to be third’ to ‘I’m going to be second’ to ‘I’m gonna win this whole thing!’”
War Emblem had taken the lead at the top of the stretch with Proud Citizen his closest pursuer. Magic Weisner still had 6 ½ lengths to make up at that point, but sailed past beaten Kentucky Derby favorite Harlan’s Holiday and set his sights on the leaders. Despite racing on his left lead, they gained ground with every stride and wound up second, three-quarters of a length behind War Emblem.
“To be honest with you, if Mike Smith on Proud Citizen didn’t lean on War Emblem, I think I would have nailed War Emblem because I was out away from them and he didn’t see me coming,” Migliore said. “When the other horse leaned on him he did more, and he spurted away from him and I just missed catching him. If he hadn’t gone right on top of him, I think I would have surprised him.
“My horse was so tired and all in, he didn’t even gallop out. Within a hundred yards, he was pulled up after the wire and walked back with his head between his legs. He ran on just pure heart because he was empty, and he almost won it. He was a nice little horse, and Nancy Alberts was a local woman who did well here for years and everybody really cared for her.”
Magic Weisner went on to win the Grade 2 Ohio Derby and run second in both the Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational. He finished his career running sixth in an optional claiming allowance at Laurel Park in July 2003.
“We almost pulled it off,” Migliore said. “I remember getting in the car to go to the airport and my phone was blowing up with text messages and voicemails, everybody congratulating me for finishing second. Honestly, I was a little down because we came that close to winning it. He ran his best, and that’s all you can ask.”
Is there a Magic Weisner in Saturday’s field? Migliore sees at least one scenario where Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, the 3-5 program favorite, could be vulnerable.
“It’s California Chrome’s race to win or lose. I think he’s the most talented colt, barring anything unforeseen or bad racing luck. He’s supposed to win the race,” Migliore said. “There’s a ton of speed in there. If he gets caught up into the teeth of a hot pace, it sets up for a horse like Kid Cruz who, honestly, reminds me a lot of the Magic Weisner factor. If Julien Pimentel rides him to get a check, and then hopes other guys make mistakes and get involved too early or they have bad luck, then maybe he can get the big check.”