A trio of races was added to the Breeders’ Cup World
Championships in 2008. Among them was the Turf Sprint, a dash to be held on the
unique downhill turf course at Santa Anita Park. The race posed as rather unknown
territory for many bettors and fans, but with a purse of $1 million and a full
field of fourteen, it was certain to be a thrilling event.
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
Favoritism landed on the Irish-bred filly Fleeting Spirit, but even she loaded
into the starting gate at lukewarm odds of 4-1. Of the fourteen Thoroughbreds
in the race, nine were sent off at double-digit odds. Among those nine was
A chestnut whose coat gleamed like copper, Desert Code was a multiple graded
stakes winner who had earned more than $380,000. He’d raced five times over
Santa Anita’s downhill turf course in the past, winning three of those starts,
including a graded stakes. In fact, he was one of only four horses in the
inaugural Turf Sprint that had ever raced over the unique course and the only
one that had ever won more than twice over it. Despite this, he was sent off as
the longest shot on the board at odds of 36-1.
Sitting aboard Desert Code in the starting gate was one of the few people that
had faith in the horse: Richard Migliore. “The Mig” had been riding in races
since 1980. He’d earned the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey in
1981, won numerous grade one races, and had captured more than 4,000 victories.
But he’d never ridden to victory in a Breeders’ Cup race.
Migliore’s career had been plagued by major injuries, including a near-fatal
neck injury in 1988, a serious fracture to his right arm in 1999, a broken
wrist, ribs, and pelvis that he rode through in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup, and
numerous other injuries. But through these injuries, The Mig maintained his outstanding
sportsmanship, citizenship, and determination, earning numerous awards for
these qualities throughout his career, including the Eddie Arcaro Award, Mike
Venezia Memorial Award, and the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.
Migliore continued to persevere, but it seemed as if a Breeders’ Cup triumph
would forever elude him. This particularly seemed true when an untimely injury
prevented him from riding Artie Schiller in the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr.
I), a race the horse would go on to win with Garrett Gomez aboard. As Migliore’s
injuries amassed and he grew older, fewer trainers were willing to put him
aboard their mounts, especially elite horses. But The Mig had not lost his fortitude.
He was placed aboard Desert Code for the inaugural Turf Sprint, riding the
horse with which he had previously conquered a pair of graded stakes for the first time in
nearly four months. Together, the pair went to post for the Turf Sprint,
dismissed by bettors as has-beens. But Migliore and Desert Code were determined
to prove everyone wrong.
Migliore allowed Desert Code to relax near the rear of the field as
breathtakingly fast fractions were set up front by Mr. Nightlinger and
California Flag. Migliore did not begin to ask his mount to accelerate until
the horses crossed the strip of main track that intersects the turf course,
using his experience of riding at Santa Anita to his advantage as he set his
sights on the front. The jockey knew he had plenty of horse beneath him, but
was it enough to win?
A wall of horses formed before him down the lane, but skillfully, Migliore guided
Desert Code through traffic, finding room to run. Desert Code found another
gear, accelerating with style. Utilizing every ounce of strength he had, Migliore
rode his horse to the wire, piloting Desert Code to the front as the red horse
surpassed Diabolical at the last second to achieve victory.
At last, Migliore had attained the accomplishment that had evaded him throughout his career. He had
captured a Breeders’ Cup race, persisting through his injuries and hardships to
finally ride to victory at the championship event. Teaming up with an underdog
in Desert Code, Migliore had proven doubters wrong, finally achieving one of
his sought-after dreams. Despite the overwhelming amount of adversity he had
faced, The Mig had overcome it all to find glory on one of the biggest days in
racing – a day that he will surely never forget.