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Past the Grandstand

Breeders' Cup Flashback: Desert Code

Desert Code 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire
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.

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 Desert Code.

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.


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Older Comments about Breeders' Cup Flashback: Desert Code...

Persistence pays off. The Mig will be the first to attest to that. It's almost unbelievable that Desert Code went off at those odds given his success over the course.
Gotta love The Mig!

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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and has interned at WinStar Farm with a marketing focus - with projects involving photography, videography, giving tours, data entry, etc. 

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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