ELMONT, N.Y. -- Richard Migliore recalled the day he knew he wanted to be a jockey.
It was Oct. 2, 1976, the day when the mighty 6-year-old Forego, carrying 137 pounds, including Bill Shoemaker, ran down the 3-year-old Honest Pleasure under Craig Perret at 119 pounds to win the Grade 1 Marlboro Cup by a head at muddy Belmont Park.
Migliore was 12 years old.
"I announced to everybody who would listen I was going to be a jockey and I was going to go out there and do what those guys were doing," said Migliore, a New York native. "And I got to do it and that's a pretty amazing thing."
On Wednesday, Migliore, 46, had to announce that he won't be able to do it anymore. Following surgery in early May to repair multiple fractured vertebrae, Migliore was told by doctors that he would no longer be able to ride Thoroughbreds. So on Wednesday, before the Belmont Stakes post position draw, an emotional Migliore announced his retirement.
"My career as a jock is over, not by choice," Migliore, wearing a neck brace, said in the Garden Terrace on the fourth floor at Belmont. "In my doctor's office last Wednesday, Dr. [Andrew] Hecht assured me I would never ride another Thoroughbred again."
In a 30-year career, Migliore won 4,450 races, placing him 36th on the all-time win list. His mounts earned $160,205,725. Migliore won 362 stakes including 25 Grade 1 events, the first being the 1984 Meadowlands Cup aboard Wild Again, the last being the Gazelle aboard Flashing last Nov. 28.
On Jan. 23, Migliore was thrown from his mount Honest Wildcat during the stretch run of a race run over Aqueduct's inner track. Initially diagnosed with a concussion by doctors at North Shore University Hospital, Migliore missed two weeks of action before returning to the saddle. He rode regularly through early April, but was riding in considerable pain during the latter part of that time. On March 27, he rode four winners, but needed his son Joseph to drive him to and from the track. His last mount was April 7.
On May 4, Migliore underwent surgery in which he had two plates and eight screws inserted to help fuse the C-4-5-6-7 vertebrae as well as the T-1. Hecht, who diagnosed the vertebrae fracture, told him that athletes who have a level-two fusion have to retire. His fusion was a level four.
"Racing and horses have been so good to me, it's hard to let go," Migliore said. "In my head I knew it had to end sometime. In my heart I wanted it to go on forever."
Never one to hide his emotions, Migliore got choked up when he thanked horsemen for "the opportunities I was given and all the people that let me ride their great horses."
Migliore also paid tribute to his wife, Carmela, and the couple's four children, Joseph, 19, Philip, 15, Luciano, 13, and Gabrielle, 7. The family now lives on a farm in Millbrook, N.Y.
"I have four amazing kids who had to put up with a lot of years with dad not being around on weekends, different sporting events," Migliore said "I missed my oldest son's [high school] graduation because I was out of town riding a stakes."
Migliore thanked Carmela for her unwavering support.
"Her support was always there without question, I never had to ask for it," Migliore said. "She helped me through a lot of times when I thought I couldn't continue. Her strength was my strength."
Migliore began riding in 1980 and the following year he won the Eclipse Award as the nation's leading apprentice. Aside from a two-year stint in Southern California late in his career, Migliore spent the bulk of his time in New York, where he was twice the leading rider (1981 and 1985) and won 10 meet titles at Aqueduct.
"I am proud of the fact that I always rode with the best, for the best, on the best," Migliore said. "My numbers were all in the big leagues, and I am proud of that fact. I don't take that lightly."
What helped Migliore stand apart from his colleagues was his fervent desire to come out in the morning to get on horses. Trainer John Kimmel, for whom Migliore rode 291 winners including in 42 stakes, called Migliore's morning work an "integral part" of his success in the late 1990s. Kimmel was New York's leading trainer in 1999 with 71 wins and he won six meet titles from 1998-2000.
"He was such a help to me as far as getting a line on the horses we were breezing, what was the next step or where we were going to go," Kimmel said. "Richie started galloping horses when he was probably 15 years old. He knew how to gallop a horse, he knew how to assess a horse, he knew a lot of things sometimes a trainer can't pick up standing on the ground."
Migliore was also influential in the jockeys' room. John Velazquez, who has been riding in New York since the early 1990s, credited him with getting him through a "rough patch" early in his career.
"In 1992 I was coming back from injury, trying to get back, and he would be the guy I would talk to," Velazquez said. "I remember that like it was yesterday. He would help me out and pick me up at least to come back and keep working hard. He was really good for me."
Migliore said he wasn't sure what his future held, but that he wanted it to revolve around horses in some capacity. An eloquent speaker, he could have a future as a racing analyst on television.
"I have to feel better before I can make those decisions," he said. "I love horses and I love racing; I can't be too far away from it."