Bailey rides off into sunset after a ‘model’ career

Jan 31, 2006 6:27 AM

Eddie Arcaro was "The Master." Johnny Longden was "The Pumper." Bill Shoemaker was "The Shoe." Laffit Pincay was "The Pirate."

Jerry Bailey had no nickname, but he could have been called "The Model."

When it comes to jockeys who transcend the annals of racing, those five deserve top billing. Racing’s milestones can be marked by the mere mention of their names. Others may have won more races, set more records or earned more money, but those five will forever remain icons. Arcaro, Longden, Shoemaker and Pincay were the greatest of their generation.

Then came Bailey.

Bailey represented a composite of all that was good in any rider whoever sat on a horse. Others were an appetizer; Bailey was the entree.

The standard he established over a career of 31 years that left little to accomplish ended Saturday, when Bailey rode off into the sunset for the last time. After his final ride, aboard Silver Tree in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park, where Bailey finished second by three-quarters of a length on the 9-10 favorite, the 48-year-old Texan called it a career. And what a career it was.

He won the Kentucky Derby twice, a record 15 Breeders’ Cup races including the Classic five times, rode Cigar in the last 15 races of his 16-race winning streak in 1995 and 1996, and earned a record seven Eclipse Awards as outstanding jockey.

In short, he achieved all anyone could do on horseback this side of John Wayne and now will offer his well-turned elocution as analyst for racing viewers of ABC and ESPN television.

Like nearly every Bailey journey, he probably won’t find a straw in his path in making the transition. Joining those with mixed emotions, understandably, is Ron Anderson, a Las Vegas native who has been Bailey’s trusted agent for nearly six years.

"We’re not only losing an icon of a rider, but a well-respected spokesperson and visionary for all of racing," said the 51-year-old Anderson, who represented Gary Stevens and the late Chris Antley, among others, during his long run at the top. "Owners listen to him, trainers listen to him and obviously he’s a leader of the riders. It’s a huge loss, but I’m happy for him that he’s come to this point. He deserves the stature he’s achieved and he deserves to go out on top."

Anderson joined Bailey after his record run with Cigar in the mid 1990s, leaving Southern California for the East Coast, where Bailey had his home and riding headquarters.

"I came on board in 2000 at Keeneland," Anderson said. "During our affiliation he was the Eclipse Award winner in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and probably would have won it in 2004 if he hadn’t broken his wrist falling off that ladder (attempting to repair a window at his Florida home that had suffered hurricane damage). Let’s face it; he’s probably the Michael Jordan of riders the last few years."

While Bailey often was on the best horse, during a race he rarely made a mistake in judgment and had an unerring knack of gaining an advantageous position early on.

"He was always in the right place and always really well-prepared for situations that came up," Anderson said. "Billy Mott (the Hall of Fame trainer who conditioned Cigar and gave Bailey a leg up on his final mount, Silver Tree) told me that he never gave Jerry any instructions, because when Jerry went to the paddock, he had three or four scenarios already worked out, depending on how the race unfolded."

There are those who consider jockey agents one cut above lawyers when it comes to reputation and image, but it should be known that most agents work hard, do their homework and require elephant-thick skin to deflect the rejection that is indigenous to the territory. Anderson, however, had a virtual free pass in the latter category. It was Economics 101, basic supply and demand.

"I had Stevens for 9½ years, Antley for about four years, off and on, and before that Fernando Toro for 10 years," Anderson said. "Gary, Chris and Jerry made things easy for a guy like me, even though I do a good job. But basically, you just had to keep them on horses that had a chance. Jerry was a very easy sell. Horsemen all over the world wanted him. The phone was ringing all the time."

As for Ron Anderson, at the moment he’s not about to become racing’s Col. Tom Parker seeking a riding Elvis.

"I’m just going to wait until the proper situation comes along that fits me," Anderson said. "I’m not going to jump into anything. I waited after Gary retired the first time (December of 2000) and three months later I ended up with Jerry. The position that I want might not come open overnight, so I’m just going to wait."

But not Bailey. He’s moving on to a new career after riding for more than three decades without a nickname.

He was just Jerry Bailey.

And that said it all.

THE HOMESTRETCH:

”¡ For the good of racing, Mike Mitchell cast aside his personal preference when asked if he thought Hollywood Park would be closed within three years as expected.

"I hope not," said the 57-year-old trainer who has made the 60-year-old Inglewood track his headquarters for many years. "I’m based there, but if Los Alamitos is converted for thoroughbred racing and a new turf course is installed there, it would draw a whole new crowd of people and it could be a shot in the arm for racing. But I like Hollywood Park; I’ve always trained there. On the other hand, if Hollywood closes, I think we need something more than Santa Anita and Del Mar, that’s for sure."

Mitchell, winner of more than a dozen training titles, is winning as usual at Santa Anita but says he’ll fire his best shots in February and March.

”¡ Have you tried the new fast-food item that can’t quite be bitten through, Chicken McLigaments?

”¡ And I really find it remarkable that the Senate confirmed Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court. It must have overlooked the fact that he once muffled a belch in the privacy of his home.