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Bailey takes mostly good
with bad as best jockey

Feb 3, 2004 6:04 AM

Jerry Bailey had two nightmare days at Santa Anita on Jan. 24 and 25.

The Hall of Fame jockey rode in 11 races, lost them all, including six with favorites, two of them odds-on. With apologies to the late actor Ray Milland, call it Bailey’s "Lost Weekend."

He got so frazzled as the string of losses continued, at one point the usually unflappable Bailey lost it when a reporter approached him for a post-race comment on one of the beaten favorites. "You’re a jinx!" he barked. "Get away from me."

Later, Bailey apologized. But it shows that presented with conditions adverse enough, even a jockey whose mounts won more than $23.3 million last year, 70 stakes races, 26 of them Grade I’s, a record seventh Eclipse Award and his fourth in a row last Monday as the nation’s best in his profession, has a breaking point.

But it rarely surfaces. For the most part, Bailey exudes class and consideration. On the way back to the jockeys’ room after one ride, Bailey was stopped three times by autograph seekers. "No problem," he said each time, signing his name readily.

A jockey doesn’t accomplish what Bailey has without a full repertoire. That’s why the nation’s leading trainers, Bobby Frankel and Bob Baffert, clamor for his services. It’s an exception when Bailey doesn’t have his horse in a position to win. It’s also an exception when he has his horse in an inextricable spot. And the occasions he rides more like Beetle Bailey than Jerry Bailey, as he did recently, can be counted on one hand

"He’s a no-nonsense kind of jockey," Baffert said of the 46-year-old Dallas native, who resides in Florida with his wife, Suzee, and their son, Justin. "He does his homework. Before he gets on a horse he knows what it’s capable of and what it’s not. He tries to put the horse in a position to win and he’s very competitive. He thinks about the money that’s on the line for the connections of the horse and tries not to make foolish moves.

"The thing about Bailey is, all he rides are good horses. His agent (Las Vegas native Ron Anderson) does a great job for him, but when you ride nothing but the best horses, you get this certain confidence and that confidence transmits to the horse, so the horse and rider feel they’re good enough to win. Bailey doesn’t test-drive his horses. He doesn’t ask for a run down the backside. He figures if the horse has it, he has it."

But Bailey is not a one-trick pony rider.

"He knows the competition, too," Baffert said. "He knows who he has to beat. He’s a very competitive guy but he’s a very smart rider. He keeps his cool; he’s not emotional. I like riders who don’t show off when they win, don’t celebrate after they hit the wire. I like a guy like Bailey who shows very little emotion whether he wins or loses. The guys who go nuts after they win, the horses can feel that emotion during the race and I think it detracts from their effort. Bailey is just one of these guys who stays cool the whole way. He’s very confident, very cocky, and I like that."

Great jockeys, like Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Eddie Delahoussaye, rode successfully at the highest echelon into their 50s, but Bailey may opt to bail out well before he hits the Big Five-Oh.

"He’s going to be missed when he retires," Baffert said of Bailey, who was elected to racing’s Hall of Fame in 1985 and who says any year after this could be his last. "I always feel very confident when I have him on a horse."

Baffert was justifiably confident when he gave Bailey a leg up on Congaree, the 2-5 favorite, in Saturday’s San Antonio Handicap. But the son of Arazi staggered home an uncharacteristic fourth and last, beaten more than eight lengths. Baffert had no excuses, offering that Bailey just "didn’t have any horse."

Baffert admits there is one drawback to riding Bailey.

"If the horse loses," Baffert said, "you can’t blame the jockey. You’ve got to take the heat for it."

THE HOMESTRETCH: At press time, nearly two weeks had passed and suspended jockey Pat Valenzuela and the Santa Anita stewards still hadn’t made contact with one another, despite efforts by the stewards. On Jan. 23 they suspended the conditional license granted the 41-year-old rider two years ago because he failed to show for a required drug test after calling in on Jan. 22 saying he twisted an ankle and couldn’t ride. While Valenzuela has battled substance abuse throughout his career, when the other shoe drops in this latest episode, don’t be surprised to learn that he is battling major domestic problems.

"Through a mutual friend I have been told that he is OK," Valenzuela’s new agent, Corey Black, told me. "His (possible) reinstatement runs a distant second to his health and well-being right now as far as I’m concerned."

Likewise from Patrick’s many fans and supporters.

. . . After being sidelined nearly two months from injuries in a spill at Hollywood Park on Dec. 12, Julie Krone is expected to resume riding in time to pilot undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Halfbridled in the Feb. 15 Las Virgenes Stakes showdown at Santa Anita against another unbeaten filly, A.P. Adventure.