The Bailey-Belmont Brouhaha rages on.
Whether Jerry Bailey’s early move on Eddington down the backstretch that pressured Smarty Jones in the mile and a half Belmont Stakes cost the 3-10 favorite the Triple Crown will remain a question for the ages.
Bailey went on record and denied that last week, stating in my column he did nothing in his ride aboard Eddington to intentionally compromise the chances of Smarty Jones and his jockey, Stewart Elliott, who were beaten a length by 36-1 outsider Birdstone’s late surge in deep stretch.
Still, a majority disagree with Bailey, a seven-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top rider and a member of racing’s Hall of Fame.
"I’d like to know what the instructions were for Eddington, because I thought Stewart did a great job getting in and around the first turn," said one of Bailey’s peers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "They were going slow enough; everything was under control and Stewart was stalking the pace three-wide on the outside. The horse that pressed him down the backside (Eddington) is a horse that was inside of him, took back, positioned himself on the outside and then gunned for him down the backside.
"Those kind of tactics absolutely can hurt a horse (in this instance, Smarty Jones). I think Jerry Bailey got him beat. Stewart was in a position where he had to do what he did. There’s nothing else he could have done. When you’ve got somebody on your outside and he’s smooching at his horse and riding him hard at the six-furlong marker down the backside, your horse is going to press on, so it’s your job to get him to relax. Stewart’s thought was, ”˜If I just clear him, my horse will relax.’ Bailey’s horse already couldn’t keep up at that point, so he was pressing.
"Did Bailey do it on purpose? Put it this way: If I had a well-bred horse that was capable of getting black type in the Belmont Stakes, would I want my jockey riding to get black type or riding to get another horse beat? That’s the way I saw it. Elliott wasn’t in the driver’s seat once they straightened down the backside. I thought he rode a perfect race into the backside and then he did what he had to do to try and win from there. I thought he did the right thing."
In general, fans and horsemen point to jocks as the primary scapegoats when a horse loses.
"Absolutely a rider can cost a horse a race, either his or another one in the race," said trainer Jim Cassidy. "Take a look at Spectacular Bid in the (1979) Belmont and see what happened. Whether Bailey did or didn’t (compromise Smarty Jones’ chances) is immaterial.
"The fact that he was where he was (entering the backstretch), trying to cause Elliott to make a decision to go or not to go is important here. If Elliott doesn’t go, tries to play it smart and gets beat, he’d be criticized for not going. But he did go at that point and it was a little too early and it cost him."
Even the best laid plans often go awry.
"I ran a horse last week in the Bay Meadows Oaks," Cassidy said. "I told (jockey Chance) Rollins, ”˜There’s one horse in here with speed, let her go.’ Well, he decided to go with her and they went the first quarter in :222/5 going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf course. That’s insane. I wound up second but I knew I was beat after the first quarter."
If any jockey can commiserate with Elliott, it’s Kent Desormeaux, because the recent electee to racing’s Hall of Fame also missed winning the Triple Crown by losing the Belmont when Real Quiet surrendered a five-length lead in the stretch to fall by a nose to Victory Gallop in 1998. Desormeaux has few regrets.
"I sleep very well at night knowing that if I had to do it the first time all over again, I would do it exactly the same way," the 34-year-old Louisiana native said. "In hindsight, yeah, I would do some things different. For everyone who says I should have waited, I think I should have let him run. I would have been 30 (lengths) in front, but he was pulling and dragging me out of the saddle around the last turn and I made him wait. And I think I discouraged him. He wanted to get into a freer gallop and I strangle-held him. I think I should have let him go."
. . . Agent Tom Knust, fired by jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. towards the end of the Santa Anita meet, still is looking for a new rider, as is Jim Pegram, who was given the pink slip by David Flores after a long and successful relationship.
. . . And with coach Phil Jackson gone and players soon to follow, it looks like an era is over in the NBA for the Los Angeles Slackers.