Down the backstretch and into the last turn, sailing along at
almost 40 knots and with five tons of horses breathing fire
around him, Jerry Bailey found himself in a familiar corner--all
dressed up, in colored silks, with no place to go. It was Aug.
26, in the $200,000 Fourstardave Handicap on the turf at
Saratoga Race Course, and the world's greatest jockey was
clipping along the hedge on the 6-5 favorite, Hap, looking
hopelessly trapped in seventh place as the field formed a wall
around his mount, leaving him no room to run, no sunlight
between all those flying shadows.
The poles flashed by, furlong by furlong. Bailey sat. Chalk
players scrambled to the apron fence, shouting for Bailey to get
free as the field thundered out of the turn. Bailey waited.
Jockey Richard Migliore, trailing Hap on his mount, Altibr, had
watched this scene unfold a hundred times. Over a 26-year career
Bailey has always ridden patiently, Migliore says, sitting chilly
when things got tight, but in the last two years he has seen in
Bailey a coolness under fire that has raised his game to a new
level. "A confidence," Migliore says, "that is unparalleled."
So there Bailey was, saving ground as he hugged the rail, with
three horses fanned out in front of him on the lead, another
beast directly behind them on the hedge, with Bailey tracking
him, and two more just outside. Hap was raring to run. Migliore
was wondering whether he should swing outside through traffic or
sit tight behind Bailey, hoping that the rail would open. "Nine
out of 10 times you can count on a hole opening, especially late
in a race," says Bailey. "Horses get tired and they drift."
Migliore had no such confidence as the field raced for home. He
was looking at Bailey and thinking, He's the favorite and I want
to follow him, but there's no way he's going to get through!
So Migliore swung outside, and he had just started his charge
when he glanced left in astonishment. The two horses directly in
front of Hap had drifted off the hedge; quick as the pop of
Bailey's whip, Hap dived for the hole before it could close,
shooting the gap and grabbing the lead as he raced for the eighth
pole. Migliore saw Bailey pulling away and screamed, "Oh,
nooooo!" Having saved all that ground, Hap beat Altibr by
three-quarters of a length. "A brilliant ride," recalls Hap's
trainer, Bill Mott, for whom Bailey was the regular rider of the
mighty Cigar. "He gets himself in the best position he can, then
waits for things to develop."
At 43, on the eve of Saturday's Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs,
where he is expected to whisper to eight horses on the richest
day of racing in the U.S., Jerry Dale Bailey has so excelled in
the art of riding that for many longtime racing observers he has
conjured up memories of the master himself, Eddie Arcaro,
America's dominant jockey 50 years ago. "Bailey is the best rider
we have had in this country since Arcaro," says Joe Hirsch, the
dean of American turf writers, who has been at the Daily Racing
Form since 1948. "He has the skill, the strength and the
intelligence of Arcaro."
As Heady Eddie commanded the sport in the 1940s, so did Bailey
rise to the summit through the '90s: smart and analytical, cool
and professional. This was Bailey's decade--it all began, not
coincidentally, just after he came to terms with his alcoholism
and quit drinking--and, in the course of those 10 years, he won
three Eclipse Awards as America's leading rider; four runnings
of the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, America's richest race;
four straight money-winning titles (1995 through '98), including
a record $19.5 million in '96; two runnings of the world's
richest race, the $4 million Dubai World Cup in the United Arab
Emirates; all but the first of Cigar's 16 straight victories;
and four Triple Crown races, including two Kentucky Derbys, on
Sea Hero ('93) and Grindstone ('96). In the latter he fashioned
one of the greatest rides in the 126-year history of the race,
getting up in the final jump to win by a whisker.
"He had to make 10 or 15 decisions in that race, and he made
every one of them right," recalls D. Wayne Lukas, Grindstone's
trainer. "Angling, moving, sitting, waiting, going when the
pockets opened. I don't think I ever saw anybody as determined to
get there, absolutely on his belly the last eighth. There's no
question--and I'll take this belief to my grave--that Grindstone
was not going to win the Derby with anybody but Jerry Bailey on
him that day."
Bailey grew up in El Paso, the son of a prosperous dentist, James
Bailey, who owned a small stable of claimers that he raced at
Sunland Park. Although Jerry started mucking stalls when he was
12, the thought of riding for a living never entered his mind
until, limited by his size, he finally gave up hope of playing
the games he really loved. "Football, I was too small," says
Bailey, now 5'5" and 112 pounds. "I was the team manager.
Basketball, I was too short; team manager again. Track, too
Intensely competitive, he won a place on the high school
wrestling team--he was a division champion at 112 pounds for
Coronado High--and even considered riding in the rodeo. His good
sense prevailed, however, and he turned to the one sport in which
his size was as much an asset as his athleticism. He was off to
the races, learning how to ride in the rough-and-tumble world of
state fairs and small tracks. His mother, Betty, while dying of
breast cancer, had asked him to attend college. Dutifully, he
enrolled at Texas Western (now UTEP) to study accounting.
"Numbers always fascinated me," he says, but he had grown used to
the wind in his face, and he dropped out after a semester in the
fall of 1975, a few months after his mother died.
"It's tough being out on your own, riding horses, and then going
back to a confined environment like college," says Bailey.
In the early years Bailey's competence was apparent wherever he
rode--Chicago, Florida, the New Jersey circuit--and when he finally
landed in New York, in 1982, he caught on quickly. He rode the
leading 2-year-old colt in New York that year, Copelan, and began
riding for Mack Miller, the trainer for philanthropist Paul
Mellon's Rokeby Stable. He got the ride on Mellon's Fit To Fight,
winning the Jerome Handicap with him as a 3-year-old in '82, and
two years later rode him to the New York handicap Triple Crown
(the Met Mile and the Brooklyn and Suburban handicaps).
Earlier that year he had won the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah on
Ogden Mills Phipps's Time For A Change--Bailey was riding on and
for the most prominent blue bloods, equine and human, in the
sport--and there he was interviewed by an attractive New York
sportscaster, Suzee Chulick. (She was also a TV commercial
actress: "I was the Diet Sprite girl.") They were engaged four
months later and married in 1985.
Two issues dominated the early years of their marriage:
"Alcoholism and infertility," Suzee says. Try as they might, she
could not get pregnant. As for her husband's drinking, she was in
denial, always finding other explanations for his ill temper and
angry outbursts. "There were these mood changes," says Suzee,
"and I'd find all these excuses for them. It got worse and
worse--never to the level of physical abuse, but there was verbal
abuse. I couldn't live with it."
In 1986, Jerry's drinking led to his lowest day at the racetrack,
when Mellon told Miller to let Bailey go after the jockey had
gotten two winning Rokeby horses disqualified in stakes within a
month for interference. The DQs resulted from what Bailey now
calls his "poor judgment."
Firing Bailey was not easy for Miller. "I loved him like a son,"
says Miller, who would rehire Bailey in 1988.
The "bad judgment" cost Bailey more than just a couple of purses.
In various spills from 1984 through '86 he suffered 15 broken
ribs, a punctured lung, a broken collarbone and three cracked
vertebrae. He was stitched up enough to make him look like a
railroad map. "You don't have to be drunk on a horse for your
judgment to be impaired," says Bailey. "I think your reaction
time is much slower [when you're a drinker]."
By 1988, though he never stopped riding, Bailey's life had become
unmanageable. He was drinking, Suzee says, "pretty much around
"The only time I drank was when I was alone or with somebody," he
says. "It affected my attitude more than anything."
Around Christmas of '88, Suzee threatened to leave him. She
called a friend with experience in counseling alcoholics; he came
over. "I need help," Jerry told him, weeping. "I want to stop. I
just don't know how!"
Bailey, then 31, was finally ready for treatment. He entered
outpatient care, and on Jan. 1, 1989, he quit for good. "I
haven't had a drink since," he says. "It was like a 100-pound
sack lifted off my back. From the time I put it down, I never
really wanted it again."
So Bailey, as a husband and rider, has had two lives. Not only
did Suzee stay with him, but in late 1992--nine months after
doctors implanted four of her fertilized eggs into one of her
fallopian tubes--Suzee gave birth to Justin Daniel Bailey. In the
spring of '93, Miller lifted Bailey aboard Mellon's Sea Hero at
Churchill Downs. With the owner watching from his clubhouse box,
Bailey came roaring through the stretch to win his first Derby.
The next year he was on Cigar.
Whatever he had achieved in those besotted '80s paled in
comparison to his accomplishments in the sober '90s, when he
became a world-class jockey: a serious student of pace, form,
track biases and the habits of other riders. If Bailey has an
edge, it is that he sees deeper into a race than others before it
is run and, like a chess master, knows where he must be to win.
Intelligence, not athleticism, has been his lodestar.
In May he won his fifth Triple Crown race, riding Red Bullet to
victory over overwhelming favorite Fusaichi Pegasus in the
Preakness. Heading into the Breeders' Cup he leads in his bid to
win his fifth money title in the past six years.
On June 1, when British-based jockey Frankie Dettori broke an
ankle in a plane crash, the regally bred Dubai Millennium, who
three months earlier had won the Dubai World Cup, was without a
rider three weeks before the Prince of Wales Stakes. Any jockey
would have leaped to ride him. The colt's owner, Sheikh Mohammed
bin Rashid al Maktoum, whose Godolphin Stable is the largest and
most ambitious racing operation in the world, called Bailey.
In front of Suzee and Justin--as well as Queen Elizabeth II and
members of the royal family--Dubai Millennium blew by the Aga
Khan's favored Sendawar just before the final turn and galloped
home to win by eight lengths. The dentist's kid beamed as he rode
into the winner's circle. Asked why the sheikh had passed over
all the other British and European riders, the Godolphin racing
manager, Simon Crisford, said, "On occasions like this, you go to
The journey has not always been easy, nor is it over, but this is
where it has brought Bailey: alone in his zone, waiting patiently
to make his next move.