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Jan 19, 2006

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


The saying is "all good things must come to an end", well in this case all "Great" things must come to an end when talking about Jerry Bailey. Bailey has announced that he will retire after riding in the Sunshine Millions at Gulfstream Park on January 28th. This announcement was not a huge surprise as it was speculated for a long time that Bailey was considering retiring although he never gave an exact date or time. Bailey had not taken as many mounts over the last few years as he had done in the past which precipitated the retirement talk. Although Bailey was still a top rider even though he didn’t take as many mounts, he wasn’t the leading rider anymore. Maybe he didn’t want to be; he had accomplished so much in his 31 year career that it just didn’t mean as much to be the leading rider at each meeting. Bailey was the New York Yankees of the racing world for so many years from the early 90’s into and beyond the year 2000. He was the best rider in the country everyone knew it, every trainer wanted him on their horse, every trainer who had an up and coming horse came looking for Bailey, he was the one to get you over the top.

Bailey, 48 began riding in New York on a full time basis in 1982 and faced off against the best riders of his time. From Cordero, to Jorge Velasquez to Jacinto Vasquez, Bailey rode against the best and when these riders stopped riding Bailey was there to take over. He was and will be the measuring stick for the great jockeys of today. They will always be compared to Bailey whose career really started to hit its peak in the early 1990’s. His mounts exceeded the $10 million mark for the first time in 1991. He won seven Eclipse awards and he has 15 Breeders’ Cup wins, which leads all riders. He has five wins in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the most prestigious race in North America besides the Kentucky Derby. He won the Kentucky Derby two times aboard SEA HERO in 1993 and GRINDSTONE in 1996.

Although he has ridden so many great horses throughout his career he will be remembered most for riding the great CIGAR. He was aboard CIGAR for his record tying 16th straight victory in the Arlington Citation Challenge in 1996 when he was horse of the year. With the retirement of Jerry Bailey, John Velazquez will take over the best jockey in town with Edgar Prado hot on his heels. In addition to his great physical skills Bailey will be considered one of the smartest if not the smartest jockey around. Very rarely would Bailey make a mental error and most times he was a few steps ahead of everyone else and he would force others into making mistakes. The great Sport of Kings will miss Jerry Bailey and his tremendous skill on the racetrack but he is expected to work for ESPN as an analyst and he can continue his love for the game. Bailey always felt that horse racing never marketed their human stars correctly, maybe Bailey can help that cause with his work at ESPN, the new host of the Breeders’ Cup Races in 2006.

In other news the newly built Gulfstream Park that cost upwards of $171 million has not been getting the greatest reviews. Yes the track is nice to look at but in terms of being a track for those who love the sport of horse racing it is not a great facility. There have been critics who said that the paddock is not a great paddock to look at the horses and is more for show than a place to look at the horses. There have been complaints about the outside seating; there are only about 900 seats which are obviously not enough to accommodate a big crowd. The weather in Florida is the big attraction, the reason why the big time jockeys, trainers, and horses ship South for the winter. To not have an area outside to enjoy that weather wasn’t the smartest decision. The track will have slots machines in the future which will help with the revenue and obviously increase purses but the track was made more in a Las Vegas style as opposed to going out and enjoying a day at the races. Tracks like Saratoga, Belmont, and Monmouth Park have great atmospheres in addition to great racing. Whatever happens with NYRA and whoever is running the track let us hope that they never take that away from us, the races, seeing the horses run down the stretch and not being stuck in a room watching them on television.



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