It's like combining a Rolls Royce and a Mercedes when the rest of the world is represented by Dodge Darts. Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey have dominated their respective professions in the new century, and the dynamic duo hook up again Saturday with--and this is no surprise--the overwhelming favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.
When Frankel gives Bailey a leg up on Empire Maker minutes before the 129th running of America's signature race, the trainer won't need to supply much in the way of direction. And that's the way he likes it. Each prepares meticulously for the task at hand.
"He does his homework," Frankel said of Bailey this week. "When you tell him something he doesn't forget it. He knows the other jockeys and horses. He's well prepared. I've seen jockeys come out to the paddock and they don't know what horse they're riding."
Going into the weekend action at Churchill Downs, Bailey and Frankel have teamed up in 145 races, going back to 1977. They have shown up in the winner's circle a whopping 55 times, or 38%. Other positive signs: their win percentage in graded stakes is 39%. In all dirt races, 43%. In races of a mile or longer, 39%. And with the race favorite, 44%. All of the above apply, of course, to Empire Maker in the Derby.
Although Frankel has a reputation for going through riders like Anna Nicole Smith goes through potato chips, he and Bailey have hung tough for several years now. Before he began using the rider steadily, Frankel said he had heard the stories of Bailey getting angry after races. "He hasn't gotten mad at me yet," the trainer said with a smile.
And why would he? For 2003, the combination is hitting at 56%, 10 wins from 18 starts. They have won graded stakes already this year with Empire Maker, Medaglia d'Oro, Midas Eyes, Sea of Showers, and Lilac Queen. Last year they joined up for grade I wins with You, Beat Hollow, and Medaglia d'Oro, and other graded wins with Sightseek, Tates Creek, Chiselling, and Shibboleth.
In 2001, Bailey rode Frankel's first Breeders' Cup winner, Squirtle Squirt, in the Penske Auto Center Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). Other grade I winners that year for the pair were Aptitude, Lido Palace, and Flute. This run of prestigious victories began in 2000 when Chester House took the Arlington Million (gr. I) for Frankel under Bailey. Before that, Frankel was content to use a combination of West Coast-based riders like Kent Desormeaux and Alex Solis.
Besides winning, Frankel and Bailey have several things in common. They appear together in commercials for Daily Racing Form. More importantly, they are intelligent students of the game who study. Frankel knows exactly in which races he wants to place his horses, and Bailey takes it from there, planning where to place those horses once the race begins. The results of these preparations speak for themselves. Bailey has won three consecutive, and six of the last eight Eclipse Awards for journeymen. Frankel is on his own three-year Eclipse win streak, and owns four overall.
If Empire Maker makes good as the favorite in the Derby and beyond, look for Frankel and Bailey to continue winning races and hardware for the foreseeable future.