Jerry Bailey, 48, North America's dominant jockey for more than a decade beginning in the early 1990s, announced his retirement from riding, effective Jan 28 after the Sunshine Millions card at Gulfstream Park. He will join ABC Sports and ESPN as a racing analyst beginning in March with the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
"There are a couple of reasons for retiring," Bailey said Jan. 18. "First, I feel it's time. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family. Also, I want to walk away in one piece.
"I want to thank all my valets and agents; the backstretch workers who make riding possible; owners and trainers too numerous to mention; the horses, both the grade I winners and the others that tried their hardest; and the media and fans."
Following closely on the heels of the retirements of Gary Stevens and Pat Day, and a couple of years after Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, and Laffit Pincay Jr. ended their careers, Bailey's exit from racing signals a complete changing of the guard of elite jockeys at Thoroughbred tracks. He follows Stevens (TVG) into the racing analyst business.
"With the acquisition of the Breeders' Cup and Belmont Stakes by ESPN/ABC, we feel Jerry's insight, experience, and knowledge will well serve racing fans. He's a tremendous communicator and the real winners will be the fans tuning in," noted Norby Williamson, executive vice president of production for ESPN.
Although he rode hundreds of top horses throughout his career, Bailey will foremost be remembered for piloting Cigar through all but the first of his 16-race winning streak that spanned from 1994-1996, which tied Citation for the longest in North America. Bailey, inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 1995, teamed up with top trainers like Bill Mott and Bobby Frankel, for a time having first call on their top stakes performers, as well as with stables belonging to luminaries like Paul Mellon, for whom he rode Sea Hero to victory in the 1993 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
Bailey won a second Kentucky Derby in 1996 aboard Grindstone for Overbrook Farm. His other Triple Crown winners were Red Bullet in the 2000 Preakness (gr. I); Hansel in the 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes (gr. I); and Empire Maker in the 2003 Belmont.
Bailey retires as the all-time winningest jockey in Breeders' Cup competition, having booted home 15 winners. He chalked up five wins in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), most recently in 2005 aboard Saint Liam. His other Classic wins came with Concern in 1994, Cigar in 1995, Black Tie Affair in 1991, and Arcangues, a horse he had never seen before entering the saddling paddock, in 1993 at odds of 133-1. He retires with more than $22 million in Breeders' Cup purses won.
Bailey will leave the sport having visited the winner's circle almost 5,900 times. His mounts, heading into the last two weeks of his career, have earned $295,865,139, second only to Pat Day by about $2 million. Bailey earned seven Eclipse Awards, most of any rider. In 2003, Bailey won 70 stakes races, more than any other jockey in one year in history. He also set a record for single-season purse earnings, tallying $23,354,960. That broke the mark of $22,871,814 he had set a year earlier.
Bailey was born in Dallas and grew up in El Paso, Texas, the son of a dentist who owned Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds. As a teenager, he groomed and exercised horses for J.J. Pletcher, and also received guidance from veteran rider Ray York. He studied accounting in college, won the apprentice riding title at Oaklawn Park in 1976, and was off to the Illinois and Florida circuits soon after. After riding in New Jersey, he broke into the New York jockeys' colony, making a name for himself with Fit to Fight.
Bailey battled alcoholism until 1990, when his career skyrocketed. His autobiography, "Against the Odds, Riding for my Life," which came out in 2005, detailed his struggles with the bottle. Bailey and his wife, Suzee, have a son, Justin. They reside in Florida and New York.