When former jockey Jerry Bailey was still riding winners in the biggest stakes races on the docket, he was renowned for his handicapping skills. Bailey religiously poured over past performances while trying to form a picture of how races would be run, and where the right spot was to place his mounts.
Now that he is enjoying his second season of retirement as a rider, Bailey has become a valued member of the broadcasting team of ABC and ESPN, the former of which will televise Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. I) from 5-7 p.m. ET.
Bailey is still doing his handicapping, now to benefit his viewers instead of his mounts. Thursday morning at Belmont, standing on the track apron just feet from where he achieved glory many times, including aboard Empire Maker in the 2003 Belmont Stakes, Bailey gave his impressions of the upcoming third jewel of the Triple Crown.
"When I watch a race now, I mentally react to it, knowing I am going to have to verbalize my thoughts in a minute or two on camera," Bailey said. "When I rode, I would physically react, trying to make those split-second decisions about where to steer my horse."
Bailey is picking Preakness (gr. I) victor Curlin to prevail in the Belmont as well. He said that a high, steady cruising speed is an asset in the 12-furlong test. "The Belmont is a grinding race," noted Bailey. "While a horse like Street Sense has a quick acceleration, I'm not sure that translates in a race like this. You want a horse that can get in a rhythm and keep on coming with a decent kick. You want a steady cruising speed and a good finisher."
Bailey is also high on the likely second-choice in the race, Hard Spun, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and third in the Preakness. He thinks the shift from Mario Pino to Garrett Gomez can only benefit the son of Danzig. "I think Mario may have over-reacted when he saw (Edgar) Prado coming on C P West," said Bailey. "Even if Slew's Tizzy goes out to the lead in the Belmont, Hard Spun will decide the pace of the race. When Edgar decided to nudge Hard Spun will be key. I think they'll sit back and get in a rhythm and let Slew's Tizzy go and just ride their own race."
"The pace scenario here favors Hard Spun more than anyone but Curlin, who will be close enough--two to five lengths, I'd think--to Hard Spun. I wouldn't care where Slew's Tizzy is if I were riding the race. You have to look at the horse you fell you have to beat, and that is Hard Spun here as far as Curlin is concerned."
Bailey noted that come-from-behind horses, who most people think have an advantage because of the long distance of the Belmont, are actually hard-pressed to make an impact in the race. "Even if you have good acceleration, if you're back that far, it takes too much effort to catch up," Bailey said. "I think they are compromised in a race like this." Tiago and I'mawildandcrazyguy fit into that category.
As for the filly Rags to Riches, Bailey noted he was impressed with her victory in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). "Her previous victories, although decisive, were done pretty easily," he noted. "But she got stuck down on the inside in the Oaks and showed toughness. I think she has a chance here."
When studying Triple Crown horses, Bailey said first he looks at the pedigrees, and then the trainers. "I want to see if they can go that far, and if the trainer can get them to go that far," he said. "I think Rags to Riches, Hard Spun, and Curlin are all fine on pedigree as far as the Belmont is concerned."
As far as his career as a television analyst, the Hall of Fame jockey said he has settled into the job comfortably, enjoying the preparation and letting viewers know how he feels a race will unfold. "I'm conscious of trying not to talk to 'inside' when I'm analyzing a race," he said. Sometimes he has slipped up, calling one horse "lunchmeat," which elicited a slew of emails in his direction.
Bailey, who now lives in Florida most of the year while spending part of the summer at Saratoga, said that golf takes up much of his free time. He is also associated with the Excelsior Racing group, one of the candidates to hold the license to conduct racing in New York beginning in 2008. "If they are picked, I will take an active role," Bailey said.