After a one-year hiatus from the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey is back, seeking his third win in the classic.
Bailey, 47, who also just released his autobiography "Against the Odds: Riding for My Life," is booked to ride Florida Derby (gr. I) winner High Fly for trainer Nick Zito.
Bailey said his Derby mount has proven he can beat the caliber of horses he will face in the Derby and, in fact, High Fly has already put away several of them.
"He has already proven that he can beat horses of high quality and he has only been beaten one time, which was no fault of his own," Bailey said Tuesday during a teleconference hosted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association..
Among the other Derby contenders are Noble Causeway, who finished behind High Fly in the Florida Derby, and Bandini, the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) winner defeated by High Fly in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II).
Considering High Fly's record of five wins from six starts and the caliber of the competition he has put away, Bailey said the only question marks about the son of Atticus
are whether he can rate behind the pacesetters and whether he can sustain a winning run over the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Derby.
"But that (Derby distance) is a question with a lot of these horses," Bailey said.
Bailey believes Bellamy Road will secure the early lead, and "if the pace is too fast, I will be (sitting) off of it. I think it is mistake to lock in on one horse or another. You have to ride your horse the way your horse runs best. A lot depends on what happens first quarter-mile and the quickness of the pace."
Evaluating the Derby field, Bailey said Bellamy Road has put in the most impressive prep performance with his romp in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), and that Bandini ran a professional race in his Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) victory, although the time for the final three-eighths of a mile was :39. Bailey said he places a high value on a horse with a high win percentage, which includes several in this year's Derby, and that Noble Causeway "has a lot of room to improve."
Bailey said missing last year's Derby, in which his mount, Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner Wimbledon, was scratched Derby eve, was disappointing because of the possibility it would have been his last Derby. Bailey acknowledged that at the end of the 2004 racing season he considered retirement.
Rather than making a rash decision, Bailey took time before deciding to return to the saddle in 2005. At the end of this year, he will again evaluate his status and whether he will retire.