Published in the June 14 issue of The Blood-Horse
Ever since Empire Maker's runner-up finish as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Jerry Bailey had been feeling a little bit guilty. The Hall of Fame rider couldn't be blamed for the bruised foot that disrupted the colt's training schedule. But Bailey did regret his decision regarding Empire Maker's post position. For the Triple Crown's first leg, horsemen were allowed to choose their runners' posts following a draw to determine the selection order. After consulting with trainer Bobby Frankel, Bailey took the No. 12 hole instead of the five. "Bobby thought he (Empire Maker) would be 100%, so I chose to keep him out of trouble instead of trying to save ground," Bailey said. "I thought I might get lucky from the 12, but I didn't. I got hung outside on the first turn, and that was the difference. If I had chosen the five hole instead of the 12, maybe I wouldn't have lost so much ground." While Empire Maker's injury was widely regarded as the reason why he lost to Funny Cide, Bailey still fretted about his selection. In the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), he was riding for redemption--for both Empire Maker and himself. Bailey had a plan: Be aggressive. Taking advantage of Empire Maker's ability to break sharply, he would force the pace early. If no one else wanted the lead, he would grab it. The strategy was no secret; Bailey hinted about what he was going to do in interviews. But nothing was set in stone because the rider had to wait for Frankel's final input. While the trainer said he was worried about Empire Maker's No. 1 post, he didn't offer Bailey any advice in the paddock prior to the Belmont. "You ride him like you want to ride him," Frankel told the six-time Eclipse Award winner. And with those words, Bailey was in control of their destiny. As the jockey had anticipated, Funny Cide sprinted to the front, followed by Scrimshaw. Empire Maker and Bailey were right on their heels, with the jockey angling his mount to the outside. "It was pretty obvious what I was going to do," Bailey said. "Scrimshaw was right up there, but had started to take back. Funny Cide had already locked on (to the lead) pretty well. I said, 'This is what I want.' He was pulling on Jose (Santos), and my horse was very relaxed, which is the whole key to going a mile and a half. I knew I had him (Funny Cide) when he turned down the backside." Bailey kept him just off Funny Cide's tail until the final turn. Then they took command with three-eighths of a mile remaining. While Funny Cide faded, Empire Maker turned back a late challenge from Ten Most Wanted. "Jerry thinks through everything so well, and sometimes he goes to the paddock with three or four different scenarios in his mind," said Bailey's proud agent, Ron Anderson. "He choreographed this one perfectly. He knew pretty much what was going to happen in the race, and I thought he would be very tough to beat. Day in and day out, he has no flaws in his riding. There is nothing that he does that isn't right." According to Frankel, Bailey's ride was "a big factor" in Empire Maker's win. "It worked out great," the trainer said. "He got him where I wanted him to be without me telling him what to do." But not everyone was happy with Bailey's effort. When he entered the winner's circle aboard Empire Maker, they were greeted with boos from fans upset they had spoiled Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid. As Bailey smiled and tossed flowers from a victory bouquet, cheers erupted, but they didn't drown out all the jeers. "I'm sorry that racing didn't get a Triple Crown," Bailey said later, "but you've got to go out there and you've got to earn it every race. Funny Cide won two out of the three, but Empire Maker showed he was better today." Bailey's 10-year-old son, Justin, didn't seem to be bothered by the negative response. Standing with his father and mother, Suzee, in the winner's circle, he flashed a big grin. Afterward, he accompanied Bailey to the post-race interview room, where he told reporters: "It was a great race. It's a Triple Crown race, so it's really special." A 45-year-old Texas native, Bailey seems to be getting better with age. He has set earnings records for two consecutive years, collecting $19,015,720 in 2001 and $19,271,814 in 2002. He is the leading jockey in the history of the Breeders' Cup, with 13 victories. And Bailey has also won each of the three Triple Crown races twice. His other Belmont triumph came in 1991 with Hansel. Like Empire Maker, Hansel lost the Derby as the favorite, finishing 10th. But he rebounded to sweep the rest of the classic series. Asked to compare that Belmont to his latest win, Bailey replied: "Hansel gutted it out. This horse (Empire Maker) was just better (than Funny Cide)."