The day after his second-place finish in the May 3 Kentucky Derby aboard Empire Maker, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey was noticeably upset by the outcome, ostensibly because of his confidence in the colt whose pre-Derby preparations were hampered by a bruised hoof.
On Saturday, June 7, Bailey was rewarded for his confidence in Empire Maker when he rode the colt to victory in the Belmont Stakes.
Bailey, who was at Bobby Frankel's Churchill Downs barn before the trainer arrived May 4, was convinced that Empire Maker did not take to the track well and had to work harder to achieve his second-place finish to Funny Cide.
"A lot of people don't take into consideration this surface," Bailey said then. "Some horses tolerate it and some don't. He worked a lot harder getting over this track than any other track he's run on. It may have looked like he was going to run him (Funny Cide) down but I knew he wasn't going to, considering the effort he gave early in the race."
Bailey equated the difference between the Churchill track condition with other tracks by using the example of running on a beach. "Ever run on a beach and notice how it feels where (the surf )has come in and the sand is wet and hard and how loose it is where the beach is dry?"
After upsetting Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide's bid for the coveted Triple Crown, Bailey put the Derby in perspective. "Things happen that you can't control. He bruised his foot," Bailey said. "I rode the race today like he was the best horse, and he proved it."
Bailey also was somewhat defensive over all the media attention devoted to Funny Cide's New York-based rider Jose Santos leading up to the Belmont.
"I think people made a little too much of Santos riding out of Belmont," Bailey said. "I ride here everyday. There were some statements made about Jose, how he knows the track. I'm based here, too, and I know it pretty well myself."
In the Belmont, Bailey positioned Empire Maker in stalking distance of early leader Funny Cide and then moved his mount in the middle of the second turn in the 1 1/2-mile race.
"It was my plan to make him run hard into the first turn," Bailey said of his Belmont strategy. "I had the tools to do whatever I wanted to do. I'm never scared to pull the trigger."
After putting away Funny Cide, Bailey and Empire Maker had to hold off the late run of Ten Most Wanted.
"Down the stretch, (Empire Maker) was goofin' around a bit," Bailey said. "I didn't know how fast Ten Most Wanted was coming, but horses that have run a mile and a quarter don't usually sprint."