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Turf's Up

Bailey will try to show why he is one of the best grass riders of all time this weekend at Hollywood Park

November 27, 2002|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

A visitor to California for the first time 25 years ago, the teenage jockey did not leave a lasting impression, either at work or with his neighbors.

Laffit Pincay, the sport's all-time leading jockey in terms of victories and a winner of more than 3,000 races at Hollywood Park, had no recollection of a long-haired, 19-year-old rider from Texas.

"I don't remember at all," Pincay said. "I can't remember him being here."

Nor did Jerry Bailey catch the eye of a certain other resident at the Oakwood Gardens apartments in Marina del Rey, where he lived during the spring-summer meet he rode at Hollywood Park in 1977.

Not until years later did Bailey and former neighbor Suzee Shulik meet and discover they had been living at the Oakwood Gardens at the same time.

"I met Suzee about seven years later," Bailey said, recalling his first encounter with the woman who was to become his wife. "She was working for Sportschannel in New York and she had come to Florida to cover the Flamingo. I won with Time For A Change and I guess it was time for a change.

"It came up in casual conversation that we both had lived there at the same time. She had been in California to do some acting. I don't think we ever ran into each other. If she saw me, I guess she avoided me."

Encouraged to ride at Hollywood Park that year by the late Arnold Winick, a prominent trainer, owner and breeder, Bailey arrived on May 12, the 22nd day of the season, and remained until the end of the meet on July 24.

Although he managed only a dozen wins in 160 mounts, the young rider was the darling of longshot players. His average win payoff was $29.60 and he had victories aboard Rocky Trip ($72.60) in the Typecast Stakes, Beth's Regret ($113.20) and Beau Claire ($67.60). He rode most of his winners for trainer Randy Winick, Arnold's son.

An inflated price on a Bailey mount is unheard of these days. The country's perennial leader in purse earnings and on his way to another Eclipse Award as the nation's top jockey, Bailey will be making another trip to California this weekend.

He will ride Banks Hill in the $500,000 Matriarch and Royal Gem in the $500,000 Hollywood Derby on Sunday. Both are trained by Bobby Frankel, the nation's leading trainer, and Royal Gem is one of three 3-year-olds the stable will start in the Derby. Frankel will also send out Tates Creek in the Matriarch.

Both Grade I races, the Matriarch and Derby are the most significant and final two in Hollywood Park's $2.1-million Turf Festival, which begins Friday with the $200,000 Miesque Stakes and $200,000 Hollywood Turf Express, then continues Saturday with the $200,000 Generous Stakes and $500,000 Citation Handicap.

Having ridden in Florida and New York most of his career, Bailey has done well when visiting Inglewood. He has had 16 stakes wins at Hollywood Park, four of them Hollywood Gold Cup wins, since 1992. Bailey has won three times in the Turf Festival -- an upset with Duda in the 1995 Matriarch and wins two years later with Geri in the Citation and Subordination in the Hollywood Derby.

Picking his spots until he resumes riding full-time Jan. 3 at Gulfstream Park, Bailey is $402,531 shy of breaking his own earnings record of $22,597,720 set last year.

Mike Smith's record of 67 stakes victories in 1994 is also within reach. Bailey is at 62 and before he arrives at Hollywood Park, he will be busy at Aqueduct on Friday and Saturday, riding Congaree in the Cigar Mile and the promising 2-year-old Empire Maker in the Remsen.

"I'd have to be pretty efficient for the rest of the year to break that record," said Bailey. "It's not a high priority on my list. It would be great, but I'm not going to kill myself to do it."

Although Bailey has had success here, he has never considered making California his home.

"[In 1977], Mr. Winick wanted me to go out there for the Hollywood Park meet," he said. "I had just gotten over breaking my jaw and, to be honest with you, I really didn't like California.

"I felt lonely and, for whatever reason, I didn't feel comfortable. I enjoyed riding, but I never felt comfortable living out there. I came back to the East Coast and started doing well enough that I never wanted to leave. After hearing my record for that one meet, it's no wonder I didn't stay."

His time in a jockey's room that included such legends as Pincay, Bill Shoemaker, a fellow Texan whom Bailey grew up idolizing, and Sandy Hawley, did help Bailey learn, however.

Especially helpful was Fernando Toro, a talented jockey who was best known for his ability on the turf.

"The guy I really paid attention to was Toro," said Bailey, who has become one of the best turf riders in history. "I watched films of him because I had heard he was such a great grass rider and I really began to like riding the grass when I got the chance in Chicago and Miami.

"I studied the way Toro sat on the fence, because at the time at Hollywood Park, when you turned for home, you had a drop-off of about three or four feet back in to the rail on the turf course. He used to sit in there all the time and get through, or if the horse on the lead went in, he would take his spot. I talked to him about that. He was a real gentleman and helped me as much as he could."

His two-month stay also included a cameo role in a forgettable made-for-television movie. Taken to Paramount Studios by the late Times and Herald-Examiner sports columnist Allan Malamud to watch a day of shooting on "Nowhere to Run," Bailey can be seen briefly, sitting at a blackjack table in the movie, which starred the late David Janssen.

"It was a lot of fun," Bailey recalled. "But, I made about as big an impression in the movie as I did at Hollywood Park that year."

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