Any fan of horse racing will have heard of jockey Jerry Bailey. The Texas native has won seven of the last nine Eclipse Awards as champion rider in North America, each Triple Crown race twice, and a record 14 Breeders' Cup races. He also leads in Dubai World Cup wins with four, the first of which was aboard Cigar, winner of sixteen straight from 1994 to 1996. With such accolades, he has earned his spot in the Hall of Fame and is widely regarded as one of the premier jockeys ever to mount a Thoroughbred. In his autobiography, Against the Odds: Riding For My Life, written with USA Today sportswriter Tom Pedulla, Bailey tells us how he got to where he is and takes us through some of the more memorable horses in his career.
Like many riders, Bailey started working at the track, mucking stall and walking hots, in hopes of getting a chance to gallop a horse and eventually ride in a race. Bailey's father sent him to top Texas trainer J.J. Pletcher to kick off his career. Working alongside Jerry was J.J. Pletcher's son Todd, who went on to become one of racing's top trainers. Eventually Pletcher promoted him to foreman and allowed him to exercise horses, which he did at Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico.
When Bailey finally got to ride, he proved to be a natural at the job. Unfortunately, being away from home at a young age and the need to belong meant joining his fellow riders and other horsemen in their favorite pastime, drinking. He would miss morning workout assignments because he was hung over, and would only get himself just sober enough to ride in the afternoon races. Then at the end of the day the drinking would start up again and continue into the late hours. When he went on his honeymoon with actress and sportscaster Suzee, he spent the whole time in the hotel room drinking, leaving her feeling very alone. The text is interspersed with comments from various people in Bailey's life, many of which were by Suzee, telling the reader how much she suffered during this time.
With such a rocky start, his alcoholism was almost disastrous to their marriage as well as his career. Trainers who used him regularly fired him for being unreliable. Surprisingly, Suzee stayed with him despite his drunken abusiveness, never giving up hope that someday he would change. Finally, Bailey realized he needed help and joined Alcoholics Anonymous and was able to break his habit. He has not had a drink since, but continues to attend AA meetings to prevent relapses and to help others with their addictions. Bailey was already a talented rider, a natural, but the alcoholism prevented him from furthering his career. It was only after he broke the habit that he worked his way to the upper echelons of racing. Winning the Kentucky Derby aboard Sea Hero and taking the Breeders' Cup Classic aboard 133-1 longshot Arcangues made people take notice that he was a force to be reckoned with.
He spends considerable time talking about his all-time favorite mount, Cigar. Bred for turf, he was a mediocre horse at best early in his career but when trainer Bill Mott switched him to dirt, Cigar showed his true colors. Cigar set a record 16 straight wins, including the inaugural Dubai World Cup, and Bailey gives emotional first-hand accounts of what it was like riding the "superhorse" of the mid 1990's. Bailey explained how he could tell Cigar was calling it a career before he was retired, as early as the Arlington Citation Challenge. Even though he easily beat outclassed horses, he lacked the usual punch in the stretch he felt in earlier races. He said, "Not only was he a great horse but a great horse to be around. He was a big ham, very charismatic, loved the attention and the cameras. He's the only horse I feel moved to visit, and I do visit him once a year. I like to think that he still recognizes me."
Given his time as the president of the Jockey's Guild, he discusses the role of jockeys in promoting the sport. He said in an interview, "I understand that the horses are the primary draw to our game, but they simply don't last long enough to create a public following. So if you focus on these human stars of the sport as much as the equine you will create a bigger following for the sport. I don't think the industry has made nearly enough effort to do this." In the final chapter, Bailey hints of his pending retirement. He wrote, "As much as I treasured all my accomplishments, in recent years I have felt family life tugging at me harder than Cigar ever could. The loneliness of the road became more severe. I do not want to look back and realize my child became a man and I was not around to accompany him on that journey."
This is a very up-close and personal look at the life of arguably one of the greatest jockeys of all time. Fans of top-class racing will enjoy reading about what it is like to be aboard a major stakes winner, while fans of Bailey himself will enjoy reading about how he beat the odds, broke his addiction, and went on to greatness. If he retires at the end of this year as has been rumored, he will truly go out a winner.
Against the Odds has a list price of $24.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $16.47.
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