Friday, May 4, 2001
Classic catches up with Jerry Bailey
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic
Hall of Fame Jockey Jerry Bailey will be riding in his 14th Kentucky Derby Saturday. Bailey's first Derby was in 1982. He rode New Discovery and finished 18th. However, Bailey would return and conquer the Derby and Churchill Downs. He won in 1993 aboard Sea Hero and again, in 1996 aboard Grindstone. Phillip Lee recently caught up with Bailey to talk about some of his memories of the Run for the Roses.
Phillip Lee: Do you remember your first Kentucky Derby?
Jerry Bailey: It was 1982. It was great. I didn't have a big chance. The horse was called New Discovery. It was probably the right horse for me to ride for the first time. It gave a first-time jockey a chance to experience everything without messing up a good horse's chance of winning. It's not to say a guy couldn't ride (the Derby) for the first time and win, but it helps having been here and getting the experience.
PL: Was it overwhelming your first time out at the Derby?
JB: I don't know if the word overwhelming is quite pertinent, at least in my case. I was certainly excited by it and the adrenaline was pumping, but it didn't affect me to the point where I didn't know what I was doing out there.
PL: What's so special about the Derby?
JB: Well, there's 140,000-150,000 people screaming at the top of their lungs. You just don't see that very often in one place.
PL: Which is your favorite Derby? I would imagine the two Derbys that you won stand out.
JB: The first (Derby one) was great because it was the first one. Also it was for a couple of gentlemen who I have ridden for many, many years and shortly thereafter were going to exit the game -- Paul Mellon and Mac Miller. It's always nice to win it for people you have a relationship with.
PL: What about the second (Derby win)?
JB: I won it for another fella that is a mainstay in Kentucky, W.T. Young. He's been around for a long time. It was nice to win it for him, too. Also, it was the closest Derby finish ever. (Grindstone won by a nose)
PL: Is there anything more special than the Derby?
JB: There are a lot of things in life more special, but I would be hard-pressed to name anything in racing more special.
PL: You've won four Breeders' Cup Classics. How does that compare to the Derby?
JB: It's exciting, but it's not the same. There's just something about America's attraction to the Kentucky Derby and the involvement. There's probably twice as many people, sometimes three times more people, at the Derby than the Breeders Cup. It's got its own special meaning that's for sure.
PL: As you get older, do you appreciate the Derby more?
JB: I appreciate it but it gets more tiresome on you because you're getting older and you've been through it a lot of times. If you knew you could win it, you would probably come in with a spring in your step and not think twice. But knowing how hard it is to win and how much you have to go through like flying in, dealing with the people and trying to get out. It's hectic.
PL: What were some surprises and disappointments for you at the Derby?
JB: I was surprised to win (in 1993). I didn't think he had that good a chance to win. I was very disappointed in 1991. I was on a horse called Hansel and I thought he had an excellent chance and he finished 10th. I thought last year I had an excellent chance with War Chant and he didn't win. There are a lot of disappointments. There are 17 of us (competing) Saturday. One is going to be very happy and 16 of us are going to be disappointed.