01/19/2006 1:00AM

Bailey could make all the difference


ARCADIA, Calif. - Arcangues was not supposed to win the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1993, but no one told his jockey.

Jerry Bailey and Arcangues saved nearly every inch of ground, split horses late, and drew away. He lit up the tote board at $269.20. That bombshell happened only six months after unheralded Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby at $27.80. Bailey up.

Sound familiar? Cash Run ($67) won the BC Juvenile Fillies in 1999; Squirtle Squirt ($21.20) surprised in the BC Sprint in 2001; and even last winter at Santa Anita, Hot Storm ($44.40) upset the Sunshine Millions Oaks. Bailey, Bailey, Bailey.

"What separated Jerry Bailey from the rest of them is that no matter what the odds were, he gave your horse every opportunity," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He always gave them a chance to win. Give him the best horse, and nine out of 10 times, he got the job done."

More impressive is that Bailey often got it done on horses who were not the best. Bailey will retire Jan. 28, after a career peppered with big-race wins by infrequent stars. Arcangues, Sea Hero, Cash Run, and Squirtle Squirt may have won with other riders, or maybe not.

"If you could make one statement about Bailey," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said, "it is that that he gave every horse a chance to win. He definitely was a money rider."

Bailey did not make many mistakes, nor second-guess his decisions, and he recognized the jockey is only one part of the equation. "Ninety percent of it is [the horse]," he said in a 2003 interview. "A good rider can't make a bad horse win. But a bad rider can get a good horse beat."

It was Cigar with whom Bailey will always be connected, and for most of his 16-race win streak, Cigar was simply the best horse. Except for a Del Mar loss in which Bailey moved too soon, others might have ridden Cigar just as well. But on other horses, the jockey made the difference. That includes one Bailey ride that stands out for pure monetary gain, and remains this horseplayer's biggest single-race score.

In 1996, Lukas's 3-year-old crop was deep. Editor's Note had been closing ground in major preps and was crying for a mile and a quarter. Prince of Thieves won the Santa Catalina at Santa Anita; Victory Speech was getting close in Kentucky and Florida; San Rafael winner Honour and Glory was a sure bet to set the pace wherever he showed up.

Bailey hooked up in March with a relatively unknown Lukas trainee, and guided the colt to victory in the Louisiana Derby, and a close second in the Arkansas Derby. Grindstone was short on seasoning, and getting no respect from Las Vegas future-book bettors.

Despite a sharp runner-up comeback in February, Grindstone was 40-1. The price did not change until after the Louisiana Derby. Even then, Grindstone's odds dipped only slightly. I wagered three times on Grindstone - twice at 40-1, once at 30-1.

By Derby week, the only attention paid to Grindstone was on the rumor mill. He was touch and go to make it to the gate. If he did run, Grindstone would be making only his sixth start, and first against Grade 1 company.

Short on seasoning and class, Grindstone had Bailey. From post 15, Bailey dropped Grindstone to the rail, where they saved ground for nearly six furlongs. Lukas recalls the trip, and Bailey following Prince of Thieves and Pat Day.

"Bailey gave a lot of credit to Pat Day, and said all he did was follow Pat Day, who made all the right moves," Lukas said, adding, "I don't believe that totally."

The only person Bailey ever really followed was himself. He might have clocked Day partway in the Derby, but ultimately Bailey rode his own race. Grindstone swung wide for the drive, and took aim on the California-bred gelding Cavonnier, trained by Baffert. Grindstone ate up ground and at the wire dropped a nose on Cavonnier. Grindstone paid only $13.80 to win because he was coupled with Editor's Note. Prince of Thieves wound up finishing third.

Future-book wagers were landed; the surprise victory was Bailey's second (and last) Derby win; and it was the first tough beat for Baffert in a Triple Crown race.

"It was the worst loss of my career," he said. "It was my first Derby, and I thought it would be my last. Bailey won that race."

Lukas agreed. "Normally I don't like to give total credit to the rider, but that's one race where I think the rider absolutely won it. He rode an absolutely picture-perfect race. Of all the major races that I've been involved in, that's one where the rider totally made the difference."

Baffert returned to the Derby, and won it three times. But the 1996 loss to Bailey stuck with him.

"In this business, you only get so many chances - you have to give your horse every opportunity," Baffert said. "Bailey did his homework. When he went in there, he had plan A, plan B, and plan C.

"But there is a negative to Jerry Bailey," Baffert said, smiling. "When you use him, you can't blame the ride."