01/18/2006 1:00AM

Bailey goes out on own terms

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Jockey Jerry Bailey will retire later this month, ending his Hall of Fame career ranked second in purses won.

Jerry Bailey is a self-described perfectionist. And though the perfect end to his riding career would have been following his victory in last October's Breeders' Cup Classic aboard Saint Liam, Bailey said that wouldn't have been the right time to make a decision.

After riding the last few weeks at Gulfstream Park, however, Bailey has determined that now is the perfect time to retire. Following the races at Gulfstream on Jan. 28, that's exactly what he will do.

One of the most brilliant careers this sport has ever known will conclude after Bailey rides a trio of stakes at Gulfstream on the Sunshine Millions Day card.

"Every year for the last three or four I've been tired," Bailey said Wednesday during a national conference call. "I wanted to take my traditional month off and see if the competitive fires for race-riding were still there. I came back, and to be quite honest with you . . . I just didn't know or think I'd be up to it for another year.''

Bailey, 48, said he is also retiring to spend more time with his wife, Suzee, and 13-year-old son, Justin, who "shared so graciously with racing my time.'' Bailey also said he was thankful to be able to "walk away in one piece.''

Bailey, who will end his career as North America's second-leading all-time money earner, will remain in horse racing as an analyst for ABC and ESPN. Bailey will appear on approximately 20 shows, including ABC broadcasts of the Belmont Stakes and Dubai World Cup as well as ESPN's coverage of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on Nov. 6 and several prep races leading up to it.

"With the acquisition of the Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup it makes sense bringing in one of the greatest jockeys of all time,'' said Norby Williamson, executive vice president of production for ESPN. "His considerable knowledge, experience, and insight will serve the racing fans well.''

Bailey had one mount Thursday and is named to ride one on Friday. He will ride this weekend and then Wednesday through Saturday next week. Bailey said he chose Jan. 28 for his final day because many of his family members and friends wanted to be in attendance.

Bailey, a native of Dallas, began riding in 1974 and compiled some amazing numbers through his 31-year career. As far as North America goes, Bailey's earnings of $295,865,139 ranks him second behind Pat Day's record. Bailey also has won 5,890 races.

When his four victories in the Dubai World Cup are factored in, Bailey's career earnings are slightly more than $309 million. Equibase, the official record-keeper of racing statistics, doesn't recognize his Dubai World Cup victories prior to 2000.

Bailey won six classics - the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes twice. He ranks as the leader in Breeders' Cup wins with 15 and his Breeders' Cup earnings of $22,006,440 are second only to Day.

Bailey won a record seven Eclipse Awards and is a finalist again for last year, though he is not expected to win when the award winner is announced on Monday.

"I thought this thing through pretty well,'' Bailey said. "I fulfilled everything I wanted to do.''

While Bailey said his Kentucky Derby victories aboard Sea Hero (1993) and Grindstone (1996) were "very special,'' he pinpointed his 1996 Dubai World Cup win aboard Cigar as his most memorable moment.

"It was not only a victory for me, but I was representing the United States as well and being as close to an Olympian as I could ever be,'' Bailey said.

Bailey actually got emotional when discussing Cigar, whom he guided to 15 of that colt's 16 straight wins from the fall of 1994 through the summer of 1996.

"I stated on more than one occasion the reason I got into this game was not really because I loved horses so much - though I really liked them - but I enjoyed the thrill of competition more than anything else,'' Bailey said, his voice slightly cracking. "I came to love horses when I got on Cigar. He was the most genuine, charismatic horse I've ever been around.''

Bailey also heaped praise on Bill Mott, the trainer of Cigar, calling him "if not the best then close to [the best] horsemen that's ever been around.''

Mott and Bailey combined to dominate racing from the mid 1990's. For their careers, they have teamed to win more than 725 races and more than $45 million in purse money.

"He'll be missed a lot by me,'' Mott said. "Over the course of the years, he won a number of races for me that not every jockey would have won. I don't know how you couldn't consider him one of the greatest riders at least of my lifetime.''

Asked about finding a replacement for Bailey on horses such as Grade 1 winners Shakespeare and Sweet Symphony, Mott said: "Something will fit. I don't know that it's going to be as easy a fit as it was with Jerry.''

Bailey's career turned around after he got sober in January 1989, following a battle with alcoholism. Bailey discussed his problem extensively in his autobiography "Against the Odds: Riding for My Life."

Jockey Richard Migliore, who has ridden against Bailey in New York for 23 years, said Bailey's sustained excellence is unparalleled in the sport.

"His lifestyle change absolutely raised his game to a different level, another worldly level,'' Migliore said. "You saw other guys reach that level, but as far as I'm concerned nobody ever was able to maintain that level of excellence for that long. His whole focus became so much clearer . . . it's a testament to what you can do if you want it bad enough.''

In addition to being physically gifted, Bailey was one of the smartest riders in the room. Bailey's preparation for races was unmatched and his knowledge of his fellow riders helped him immensely.

Retired Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero Jr. said: "When you ride with somebody for so long - we're all creatures of habit - and you get to know them and know for sure what they're going to do . . . he was one step in front of all of them."

Though Bailey said he would have liked to have won another Kentucky Derby and made a run at Day's North American earnings record, he ultimately decided that neither one was important enough to make him change his mind.

"I just thought it was time,'' he said.

A brilliant career

* Won 5,890 North American races
* Earned $295,865,139 in North American purses and more than $309 million, including the Dubai World Cup
* Rode Cigar for the last 15 races of his 16-race winning streak, 1995-96
* Won a record seven Eclipse Awards as outstanding jockey, 1995-97 and 2000-03

Bailey's winners

Kentucky Derby

YEAR HORSE
1993Sea Hero
1996Grindstone

Preakness Stakes

YEAR HORSE
1991Hansel
2000Red Bullet

Belmont Stakes

YEAR HORSE
1991Hansel
2003Empire Maker

Breeders' Cup Classic

YEAR HORSE
1991Black Tie Affair
1993Arcangues
1994Concern
1995Cigar
2005Saint Liam
* Won record total of 15 Breeders' Cup races. Others were: Filly and Mare Turf (1999, 2000); Juvenile (1996, 1998, 2000); Juvenile Fillies (1995, 1999); Mile (2003); Sprint (2001, 2002)

Dubai World Cup

YEAR HORSE
1996Cigar
1997Singspiel
2001Captain Steve
2002Street Cry