01/04/2002 1:00AM

Bailey reflects on a year of riches

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - There were many memorable moments during a season in which his mounts earned a record total of $22,857,720. But as he reflected the other day on his outstanding campaign of 2001, Jerry Bailey never hesitated when asked to select the highlight of highlights.

"Winning the World Cup in Dubai with Captain Steve," he said. "It's the world's richest race with a purse of $6 million, and winning it was a major step toward setting the record. Captain Steve was at his best that night, too, and ran a big race. It's a shame he was never quite the same horse again."

While the 2001 season saw Bailey soar to new monetary heights, his favorite seasons will always be 1995 and 1996, when Cigar wrote an incredible chapter of racing history with 16 consecutive victories, most of them in Grade 1 features. He recalls that every race in that series was an event of consequence and Cigar came to be widely held in special regard.

Another aspect of the 2001 season that means a great deal to Bailey is the resounding success he enjoyed at Saratoga, where he set a record with 55 winners during the six-week meeting.

"That was the seventh Saratoga riding title in the last eight years," Bailey notes. "Of course," he added, "that doesn't come close" to Angel Cordero Jr. phenomenal record of 13 Saratoga riding titles in a 14-year period, "but it gave me a good deal of satisfaction and included a number of stakes victories. Much of the credit goes to Ron Anderson, my agent for the past two years. Riding stakes-winners involves making a decision. You want to select the best horse to ride, but you also want to do it without offending people. It's a very delicate exercise."

Bailey set his earnings record last season and rode 227 winners in about 10 months, limiting his appearances after the Breeders' Cup to about a dozen days. In all he accepted about 900 mounts, far fewer than most of those among the national leaders, in order to spend more time with his family.

"The record means a lot to me, but I also got a kick out of the distance separating me from the second rider on the list, John Velazquez," Bailey comments. "It was almost $8 million. Speaking of Velazquez, he is easily the best of the next generation of riders. He is talented, has a great disposition, and has his personal life in order.

"How much longer will I ride? Perhaps two more years, and then I'd assess the situation. If I had a lot of good horses to ride, I might stay on an extra season."

Bailey has given some thought to a career in television after his retirement. He has made a number of appearances and is comfortable in front of the camera. Ideally he would like to work in the spring, leading up to the Triple Crown classics, and in the fall, leading up to the Breeders' Cup.

In the meantime, there are more records to be challenged and more achievements to be pursued. The classics are always a priority target, and Bailey thinks he may have a live prospect in Siphonic, winner of the Hollywood Futurity.

"He was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile but we were stuck on a dead rail," he notes. "It was a very good effort for a young horse making only his third start. He came back with a strong performance at Hollywood. He broke on top, and I was able to take him back off the pace. He has good speed, too, and that's always a big plus for a rider. He's a very quiet individual; very mature. He looks promising."

Bailey has other attractive horses to ride in various divisions. Squirtle Squirt, a stakes-winning sprinter, is one of them. Flute, a top filly, is another. Lido Palace, the Whitney and Woodward winner, is highly regarded for handicap honors, and so is Red Bullet, who is returning after a lengthy absence.

There is promise in the air and Bailey, refreshed after a holiday en famille, is eager to try them again.