10/17/2001 12:00AM

Bailey sitting pretty Breeders' Cup Day


ELMONT, N.Y. - Baseball people are understandably proud of Barry Bonds's record-breaking total of 73 home runs this season. But racing's jockey Jerry Bailey shattered a record some considered safe from assault, and he has a golden opportunity in next week's World Thoroughbred Championships to reach a total likely to stand for some time.

The single-season earnings record of $19,468,376, set by Bailey in 1996 and broken two weeks ago, is already a faded memory. His mounts have earned more than $20,800,000, and several of his Breeders' Cup engagements, with million- and multi-million-dollar purses in the balance, look very promising.

None is more promising than Aptitude, the horse Bailey rode to break the record in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Aptitude's performance was stunning. He won by 10 lengths and earned an unusually high Beyer figure of 123. Bidding for the $4 million Breeders Cup Classic, Aptitude will face competition from such American sources as Tiznow, Include, Albert the Great, and Guided Tour, and such overseas challengers as Fantastic Light and Galileo.

"Aptitude did run a big race in the Gold Cup," Bailey said. "Let's just hope it wasn't too good; that he didn't use it all up. You know, I've been riding in the Breeders Cup since 1986 and the Classic has provided some of the keenest memories. I'll never forget Cigar's victory in 1995, the year he went undefeated. He was never better than he was that day, and he won on a muddy track that concerned us.

"His 16 consecutive victories were remarkable," Bailey said. "I felt at the time that Cigar wasn't fully appreciated. Looking back, however, gives you a different perspective. You can see how great he was."

Another Breeders' Cup Classic moment Bailey always will cherish is the 1993 running, when his mount, secured at the last moment, was the 133-1 Arcangues from France. Bailey had never seen the horse, knew nothing about him, and was given his orders in French, which he didn't understand. He won by two lengths.

"I've had just about every experience in the Classic," Bailey recalls. "I won it on the lead with Black Tie Affair in 1991, and won it coming from last in 1994 with Concern. I'm looking forward to the race this year. A big factor will be how Fantastic Light and Galileo handle the dirt after racing on grass throughout their careers. Looking back at the strong race Giant's Causewaay ran last year in his first start on dirt, you have to respect them."

Lailani, in the Filly and Mare Turf, is another of Bailey's Breeders' Cup mounts to come off an outstanding performance. She was an impressive winner of last month's Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational in her U.S. debut, beating the highly regarded England's Legend, who may again be her most formidable opponent. Bailey feels Lailani can win again if she can duplicate her Flower Bowl performance.

Flute, the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama winner, is Bailey's mount in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She was second in the recent Beldame to Exogenous, who also won the Grade 1 Gazelle and is probably the one to beat. Flute had a reasonable excuse in the Beldame, and the Distaff, as so often is the case, could be one of the most competitive races of the Breeders' Cup program.

Bailey's ride in the Sprint is Squirtle Squirt, who won the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga but finished second in the subsequent Vosburgh.

Kona Gold, last year's Sprint winner, is probably the one to beat again, but Delaware Township and El Corredor are dangerous. Mozart, the best sprinter in Europe this season, also merits respect.

"The Sprint is the most difficult of the Breeders' Cup races to handicap," Bailey notes. "So many factors are circumstantial. You need a fast horse to get a position, but there is always another fast horse in the race to run you into the ground."

Bailey got his spectacular season off to a rousing start last spring with a victory aboard Captain Steve in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. He hopes to add a few finishing touches in the Breeders' Cup, and then go on a more casual schedule during the last weeks of the year. His son is in school in Miami this fall and Bailey has been commuting from Florida to ride at Belmont. After the Breeders' Cup he expects to come north principally for weekend features.