01/27/2004 1:00AM

Bailey wins seventh Eclipse


HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - It only seems that Jerry Bailey will keep winning the Eclipse Award for top jockey every year. But when he addressed the Eclipse crowd Monday night, Bailey said the 2003 Eclipse might be his last.

With his wife, Suzee, and son, Justin, standing just behind him, Bailey revealed that if 2004 is not his last year of riding, then 2005 definitely will be.

"This might be my last time standing on this stage," he told the crowd in a sometimes emotional speech. Later, Bailey said he has accomplished more than he could have dreamed when he began his career nearly 30 years ago, and that he wants to spend more time with his family.

"I'll sit down at the end of the year and make a decision, but if I do decide to ride in 2005, that'll be it," he said later at a news conference.

For Bailey, a record seventh Eclipse Award says everything about just how much he has dominated his profession for the last decade. The 2003 Eclipse was his fourth in a row and seventh in the last nine years.

Bailey, 46, surpassed even his own customary brilliance in 2003. Jumping from one standout racehorse to the next, he won 70 stakes, including an astounding 26 Grade 1's, and his mounts earned over $23.35 million. All are records.

There were many highlights, most notably his wins aboard Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes and Six Perfections in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Bailey also rode the following 16 horses to one or more Grade 1 triumphs: Aldebaran, Birdstone, Composure, Congaree, Cuvee, Denon, Dimitrova, Lady Tak, Spoken Fur, Man From Wicklow, Medaglia d'Oro, Sightseek, Silver Wagon, Spoken Fur, Sulamani, and Wild Spirit.

Indeed, it was a whirlwind year in which Bailey frequently criss-crossed the country to ride in major races in New York, California, and elsewhere, with many of his best mounts coming for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Bailey, born in Dallas, began his career at Sunland Park in Nov. 1974. His career highlights include two Kentucky Derby wins, a record 14 Breeders' Cup wins, and induction into the Hall of Fame in 1995.

With 211 first-place votes, Bailey was an easy winner of the 2003 award. Pat Valenzuela, who became the first jockey in 20 years to sweep riding titles at all five major meets on the Southern California circuit, finished second with 17 votes. The third finalist, Edgar Prado, got 10 votes.

Bailey, who is represented by agent Ron Anderson, was honored with his previous Eclipse Awards in 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2001, and 2002. The second-most Eclipse Awards won as a jockey is five, by Laffit Pincay Jr. (1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, and 1985).