10/23/2003 11:00PM

Classic: Frankel-Bailey a mighty combination


ARCADIA, Calif. - They seem like the unlikeliest of pairs, the calm, cerebral jockey, and the brash, often emotional trainer. But when Jerry Bailey and Bobby Frankel team up, they meld perfectly, like pouring chocolate sauce over vanilla ice cream.

These two Hall of Famers have been the leaders of their respective national divisions in recent years. Bailey, 46, has won the Eclipse Award as champion jockey six times overall, including each of the last three years. Frankel, 62, has won the Eclipse Award as champion trainer four times overall, also including each of the last three years. It is when they combine their talents that they are particularly lethal.

They are joining forces in Saturday's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in four races with runners who collectively have won seven Grade 1 races this year. Three of the four - Sightseek in the Distaff, Aldebaran in the Sprint, and Medaglia d'Oro in the Classic - could go off as favorites. And the fourth, Heat Haze, should be one of the fancied runners in the Filly and Mare Turf.

Bailey and Frankel are both sitting on potentially a huge day, which would be a fitting coda to a year that already has been, or soon could be, record-setting.

Through Tuesday, with two months plus the Breeders' Cup remaining in the year, Bailey's mounts already had earned $20,416,354 in 2003, putting him well within range of the single-season mark of $22,847,720 he set in 2001. He has won the national earnings title six times in the last eight years, and seems a lock to go 7 for 9.

Frankel already has won an amazing 23 Grade 1 races this year, bettering the previous record of 22 set by D. Wayne Lukas in 1987. He has done that with 13 different horses, seven of whom - Aldebaran, Heat Haze, Medaglia d'Oro, Megahertz, Peace Rules, Sightseek, and Tates Creek - are running in the Breeders' Cup. Through Tuesday, Frankel's runners this year have earned $16,741,041, so he could surpass Lukas's 1988 record of $17,842,358 during the Breeders' Cup card.

"The whole key is still having them around at the end of the year," Frankel said. "That's a big accomplishment."

The coup de grace would be for Bailey and Frankel to win the Classic with Medaglia d'Oro, since a victory could bring that colt the title of Horse of the Year for 2003. It would cap a year in which the emotional peaks and valleys for Bailey and Frankel were underscored in a five-week span of the Triple Crown, with a Belmont Stakes victory by Empire Maker following that colt's failure as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

The Belmont, Frankel said, was to this point the most satisfying win of the year. It was his first victory in a Triple Crown race, a result he confidently predicted.

"You don't want to be wrong," Frankel said.

He had been wrong in the Derby. Frankel thought he could get by with a relatively easy prep in the Wood Memorial, and that Empire Maker had enough foundation to overcome a foot bruise the week of the race. But Funny Cide beat him by 1 3/4 lengths.

Bailey and Frankel begin Saturday's Breeders' Cup card with Sightseek in the Distaff. She has won four straight races with Bailey aboard.

"Once he rides a horse for you - or even not, because he learns quickly, even going from the paddock to the starting gate - he comes into a race well informed about who he's going to run against," Frankel said of Bailey. "He makes mistakes like everyone else, but on the whole he makes less mistakes, which is what you want. He's like a pitcher who occasionally makes a mistake, but he's so good he can get away with it."

Bailey and Medaglia d'Oro have won three times in four starts this year, and have won five of their last seven. The 4-year-old colt, a son of El Prado owned by Ed Gann, won the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita in February, took the Oaklawn Handicap in April, won the Whitney at Saratoga in August, then came back three weeks later and shipped across the country and finished second in Del Mar's Pacific Classic to Candy Ride.

He has not raced since. But Bailey has been dissecting the ramifications of the potential Classic field long before Saturday, Frankel said.

"He's so well prepared when he comes to the paddock, more than any other jockey," Frankel said. "Believe me, he started preparing for these races a month ago. He'll read that Congaree is going to have Pat Valenzuela on him, and what Bob Baffert is doing with Congaree. He's already got in his mind what he's going to do. He knows Medaglia d'Oro. I don't have to tell him anything."

The confidence in one another's skills cuts both ways. Bailey has repeatedly said that Frankel is one of the best trainers at bringing a horse off a layoff. "You never have to worry about that," Bailey said. And when it comes to strategy sessions, Bailey gets a fairly loose rein from Frankel. "He'll give you his input, then leave you alone," Bailey said.

Of course he does. Why mess with success?