12/29/2011 2:50PM

Hovdey: Seven-time champ Bailey gets his Eclipse say

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Barbara D. Livingston
Jerry Bailey won seven Eclipse Awards as a jockey. He will cast a ballot for the awards for the first time this year as one of 16 new voters for the year-end honors.

Quick, hide the women and children. Warn the easily startled and keep the impressionable at bay. There has been loosed into the racing world a true force with which to be reckoned.

Jerry Bailey has a vote in the Eclipse Awards.

At first, the news made perfect sense from a purely practical standpoint. Should the sponsors of the awards every run low on the actual trophies – that skinny little bronze horse from the 18th century – they can always tap Bailey’s collection for a temporary loan. After all, he’s got seven of the dang things. Seven. Know who else won seven Eclipse Awards? Forego did, and John Henry. That’s who.

The possible consequences seemed ominous. Bailey, never shy, was positioned to rain down retribution upon all of those who crossed him during his remarkable 31 years in the saddle. Spun him for another jock? Thumbs down. Tried to drop him at the quarter pole? Back atcha. Froze him out of a stallion season? Judgement day is here.

Thankfully, such a scenario was nothing but the tangled byproduct of an over-charged racing mind reaching year‘s end. I need to work on that. In his role as an articulate and vigorous analyst on the racing coverage of ABC/ESPN, Bailey is in fact one of 16 freshly minted Eclipse Award voters admitted to the club through their membership in the expanded and rebranded National Turf Writers & Broadcasters Association.

“You okay with that?” Bailey wondered.

Fine by me, and not just because broadcasters are far more attractive than turf writers. Bailey sounds like he has approached his voting responsibilities with the same analytical rigor with which he treats his television work. Of course, his vote will have no more or less weight than the other 262 turf writers and broadcasters, racing officials, and Equibase personnel who are part of the 2011 Eclipse Award process. The votes are cast electronically and due by 3 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The thinking is that by Monday, Jan. 2, the hangovers might not have cleared.

Six of Bailey‘s seven awards came the same year he topped the purse standings. This year, Ramon Dominguez holds the top spot.

“It used to be automatic,” Bailey said. “You win the money title you win the Eclipse. I always thought that was a little shortsighted. A guy who beat another guy by a hundred thousand dollars is not necessarily going to get my vote if that other guy won five more grade ones. And winning a classic, or a Breeders’ Cup race carries more weight to me than other grade one races.”

Among the others from the broadcast world now voting for champions are Bob Neumeier of NBC, Simon Bray and Rich Perloff of TVG, host Steve Byk of “At the Races,” and Caton Bredar, the veteran broadcaster whose work can be found on a number of media platforms.

Donna Barton Brothers, who slid gracefully from the saddle to a reporter’s role with NBC, joins Bailey as another former player now passing judgement on the champions of the sport. She had just finished agonizing over just about all the categories when she was reached at home in Kentucky.

“Is it always this hard?” she asked. “I mean, with the exception of My Miss Aurelia and Royal Delta, you really have to give it some thought. And I really did, because it matters.”

Brothers, who rode 1,130 winners during her career, tapped husband Frank Brothers for some ballot feedback. This is allowed, especially when your lifeline won two classics and trained a champion.

“Frankie can give more weight to some grade one races than others, because he knows how hard they are to win,” Donna said. “For the most part, though, I looked at it like a handicapper.”

The Santa Anita-based racing network HRTV also is well represented among the new electorate. (full disclosure: this reporter has a close relation working at a camera for the network. Hello, son.) Each of them has a racing pedigree.

Karen Johnson’s father, the late P.G. Johnson, is in the Hall of Fame. Scott Hazelton’s father, Richard Hazelton, maybe should be. Millie Ball, a jockey in her native England, is married to trainer Tim Yakteen. Peter Lurie, the son of an actor, has been an owner, breeder, and jockey’s agent.

“You couldn’t pick a more difficult year to get your feet wet as a first-time voter,” Lurie said, echoing the sentiments of Brothers. “I mean, we’re not curing cancer here, but you want to be as fair and unbiased as possible.

“I think it’s important to look not just at the races a horse won but also those he didn’t win, who they ran against and how they were beaten,” Lurie noted. “That’s very much the case with Horse of the Year. I’ll tell you, though, I am looking forward to voting for Amazombie as champion sprinter – wins out here on dirt and synthetic, then goes to Churchill Downs and takes the Breeders’ Cup. That‘s my kind of champion.”

As the regular rider of 13 champions, Bailey would tend to know what they look like on paper.

“I’ve approached voting like I did selecting horses to ride,” he said. “And if it comes down to tie-breakers, grade ones carry a little more weight than other things.

“But it’s not all numbers,” Bailey added. “I’ll give you an example. In 2009, I had a hard time with Rachel Alexandra getting Horse of the Year over Zenyatta. I thought that Rachel Alexandra took the easier spot in the Woodward at Saratoga rather than running in the Travers. To me, that made a difference.

“So sometimes,” Bailey added, “when it comes down to breaking a tie in your mind, it’s not what they do. It’s what they didn’t do.”

Which is about as inscrutable as the 2011 ballot itself.