01/28/2003 12:00AM

It's Bailey as top jock yet again

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In winning the Eclipse Award for best jockey in six of the last eight seasons, Jerry Dale Bailey has done something achieved only by the greatest of sports personalities.

He has made it look easy - and a little bit boring. Rooting for Bailey to win big races these days is a little like pulling for General Motors, or Standard Oil. The rich get richer, and the rest of us are allowed to watch.

Bailey began winning Eclipse Awards in 1995 while attached to the magnificent Cigar. When Cigar retired in 1996, Bailey never missed a beat, winning the award for the third straight year in 1997, then again in 2000 and 2001.

Gary Stevens managed to get a word in edgewise back in 1998 when he won the Eclipse and temporarily sidetracked the Bailey machine. So it was appropriate Monday night at the Eclipse Awards to see Stevens on stage opening the envelope for top jockey of 2002.

"History is made," Stevens said as he announced Bailey's name. With that, Bailey, 45, had tied Laffit Pincay as the only riders to win six Eclipse Awards (although it should be noted that one of Pincay's was designated a Special Eclipse in 1999 to celebrate the season he broke Bill Shoemaker's all-time record for winners).

Bailey has won all six of his at the year-end polls. In 2002 he did it with 213 winners, 67 stakes wins, and North American mounts that earned $19,271,814. Bailey won major stakes with You, Street Cry, Nonsuch Bay, Dancethruthedawn, Beat Hollow, Imperial Gesture, Congaree, and champion sprinter Orientate. Nine other jockeys received recognition on Eclipse Award ballots but Bailey blew them away with 147 votes.

The bad news is that Bailey stayed home in Florida on the night of the Eclipse Awards. The good news? He asked ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne to accept in his place.

"Jerry really did call me," Mayne protested, as if the most successful rider of the past decade would never do such a thing.

Departing briefly from his duties as the evening's master of ceremonies, Mayne conveyed Bailey's gratitude to his family for their support and to the owners and trainers who supplied him with such firepower. Mayne kept a straight face, then commenced to embroider upon Bailey's sentiments:

"Jerry asked that I change this award to the Lifetime Achievement Award," he began.

"Jerry asked me to ask Mr. Phipps to give me $100 million to start a stable," he went on.

"Jerry asked my wife to have sex with me tonight," Mayne concluded, and with that it became clear. He was just making that stuff up.