09/05/2002 11:00PM

On Prado, Bailey, and bobbleheads


NEW YORK - You could argue that the biggest upset at Saratoga this year was Street Cry's loss in the Whitney or Zavata's third in the Hopeful. For sheer unexpectedness and margin of victory, though, the Jim Dandy of a surprise may have been Edgar Prado's 54-44 runaway over Jerry Bailey in the race for the riding title.

Going into the meet, an oddsmaker might have set Bailey at 2-5 and John Velazquez at 2-1, with Prado a distant third choice at 10-1. Early in the meeting, when Bailey led Prado by an 18-4 tally, you might have felt like 2-5 was an overlay. But it was Prado by 50-26 the rest of the way, and Bailey held the place spot by just two victories over Velazquez. It was as if Thumbsucker had come from 14 lengths off the pace to beat Slew o'Gold and Track Barron by 10 in the three-horse 1984 Whitney.

Before anyone sheds any tears for Bailey or talks about the end of an era, though, let's take a closer look at the numbers.

When Bailey won the Acorn June 7 aboard You, a television interviewer on horseback caught up with him as he pulled up and informed him that the filly's time had established a stakes record.

"Do we get paid extra for that?" was Bailey's first question.

In the same spirit, it's worth noting that the Saratoga riding title carries no monetary reward and that Bailey was still the king when it came to dollars. His mounts earned $3.83 million at Saratoga compared with Prado's $2.85 million and Velazquez's $2.79 million.

Those totals reflect the types of races in which Bailey and Prado had their greatest success. Prado won 19 maiden races to Bailey's 11, and 16 claiming races to Bailey's 5. Bailey actually ranked eighth in the standings in claiming victories. In allowance races, however, Bailey tied with Velazquez at 17, three more than Prado. In stakes races, it was all Bailey. He won 11 of the 33 stakes at the meeting to Prado's five, racking up $2.5 million to Prado's $1.06 million.

On a percentage basis, Bailey prevailed as well. His 44 victories came from 186 mounts, a 23.6 percent success rate, as opposed to Prado's 54-for-250 record, which works out to 21.6 percent.

Prado, however, gets the crown and also becomes the front-runner to be immortalized next summer the way that Bailey was this past July 28: with his own bobblehead doll as a promotional giveaway. If you couldn't make it to the Adirondacks that day to pick up NYRA's first collectible doll, there's a second chance on Sunday at Belmont, when the track will try to unload about 10,000 leftover Bailey bobbleheads. You can get one for every $2 grandstand admission you pay. That's a lot less than you have to spend for one on eBay these days.

From Aug. 23 to Sept. 3 alone, 82 Bailey bobbleheads were put up for auction on the popular Internet site and 78 of those met their reserve and sold for between $7.50 and $22.01. That range includes only standalone bobblehead sales. Autographed Bailey dolls have fetched up to $49.50, and bobblehead jockey sets including the Jon Court, Chris McCarron, and Laffit Pincay Jr. models from other tracks have gone as high as $160.

How does the median price of around $15 for a plain Bailey doll stack up with the 6,374 (no kidding) active eBay auctions for other bobbleheads? It beats the lone auction for a different Bailey, the Beetle Bailey bobblehead that went for $10.50 last week, but is well behind most of the baseball figures, led by a current $193.50 for a Willie Mays bobblehead given away on Mother's Day 1999 at Candlestick Park.

Pat Day finished only sixth in the Saratoga standings, but his Churchill Downs bobblehead from last Nov. 3 is fetching between $93 and $112.50 in four current eBay auctions. This appears to be a function of supply and demand: Only 12 were available during the same two-week period when 78 Baileys were sold, and they all went for at least $87.

Just as winning the most races at the meet doesn't necessarily make you the richest or highest-percentage rider, winning five Eclipse Awards and leading the nation in earnings doesn't make your doll the most valuable. Maybe next year, in addition to making 60,000 Prado bobbleheads, NYRA should mix in a few for the riders who won just one race at Saratoga 2002. With so many Baileys and Prados in circulation, a very limited edition might make a Dodie Duys, Ray Ganpath, or Dale Whittaker bobblehead worth more than many a trifecta.