The King Of Kings

At Top Of His Form, Jockey Hopes To Retire In One Piece

Even if you are not a horse-racing fan, you've probably heard of a little colt out of Philadelphia named Smarty Jones who has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and is on track to be a Triple Crown winner if he triumphs in this weekend's Belmont Stakes.

But five times in the last seven years, the horse that won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness was beaten in the Belmont, including last year's darling, Funny Cide, who got his doors blown off by a horse ridden by that upset specialist Jerry Bailey.

In the sport of kings, Jerry Bailey is the king of kings. Last season alone, the horses he rode won a record $24 million. He's been voted Jockey of the Year seven times, including the last four in a row. He has 13 Breeders' Cup winners and six Triple Crown victories. And it might have been seven, had his horse not been scratched the day before this year's Derby.

As Jerry Bailey will be the first to tell you, in this breathtaking but brutal sport, it hasn't always been an easy ride.

For his interview with 60 Minutes II, Bailey has agreed to wear a camera in his helmet and a tape recorder strapped to his back, and he goes through his workday paces at Florida's Gulfstream Park.

Sitting atop a 1,200-pound animal going 40 miles per hour, Bailey, who weighs just a bit more than 100 pounds and is clad in lime-green silks, is acting as if it's just another day at the office.

"You're perched on those stirrups, your two feet. And you're balanced about two inches above their back," Bailey says. "If everything goes smoothly, it's fine. But if they stumble, if they duck, if they dive going about 40 miles an hour, chances are you might come off."

In his career, Bailey has suffered 21 broken bones, including three cracked vertebrae and a broken jaw. It is the only sport in which an ambulance follows the athletes.

"When the phone rings, especially when someone calls from the racetrack," says Bailey's wife Suzee, "it's like 'OK, what happened? Is everything OK?'

'No. No, everything's fine. It's just this or that.'"

She tells Correspondent Charlie Rose she believes Bailey will be OK because she is convinced that he is good at what he does."

Just how good is he?

"He is the ultimate thinking man's rider," says sports writer Bill Nack. "Nobody comes into the paddock today better prepared. Nobody."

But Bailey is a tad uncomfortable with that reputation.

"Because the horse does a lot of the work," he tells Rose. "And to be honest with you, Charlie, if I'm not on a good horse, I can't carry him over the wire."

So the best horse doesn't always win?

"A good rider cannot make a bad horse win," Bailey says. "But a bad ride can get a good horse beat."

And, Rose reports, no one works harder, making sure he doesn't get bad horses, or give good horses bad rides. Bailey spends hours on his home computer, studying not just the horses, but also the tendencies of his fellow jockeys.

"Horses will change from race to race," he explains. "Riders don't. Human beings don't change."

That knowledge can sometimes make all the difference. "If you're sitting behind a horse on the lead," Bailey says, "and you know that jockey, when he turns for home, will go to left hand and he might drift off that much, you know, even if they've got you boxed in, to just be cool because you're probably gonna get through."

Preparing himself with what he calls "the little things like that" minimizes Bailey's chances of getting into trouble in a race.

Bailey didn't have opportunity to get in much trouble, growing up in El Paso, Texas, where every young boy wants to play football. The son of a prosperous dentist who owned some horses, Bailey admits to having had a chip on his shoulder for being too small to do the things he wanted to do.

He was too small for football, too short for basketball and too slow for track.

"You know," Bailey, recalls, "I was searching for a place where I could be a jock." And the place he could be a jock is a jockey.

"I saw a lot fun…a lot of pretty girls…a lot of money. I mean, I was a kid," he says of his early career.

He turned pro in the '70s, racing the smaller tracks in the Midwest. In the mid '80s, he was interviewed by an actress and would-be sportscaster who would become his wife.

"I asked him a few questions," recalls his wife, Suzee. "And I think at that point he knew I knew nothing about what I was talking about."

Bailey responds: "I knew I had her. You know…yeah…I knew I had her."

Romance grew quickly and so she was surprised – and scared- by her new love's mood swings and verbal abuse. It seems her gentleman jockey was also a mean alcoholic.

"I was in denial a lot," Suzee recalls. "And I think I came up in the era where booze was great as long as you didn't do drugs. So it was just booze and it didn't seem like it was that much."

To Bailey, it came with the territory. "I grew up with the philosophy of the older riders, you know, you drink, you be wild, you stay out all night. As long as you do your job in the morning, it was fine," he explains.

Did it affect his performance on the track?

"Well, I'm sure it did," Bailey says. "I mean, I know it did. My performance, my reaction time, everything."

Meanwhile, Suzee was threatening to divorce him. "I mean, I was really getting angry now," she says, "'cause I'm starting to see the writing on the wall. And I didn't like it."

And so on Jan. 15, 1989, Bailey checked into a treatment center and hasn't "had a drop since." He spent three months at an outpatient facility where he could ride in the daytime, and go there every night.

As soon as he stopped drinking, the Baileys' lives changed forever. After years of trying to have a child, Suzee finally gave birth to Justin, now 11. They call him the miracle child.

And in 1993, Bailey won his first Kentucky Derby, aboard a lightly regarded horse named Sea Hero. Months later, he won the Breeders' Cup classic aboard a French horse named Arcangues whose trainers spoke only French.

"They're telling me the instructions," Bailey recalls. "I'm saying, 'Yeah, right. OK.' You know, he's French. I didn't know what they were saying."

Then he found himself on a horse named Cigar that would put him at the top of the heap. "Riding him and pulling up next to those other horses in the middle of a race," Bailey says of Cigar, "was like getting in a Ferrari and pulling next to a Volkswagen.

"You know, you just look over and smile. And everybody else knows that you're just gonna kill 'em."

Cigar would just smoke the field, winning 16 consecutive races, tying the record. Bailey was aboard for the last 15.

Today, Bailey is clearly number one, and when you're number one, you get the best horses and the fewest friends.

Sportswriter Bill Nack observes, "Jockeys don't believe he's a very good winner, because he has an air of arrogance about him and a sense of entitlement that all really great riders have. Arcaro had it. If he didn't win, why, something was amiss in the cosmos.

"But other jockeys in the jock room don't like him. He doesn't have any friends. I don't know that he ever walks out with anybody." Bailey knows that and says, "It's the nature of the business, unfortunately. And it's nothing personal. It's business."

And this spring, Bailey had his usual pick of the litter, like Read the Footnotes, who won the Fountain of Youth Stakes in a dramatic stretch drive. For the Kentucky Derby, he bumped another rider off of Wimbledon, who won the Louisiana Derby but was scratched a day before the big race in Kentucky, leaving Bailey virtually no time to find another mount.

Now 46, Bailey says he will probably call it quits after next season, wanting only to win one more Kentucky Derby, now that his son is old enough to be there and appreciate it. Trainer Nick Zito thinks getting out is a good idea.

"See this horse bit me in the face? Pushed this in. There's a tooth mark from a scar," Zito says. "Racing's dangerous. If you're lucky enough and God's been good to you and blessed you, you should get out. Because you're one of the chosen few.

"And if you stick around and something happens to you, they say, 'Man, he had all that money, he had a beautiful wife, he had a kid. Look at him.' So I think he should go. Yes, sir."

Other than having his son at Churchill Downs when he wins the Derby, Bailey wants only "to walk out of the game in one piece."

"And it's not an easy thing to do, " he says. "Some guys go in and come out in wheelchairs. So you know, in the grand scheme of things, the winning's great, and God knows, I've had my share. But when it's all over, I hope I'm still just in one piece."