Jerry Bailey ended one of the greatest riding careers in the history of the sport when he retired at the start of the 2006 season. He won a record seven Eclipse Awards as the outstanding jockey in North America as part of a stunning rise that is documented in his autobiography, “Against the Odds: Riding for My Life,” which was co-authored by Tom Pedulla.
Bailey made a successful transition to the broadcast booth and will serve as an analyst when NBC televises the Stars & Stripes Racing Festival from New York’s Belmont Park on Saturday.
Bailey and Pedulla combined again for this wide-ranging question and answer session:
PEDULLA: Was it painful to leave behind your riding career?
BAILEY: No, it wasn’t. I was really ready to stop. I had accomplished pretty much everything that I thought I could with the exception of the Triple Crown. But I could have ridden another 50 years without coming across a horse good enough to do that. I was tired of traveling. I had been pretty much a little bit hungry for 31 years and it was time.
PEDULLA: What, if anything, do you miss about it?
BAILEY: What I missed was winning. I look at things as a whole and there is a lot of time away from the family, diet and danger, so I was happy with my decision. I was ready to go into broadcasting.
PEDULLA: What was the transition into broadcasting like?
BAILEY: Suzee, my wife, was in broadcasting when I met her, so she was able to help me and that was kind of seamless.
PEDULLA: Beyond Suzee’s impact, were there other elements that helped make it seamless?
BAILEY: I had jumped up periodically and done some broadcasting because my horses had been scratched late in the game. I had a taste of it.
PEDULLA: How do you find the broadcasting industry?
BAILEY: It’s a lot like I prepared for riding. I look at replays, I look at the Daily Racing Form, I study how the pace will develop. The only difference is that instead of reacting to it on the back of a horse at 40 miles an hour, I am trying to calculate during that race time how I am going to explain it to the public. That’s really the major difference. Instead of reacting to it physically, I am trying to mentally react to what I see during the race and relay that to the public in terms they can understand.
PEDULLA: How different is it watching a race compared with riding in a race?
BAILEY: It is somewhat different because I don’t have a bird’s-eye view. I’m not in the middle of the pack watching it. But I see things coming on television. It’s very much like sitting in the jock’s room and not having a mount and watching the race. It’s very much like that. There are a lot of similarities between my down time as a jockey and watching and sitting in the television booth.
PEDULLA: What is your greatest challenge as a broadcaster?
BAILEY: The biggest thing is to not dumb it down to our core audience but to explain to people who don’t watch a lot of racing in terms they can understand.
PEDULLA: I know you have a great relationship with Randy Moss. I have seen you working the barns together. How important is that relationship?
BAILEY: He and I prepare 75 percent of our material sitting next to each other. Our philosophy is that it doesn’t matter who comes up with information relevant to the show, as long as one of us gets it in, and that’s throughout the whole broadcast team.
PEDULLA: In seeing you visit trainers, and I’m sure you are in the jocks room, too, how much of the job is that kind of preparation?
BAILEY: To me, it’s essential. The thing is, you’re only going to use 10 percent of what you learn. You just don’t know what 10 percent. If you haven’t prepared for the unexpected, you know racing. It’s going to happen.
PEDULLA: What are your thoughts on the Stars & Stripes Festival at Belmont Park?
BAILEY: I think it’s great. The jury was kind of out for me initially about stacking all these major races on a single day. But I think it’s worked out really well. I think the public really likes it. It has created a big-event kind of day.
PEDULLA: It looks as though it will have an international flavor for sure.
BAILEY: New York racing has done a good job in attracting some of the brighter stars of Europe. Now, you’re never going to get their number ones because they don’t have to send them to win. They can send the second tier, the second string if you will, and still be plenty competitive. We rarely get the absolute best until you get closer to the Breeders’ Cup. We get good ones, but it doesn’t take their best to win here.
PEDULLA: How important are these races on Stars & Stripes day?
BAILEY: It’s important to let the public develop relationships with horses they will see later this summer and in the fall in the Breeders’ Cup. This series of races does that for us.