Many people that I know consider Jerry Bailey to be the greatest tactical rider of the modern era. And while I don’t pay as much attention to the tendencies, skills, and deficiencies of jockeys as I should, I’d probably be hard pressed to argue with anyone claiming Bailey is at or very near the top of the list of all-time greats. That said, I’d argue that Bailey sometimes rode his horses not to win, but to make sure certain horses did NOT win. And in my opinion, the clearest example of this is his ride aboard Roar Emotion in the 2004 Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga.
I think Bailey’s disdain for Azeri started in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. He had the mount on Godolphin’s Imperial Gesture that day, and she was given a solid chance as the 4-1 third choice in the wagering. Azeri had a comfortable one-length lead around the Arlington oval, with Bailey and Imperial Gesture tracking intently in 2nd. As they turned for home, Azeri kicked on, while Bailey didn’t have the horse to keep up. He wound up 3rd. Azeri would be Horse of the Year.
Bailey and Azeri would not meet again until 2004 at Oaklawn in the Apple Blossom, when Bailey sat atop favored Wild Spirit. The bettors thought Azeri was vulnerable this day. They were wrong. Again, Azeri would grab the lead, kick on turning for home, and hold off Bailey and Wild Spirit in another Grade 1. It was two losses in two tries for Bailey against the Queen of the Distaff Division.
In the summer of 2004, Azeri was mismanaged by D. Wayne Lukas. She ran poorly around one-turn at Belmont twice, and was then correctly directed back to two-turn races, the first of which was the Go For Wand at Saratoga on August 1st. That day, she’d hook up with the brilliant SIghtseek, who at the time was winning everything in sight. Sightseek and Bailey would go to post in the Go For Wand as the odds-on favorites. Azeri was nearly 3-1. I bet on Azeri that day. I knew what anyone who read the form knew- She had NEVER lost a two-turn race in which she was sent to the early lead. Never. And I knew that based on her poor recent form around one turn, no one would worry about letting her go on the lead that day. And I was right. And I won a pile of money as a result.
Bailey let her go to the lead, and he could not catch her when it was time for the showdown. I think I read somewhere that he blamed it on the massive two extra pounds that Sightseek had to carry. But that was BS. Bailey got outridden. And I believe it was then that he decided Azeri would never win another race in which he rode a competitor. Because in Azeri’s very next start, the Personal Ensign, Bailey finally got his revenge…sort of. Watch below. He’s aboard #4 Roar Emotion.
Mission accomplished. Jerry Bailey gunned his mount to the lead so that Pat Day would have to go insanely fast if he wanted to make the front aboard Azeri. You can argue that Day was too close, or that he moved too soon. And frankly, you’d be right. But look how close Azeri was at the finish, and look how fast Roar Emotion spit the bit and stopped. It is undeniable that Jerry Bailey rode that race not to secure the best possible finish for Roar Emotion, but to make sure Azeri did not win. He was tired of seeing her win races with another jock on her back, sometimes as he rode the race favorite. So he sent Roar Emotion through eye-popping fractions at 1 1/4 miles around the testing Saratoga dirt course so that Azeri, a confirmed front-runner, would have to either burn herself up or revert to a non-preferred running style. And it worked….for Bailey. Not for Roar Emotion. There is no way a veteran jockey like Jerry Bailey could have possibly thought a filly like Roar Emotion could handle those fractions going that far. But he didn’t care. Securing a Grade 1 placing that day was not the goal. The goal was ensuring Azeri did not win.
Bailey and Azeri would face each other one more time. At Lone Star in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Azeri ran 5th against the boys. Bailey managed 3rd aboard Pleasantly Perfect. Azeri never raced again.