Racing: America's finest, Jerry Bailey, retires

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The Independent Online

A golden era in American racing came to an end yesterday when Jerry Bailey announced he will quit the saddle this month. No jockey in the world commands the same breadth of respect as Bailey, who conquered alcoholism early in his career to become one of the most accomplished riders of any age. Following the retirement last year of Gary Stevens and Pat Day, an enormous vacuum now beckons the next generation of American riders.

Bailey, 48, will work in television. "Though I will miss the thrill of physical competition I have been accustomed to for the past 31 years, this new seat will be far less dangerous than my old one," he said. "And it also includes lunch."

It is typical that Bailey should recognise the cue to which so many sporting greats are deaf. Unquestionably, he is quitting at the top. Champion racehorses seemed to acquire an extra glow from Bailey, who rode Cigar to the final 15 of 16 consecutive wins during 1995-1996. He has an unparalleled record in the sport's two richest prizes, winning three Dubai World Cups and the Breeders' Cup Classic for a fifth time on Saint Liam at Belmont barely two months ago. His overall tally of 15 wins at the Breeders' Cup - again a record - reflects the composure, sensitivity and ruthlessness he brought to the defining crucible of his profession.

Only Day accumulated more prize-money than Bailey, who introduced himself to British racegoers on Dubai Millennium at Royal Ascot in 2000 and won each Triple Crown race twice.

"I didn't get into this game because I loved horses," Bailey said last night. "But when I found Cigar I came to love horses. He was so genuine, so charismatic."