An ace jockey gives a sincere, straightforward account of his alcoholism and his sensational career.
Bailey always loved horses, from his youth in Texas, through his years working as an apprentice, and on to today, as one of the most celebrated jockeys in sport history. Bailey also always loved alcohol—vodka was his spirit of choice—and he embraced the bottle hard for 15 years. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a life-of-the-party type, but, as he himself says, he “was never a good drunk,” adding that he “could be belligerent and condescending.” In denial, he took out his demons on his wife, friends and family, his wife getting the worst of the abuse while the others suffered his neglect. He was riding well, too—not at the top of his game, but good enough to ignore the truth that alcohol might be holding him back from greatness. He worried mainly that if owners discovered he was a drunk, they wouldn’t trust him with their best horses, which was certainly true and drove him deeper into secrecy, though he’s aware now that almost losing his wife should have been an even greater concern. He was lying to her as well, claiming to be off the sauce and into AA, but she found him out, and in 1989 he agreed to seek counseling. He has stuck with the program ever since, and the extent that drink had thwarted his career has been made clear through his remarkable string of major achievements. As forceful as Bailey’s story is, it gains even greater scope and interest through the detailed accounts of his wins: his way of making the moves, anticipating the action, and sensing what his horse wants as he wins doubles in all the Triple Crown events, takes the Breeder’s Cup, wins Dubai and achieves a boggling 10-for-10 season on Cigar.
It’s tempting to raise a glass in salute to Bailey’s manifold achievements. But make it a 7-Up.