Four Unbeatens in Kentucky Derby Field

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Entrants in this year's Kentucky Derby will line up on Saturday for a chance to win the fabled race — and the first third of a possible Triple Crown. Four main horses are unbeaten going into the race: Barbaro, Showing Up, Lawyer Ron and the favorite Brother Derek. On the eve of the 132nd running of the race, Michele Norris talks with legendary former rider and current ABC commentator Jerry Bailey.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

20 thoroughbreds, two minutes, and a blanket of roses for the winner. The 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby takes place tomorrow. Jerry Bailey is used to being on the track on Derby Day. As a top-flight jockey, he rode the Derby 17 times during his 31-year career. He won twice. But this year, he'll be up in the press box as an analyst for ESPN and ABC. He retired from racing last year. He spent much of this pre-Derby Day watching the fillies run the Kentucky Oaks Race at Churchill Downs. When we spoke this afternoon, he said he's still adjusting to life out of the saddle.

JERRY BAILEY (Former jockey, Kentucky Derby): It's very strange. You know, I was always used to going to stables in the morning, and then around noontime coming over to the jockeys' quarters and going through my routine, losing a pound or two and getting dressed and studying the races and then going out on the racetrack.

NORRIS: Did you just say losing a pound or two?

Mr. BAILEY: Yes.

NORRIS: In what period of time? Is that something you could do in a day or two, just drop a pound or two?

Mr. BAILEY: How about in an hour or two?

NORRIS: Oh my goodness, I ...

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, you know, you ...

NORRIS: Do I dare ask how you do that?

Mr. BAILEY: These races - well sure, these races, the horses are assigned certain weights and those weights, the jockey has to make with their body weight and/or saddle. So let's say a horse gets in this race with 120 pounds, he's assigned 120 pounds. Well, the jockey would weigh 114 dressed and then he'd have to have a saddle to make up the difference and sometimes there's lead put in the pockets of the saddles. But if a horse gets in with 110 pounds, then we need to take a little trip to the sauna, sweat off a couple of pounds, and come back in and weigh in.

NORRIS: Ah, now that's the secret.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, it's very temporary but it's what's required for our job.

NORRIS: Well, since you're so good at riding horses, are you good at picking horses?

Mr. BAILEY: That I am pretty good at.

NORRIS: So can I ask you to handicap tomorrow's race?

Mr. BAILEY: Surely. There's 20 horses and the Derby is one of the hardest races to handicap because of the fact of the size of the field. Most horse races in America these days are generally between eight and 10, 12 horses. The Derby has 20 and that creates a huge traffic problem for any horses coming from behind. But that's exactly where most of them do come from in the Kentucky Derby, is from somewhere behind the lead.

It's going to be a fairly quick pace. There's two or three horses, Sinister Minister, Keyed Entry and Sharp Humor, will probably set the pace, followed by the California sensation, Brother Derek, who will probably be lane third or fourth or fifth, something like that. And the horses I like are Lawyer Ron and Point Determined. And I think they will be positioned at - or should be positioned you know, some five or six or seven lengths off the pace, you know, lane fifth, sixth, seventh, something like that, to where they're ahead of most of the pack but behind the true speed horses, and will be able to come on through the stretch and get the money.

NORRIS: How do they come up with these names?

Mr. BAILEY: Oh, there are a variety of ways they're chosen. Sometimes they're chosen over a dinner, sometimes they're chosen by the name of the mother and the father and put a combination. There was a horse I used to ride called Devil's Bag. Actually I didn't ride him, I rode against him, and that was a sire of a horse and the mother was named Number, so they came up with sixes. And you know, you take devil number and sixes, you get sixes. So there's some neat ways to pick them and there's some very peculiar ways to pick them.

NORRIS: Are you superstitious?

Mr. BAILEY: I never was as a jockey. I didn't believe in it, but I always put my left boot on first.

NORRIS: Just because you started doing that and you started winning? What's the story there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, I was superstitious. I was joking with you.

NORRIS: I asked you because I heard that jockeys are terribly superstitious.

Mr. BAILEY: Yeah, we can be. We get in routines and if we're winning through those routines, we try and keep them. But that was one thing I always did. For whatever reason, I always put my left boot on first.

NORRIS: Is there a legend in the making in this field, a Secretariat among them?

Mr. BAILEY: Well, there's a possibility of that. There's a horse named Barbaro who's undefeated. And I think that's the only undefeated horse we have in here so the others have proven that they're somewhat beatable. But that's a horse that if he won, I could say, you know, he would be elevated quite a bit in the public perception.

NORRIS: They've proved that they're somewhat beatable? That's a nice way of saying that they've lost a race.

Mr. BAILEY: That's, you know, that's, when I approach a race, I look and I, you know, if the horse is a favorite, like Brother Derek's, he's a favorite. And I look and I see a lot of wins but if I see him where he's gotten beat once or twice, I look and see how he got beat so that I can try and maybe emulate that same way and beat him.

NORRIS: Well, we just heard the call to the post of in the distance there so I guess you probably got work to do. We should let you go.

Mr. BAILEY: Surely.

NORRIS: Jerry Bailey. He rode in the Kentucky Derby 17 times during the 31-year career. He spoke to us from Churchill Downs. Mr. Bailey, it's been great talking to you.

Mr. BAILEY: Thank you so much for having me.

NORRIS: And if you're planning on watching the race, check out npr.org. You'll find a guide there for throwing a Kentucky Derby party. It includes recipes for Derby Pie and Mint Juleps.

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