On the ground, Howie Bailey’s a skinny, serious teen-ager. On a horse, he’s a whirlwind jockey, earning $10,000 a year
LARGELY BECAUSE he is an unbridled lover of horses, Howard Robert Bailey, a sad-faced, skinny, 18-year-old native of Toronto, is probably the only adolescent in the country earning $10,000 a year and occupying a position from which he can conceivably retire at an age when many young men are looking for their first job.
Bailey is a jockey, the current meteor among Canadian riders, an unknown around the race courses a year ago who, in the 1947 season, pounded unannounced on the door of the horsy heavens n ' i became the leading hooter on Canadian tracks. And this spring, in his first King’s Plate appearance, he rode Last Mark to win by five lengths in the fastest time in which the 89-year-old race has ever been run.
Jockey Bailey never rode in a horse race until 1946, rode 50 losers before he was aboard a winner and entered the 1947 season with exactly eight victories on his record. By last foil he was loved by betters in four cities and had earned himself the kind of money many an executive cherishes.
‘‘He’s just a natural-born rider,” explains his agent and contract owner, W. W. (Will) Young, “I knew it the first time I saw him.”
That was back in the winter of 1942-43 when Bailey was 13. Young was caring for seven horses which had been pulled into winter quarters in an acre field near a school in the north end of Toronto. Kids from the school used to get in Young’s hair, he recalls. All of them were clumsy and a little afraid around the horses, all of them except one.
I picked this one out of the bunch,” he says. ‘‘I took him aside one day and I said to him, ‘Listen, son, if you want to make yourself a few dollars a week you can help me with these horses. But get rid ofthat mob of kids; they’re drivin’ me nuts.’
So he got rid of ’em and started to help me water and feed the horses. I had a two-year-old and a three-year-old, neither of ’em broken. I ast the kid if he wanted to learn Continued on page 4.5
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to break a colt and I let him go ahead with these two. There was lots of manure spread over the acre pasture so 1 knew he couldn’t hurt himself if one of ’em threw him.
“Well, 1 started doin’ some work in the barn and when 1 looked out to see how he was makin’ out I see he’d been thrown all right. But he was gettin’ up and he started pettin’ the colt and talkin’ to him and he got him over by the fence and when he got him there he kept talkin’ to him and pettin’ him and all the time he was climbin’ the fence so as he could get back on the colt. He made it and he rode away from the fence just as nice as you please and 1 knew then that he was just a natural-born horseman, which are born, not made. Most kids woulda run a mile when that colt threw ’em.
That was the beginning for H. R. Bailey and Will Young has been watching him in a paternal way ever since. Last season, for example, Young wouldn’t let Bailey ride at Toronto’s Dufferin track because of the wild melees that frequently mark the races at that half-mile bandbox.
“He was too good a kid to get mixed up in those scrambles when he was only 17,’’ explains Young with some intensity. “I couldn’t love my own son more, if I had a son, and no son of mine would 1 want to see gettin his neck broken in those short stretches. Besides, his folks didn’t like Dufferin, either, and I promised them he wouldn’t ride there.”
So Howie didn’t. But at Toronto’s other three tracks, Woodbine, Long Branch and Thorncliffe, and in the three cities which complete Canada’s strongest racing circuit, Hamilton, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie, he piled up more wins than any other rider, including the more-experienced hands who took a flyer at Dufferin.
The exact number of races won by Bailey presents an argumentative situation. Young takes issue with the American Racing Manual, an encyclopedia of racing devoting 1,200 pages annually to the improvement of the breed, because it credits Bailey with only 84 winners.
16 Wins in 100
“I distinctly remember the day we figured he’d won his 100th race, Young says vigorously. For his part, Bailey, a soft-spoken, polite, incredibly mature youngster, is not certain of his record.
“1 thought it was around 100,” he says. “I know it was 81 when I lost my apprenticeship and 1 won quite a few races after that. The people who put out those books should know, though, shouldn’t they?”
Whatever the accurate figure, it is a credit to a booter whose riding was confined to the Ontario circuit. \ he Racing Manual gives Bailey his 84 wins in 515 races, out of which he also had 82 seconds and 65 thirds, a total of 231 horses in the money. He is listed as winning 16% of his races, and this compares favorably with 19 for famed Eddie Arcaro, 18 for Ted Atkinson, 13 for Basil James and nine tor Bobby Permane. The great Johnhy Longden, in riding more than 300 winners last year, had a winning percentage of 24. He went to the starting gate nearly 1,300 times.
Many of the balkier handicappers are reluctant to call Bailey’s achievement outstanding on the grounds that he was an apprentice jockey and therefore able to capitalize on the five-pounds weight allowance permitted fledglings.
Yet he scored 17 victories in the last month of racing after he had lost, as they say around the race tracks, his bug.
Before the track becomes too heavy here, it should be mentioned that a jockey is classed as an apprentice, regardless of how many races he wins, for a year after he wins his first race or, as the horsy expression goes, breaks his maiden. If he doesn’t win 40 races in that year, however, he continues as an apprentice until he does. Because apprentices are permitted to carry five pounds less weight in the handicapping than a graduate rider, many owners prefer to place apprentice jocks, or bug boys, on their horses because horsemen agree that five pounds can mean as much as two lengths to a horse in a mile race. Consequently, many jockeys are hired simply because they are apprentices and as soon as they lose their bug they are dropped by the owners in favor of other apprentice boys.
They All Like Him
Good jockeys, of course, have more on the horse than a five-pound weight allowance and, as in the case of Bailey, loss of the bug does not deter the majority of horse owners from seeking their services. The day after Bailey’s apprenticeship expired last fall he was hired by Jim Fair to ride Last Mark in the $7,500 Coronation Stakes at Woodbine Park and he rode a winning race. Fair, who regards young Howie as an exceptionally promising rider, turned Last Mark over to the youngster this year for the King’s Plate.
Bailey, with a quiet demeanor unique among 18-year-olds, doesn’t appear to have an enemy around the race courses, so flatteringly do owners, trainers and swipes speak of him.
“A real little gentleman,” was the unexpectedly sentimental way a hardbitten, gnarled, small-stable owner described him one dawn at Long Branch race track.
“There isn’t a finer boy in this business,” observed a swipe, pausing from his labors with a pitchfork in a stall, “and this can be a very rough business.”
“He’s not a smart aleck, likt; a lot of kids his age,” a trainer, who was clocking a horse on the track, commented. “Look at him go out there.” The sun was just beginning to play across the grass of the infield and on the track there were perhaps half a dozen horses, trotting, jogging, running, each going through his various phases of conditioning. A lead pony cantered by, its rider holding the reins of a frisky colt whose nose was nuzzled across the back of the lead pony. Then a horse hugging the rail, his ears flat against his head, his long tail straight back like smoke from a speeding locomotive, flashed past, the jockey, who was Bailey, hunched low, with his cap pulled backward across the nape of his neck and a high, turtle-neck sweater keeping out the early morning chill. Beyond the track were the shed rows and the stables where horses that already had lx;en galloped were being cooled out by the grooms (or swipes, or ginnies), being walked up and down under the lowhanging sheds in front of the endless stalls. A dog followed in the footsteps of one of the horses and music from a radio floated across the straw-strewn ground. A stall door banged and a trainer led out a horse and he talked earnestly to the jockey, bundled in a windbreaker, on the horse’s back. At the end of the shed row was a door leading to the jocks’ room and it was from here, after awhile, that Howie Bailey, called H. R. Bailey in the
racing programs, surveyed the whole scene.
“There’s an excitement about it that stirs something in here,” he said, hitting his stomach with the flat of his hand. “I’ve never bet a race, but 1 feel a stirring in here every time 1 think about riding a winner or just galloping horses around a track like this morning. It’s always been that way.”
That all began even before Will Young recognized him as a “naturalborn horseman” over four years ago. It began when Bailey, born Aug. 20, 1929, was 11 and his parents found he was spending all his time at a riding school near his home in the northwest section of Toronto. The operator ran it on a small scale, renting out four horses to anybody who wanted to go for a jog. Howie’s dad, Bob Bailey, now a photoengraver in Toronto, had liked horses as a youngster, although he had never done any professional riding, and he was entirely in accord with young Howie’s interest. Occasionally he shelled out 50 cents so that the boy could rent a horse for half an hour.
Then after Howie turned 13 he met Will Young and for two winters and one summer he helped him. By then he knew that he wanted to be a jockey. Young had a talk with his parents, expressed the desire to hire Howie and take him* with him on the summer circuit during school holidays. They agreed.
So Howie worked for Young in the summertime and went back to school in the winter. For a year he galloped horses, learning the correct hold on the reins and the correct balance in the saddle. He started galloping “easy” horses, ones which did not pull or kick excessively. Then he advanced to the point where he was permitted to “breeze one for an eighth,” that is, ride a horse under restraint for an eighth of a mile, moving faster than a gallop but not going all out. Then he'd give one a “two-minute lick,” a little faster than an open gallop.
Start at $15 a Month
After he’d learned to breeze horses, he moved to the starting gate. He’d stand in the gate on a two-year-old so that both the jockey and the colt would become accustomed to the gate. He’d walk it out of the gate and the starter would ring the bell and the jock would yell at the horse and the horse would come to know what the bell meant and he’d be flying when it sounded. That was how it went while he was working for Young and when he wasn’t galloping or breezing the horses he was walking them or watering them or cleaning out stables. When he was 16 and in third year at high school Bailey, with the full approval of his parents, left school and turned all of his attention to riding.
Under his Incorporated Canadian Racing Association contract as an apprentice jockey, Bailey received his clothes, food, bed, doctor bills and a little spending money for his services and his family received $15 a month for the first year and $20 for the second. By the ICRA graduated scale of reimbursement, the fee increases $10 a month per year until the fifth year, but in Bailey’s case this wasn’t necessary because he was riding horses and making more money than that himself after the third year. He rode his first race when lie was 16.
“He was up on an old mare 1 had called Bossy Mark,” Young recalls. “She was sound in the spring but she got kicked in the gate and the only thing 1 could do was patch her up and let him go to it. I used to blister
her and rub her with liniment to get the soreness out of her leg. I had a colt then, too, but it was a two-yearold and the kid wasn’t allowed to ride a two-year-old until he had run two races.”
It Pays to Lose—For a While
Howie rode in 22 races before he got any horse into the money. That was at Niagara Falls, again on Bossy Mark. Bossy was such a rank outsider that she paid $36 to place. That shows what kind of horse he was getting to ride. As he puts it, “I wasn’t getting many live mounts.” He is grateful for that, however. “You get better experience when you’re riding had stock,” he explains. “You have a chance to watch the better hoys, the older fellahs. You find out your mistakes quicker.”
On his 51st trip to the races, Bailey finally rode a winner. Will Young remembers it well.
“One day Bill King came to me and he said, T want your hoy to work my colt, Will.’ It was called Geemanjo and Bill was so pleased with the way the kid handled the colt he gave him a mount. The kid broke his own and Geemanjo’s maiden at Woodbine in September of 1946 and after that he rode seven more winners at Long Branch.
“The last race of the fall season was at two miles and 70 yards, a long race for a green kid. He rode for William McDonald and after he’d won it I said to him, ‘Hovv’d you go, How?’ He said, T remembered what you’d always told me, Will. In a long race, get out of the latch in a good spot, maybe the third or fourth hole, and lay there till between the three-eighths and the quarter pole and then make your move. That’s what I did, Will.’ The kid won it, going away. That’s a thing about the kid that makes him a good jock; he does what the trainer tells him.”
Young also recalls the fervor with which Bailey undertook to improve his riding during the days that he was galloping horses.
“He used to go into the feed room, put a staple into the wall and fasten a shank (the rope strap which a man can fasten to a horse’s halter to walk him) to it. Then he’d straddle an overturned bale of hay in front of the shank as if he were riding. He’d hold a whip in one hand and the shank in the other and he’d practice changing hands with the whip and shank, which took the place of the horse’s reins.”
Bailey is naturally a left-hander which is an advantage because horses tend to become accustomed to getting the whip from a right-hander. “He gets a left-hand crack and it wakens him up,” Young says of the horse. Because of Bailey’s practice on the bale of hay he can change hands rapidly and now is ambidextrous with the whip.
He has a reputation of being a strong finisher, getting the most out of his mounts in the home stretch. “The kid has a cool head and uses his cool head in taking advantage of openings and in getting that last inch out of a horse,” says Young. “He can lift a horse, almost, giving him his whole head at the wire. Put this down: Say Mr.
Young has been told by the racing stewards, and 1 have, too, that they never saw an apprentice that could pick up a horse and drop him under the wire in a photo like Bailey can.”
Bailey is taller than most jockeys, nearly five foot six, hut he is a lean, strong, wiry youngster with most of his weight in his shoulders and arms. His legs are long and skinny and he’s small-honed. His weight has never
exceeded 115 and when he’s in condi-
tion it’s around 109. He isn’t compelled to diet, although if his weight goes beyond 110 he confines his meals to salads for a few days and then he can eat anything again. He has a lean, handsome young face, with a sprinkling of freckles, blue, level eyes and wiry, sandy hair. He speaks softly, in a straightforward, calm manner, without gesture, and his mien is more that of a mature adult than an 18-year-old boy But like most 18-year-olds he has a steady girl, takes her dancing, bowling, skiing, swimming and skating, wears loafers and sweaters. Unlike most 18-vear-olds, he owns a current model, grey Studebaker and affects conservatively colored sports jackets and ties.
He does most of his dating in the wintertime because his riding routine is rigorous during the racing season. He gets up at six o’clock seven mornings a week, eats toast, and coffee and gallops horses until eight. He either sleeps or hangs around the track until noon when he goes to the jocks’ room for the rest of the afternoon. Last summer, Bailey rode as many as seven races a day, although his average was nearer three. Whether he’s riding a race or not, he may not leave the jocks’ room except to take a mount. If he were to be riding, say, the first and seventh races, he’d spend the interim playing cards or ping-pong with other jockeys, or reading. Finished for the day after the last race, he gets away from the track around six o’clock and spends the evening leisurely, perhaps seeing a movie, and gets to bed by nine o’clock.
Top physical condition means a good deal to a jockey so sleep is important. “If you’re not in shape you can’t properly handle a horse,” he says. He doesn’t smoke or drink. “He don’t chew, either,” reports Young with profound sincerity.
No Injuries, Yet
Young currently has Bailey’s book; that is, acts as his agent, digging up and accepting his riding assignments, collecting $2 for each mount. He has given first call on Bailey’s services to trainer Johnny Pessaro, but when Pessaro does not have a horse running Young books Howie for other trainers and owners. Under a new agreement reached between the owners and the jockeys’ guild, the Jockeys’ Benevolent
Fund, riders in Ontario this year wall collect $35 for a winning mount, $25 for a second place, $20 for third and $15 for a ride. Until this year the scale has been $30 for a win and $15 for all other positions. In addition, a jockey generally receives 10% of the purse in stake races. Most owners abide by this practice, although they are not legally compelled to. Bailey figures a good jockey should find little difficulty in earning $8,000 a year on the Ontario circuit, providing he gets his share of mounts and a little better than his share of wins.
For more than three months prior to the opening of the current season, Bailey was earning $50 a week for galloping Pessaro’s horses at Long Branch, getting the horses into racing shape. He arrived at the track each day around 6.30 or 6.45 and galloped five or six of Pessaro’s 10-horse stable.
He was through every day by 10.30 and had the rest of the time for himself.
In midwinter he went to Gulfstream Park at Hollywood, Fla:, to ride for the Medway Stable of London, Ont., but it wasn’t a particularly successful venture —no wins, but a few seconds and thirds —because only three of the horses were in shape to run. In all of his riding he has been helped greatly, he says, by veteran jockey Frankie Dougherty.
Frankie, in fact, was involved with Howie and Pat Robillard in a race last year at Woodbine in which the to-date uninjured Bailey had a close call. Robillard was aboard Barefoot Joe and was leading the field, along with Bailey on Elmbrook Lady, at the first turn. Barefoot Joe became frightened and started to run out toward the outside rail. Robillard jumped, but the horse stepped on him and four horses coming up from behind fell over them in a bad spill. Bailey, just getting Elmbrook Lady clear, continued to run but (lie mare was drifting out on him and Dougherty, coming up from behind on Youville, nosed him out before Howie could get the Lady straightened.
Another time Pat Remillard’s horse stepped in a hole as the horses were leaving the gate at Long Branch. The horse went up in the air, twisting, and threw his rider, Remillard, who spun through the air and came down with a ¡ crash on the back of Bailey’s horse, ¡ missing Howie by inches. The accident j didn’t frighten his horse, Bailey recalls, but it didn’t go on to win. ★