Chel-C Bailey off to strong start at Oaklawn

February 5, 2022

Hot Springs, Arkansas – Among apprentice jockey Chel-c Bailey’s goals after moving her tack to the Midwest last summer was to win a race at Arlington Park before the historic venue shuttered its doors – permanently – September 25. Bailey missed that goal (she had four seconds and seven thirds), but her stint at Arlington and another Chicago-area track, Hawthorne, opened doors this season at Oaklawn, where she has already six victories since the meeting began December 3. All paid double digits.

Bailey’s latest victory was noteworthy because it came aboard the appropriately named Richness ($20.40), who powered home by 3 ¼ lengths in last Sunday’s featured eighth race, an allowance sprint for Arkansas-bred females. The $100,000 purse dwarfed Bailey’s previous career-high figure, $42,000, which came in a $30,000 claiming sprint December 31 at Oaklawn. It was a team effort since Bailey’s husband, David Kembrey, is an exercise rider for Chicago fixture Tom Swearingen, who owns and trains Richness.

“The funny thing about that was that I didn’t even realize the price on it until I got back to the room and then David had called me and he was like, ‘That’s your first big race,’” Bailey said during training hours Tuesday morning. “I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ All I was looking at was that it was a 6-furlong sprint and making sure to go through the game plan of just a repeat of the last race, which she had won.”

A 20-something former high school and collegiate wrestler, Bailey launched her professional riding career in 2019 and recorded her first career winner Feb. 28, 2020, at Oaklawn aboard Burtnjoe. She added two more winners in 2020 at Oaklawn and another that fall at Keeneland.

Citing COVID-19 issues, protecting a 10-pound weight allowance and possibly resurrecting her MMA career, Bailey spent most of the 2021 Oaklawn meeting working as an exercise rider for trainer Brad Cox. She resumed riding last May in the Mid-Atlantic region, but couldn’t generate business and relocated to the Midwest with Kembrey. He was an exercise rider for trainer Mike Puhich at the 2021 Oaklawn meeting.

“Whenever we had gotten back from Maryland, Delaware, we went to Arlington and David was looking for a job,” Bailey said. “Tom needed somebody and he also knew that Tom goes Oaklawn. He was looking at the future because he didn’t want to work for a Chicago trainer that was going to Fairmount or going elsewhere, Kentucky, somewhere else. He got into his barn and is pretty much assistant, gallop hand, everything. I knew that Tom had horses that he was going to be coming here with and he had David in the barn. With every barn, there’s always owner confliction, but there’s the incentive of taking the weight off. David definitely has some pull of, ‘Let’s get Chel-c on some horses.’”

Bailey rides with a 7-pound weight allowance. Her first of three winners to date at the meeting for Swearingen came Dec. 12 with Charliecando ($23.40). Richness ($88.20) beat open $10,000 claimers Jan. 9.

Bailey also has ridden two winners for another Chicago-rooted trainer, John Haran, in Past Post ($20.60) Dec. 10 and Sturgill ($44.20) New Year’s Eve. Two of Bailey’s seven victories at the 2021 Hawthorne fall meeting – she was leading apprentice before moving her tack to Oaklawn – were for Haran.

“John, he uses the bug quite a bit,” Bailey said. “In Indiana, he uses the bug a lot. If I see who the bug is riding for, I want to go talk to those trainers and see if they like to use the bug for the weight or if they ride the agent or what the case is. How does that bug get into the barn because that’s somebody I could potentially ride for.”

Bailey’s other victory at the meeting, Hoping for a Ring ($29.40) Dec. 19, was for Canadian trainer Norman McKnight.

Only John Hiraldo (nine) has more victories among apprentice riders at the meet than Bailey through the first 23 days of racing. Hiraldo, one of three finalists for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion apprentice of 2021, rides with a 5-pound weight allowance.

“I didn’t really have a goal, any sort of expectation, of like: ‘I want to win 10 races.’” Bailey said. “I didn’t set that. I kind of wanted to come here and see what would happen. I just know my long-term thinking is going to Indiana and I know that a lot of people from here are going there. With Arlington shutting down, I have a hunch that maybe some of them might be pushed towards Indiana because that’s kind of the next area.”

Horseshoe Indianapolis (formerly Indiana Grand) opens April 19. Oaklawn’s scheduled 65-day meeting ends May 8. Bailey is represented at Oaklawn by agent “Big Steve” Krajcir of Hot Springs.

Bailey has 17 victories and $507,174 in purse earnings in her career, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Finish Lines

In addition to cancelling live racing this weekend, Oaklawn announced Thursday that the track would be closed for training Friday and Saturday because of icy conditions. … Favorite Outlaw earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 95 for his 3 ½-length maiden victory sprinting Jan. 29 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong.

The major spring objective for Jan. 15 first-level allowance winner Magnolia Midnight is the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters April 30, trainer Dallas Stewart said Wednesday afternoon. Midnight Storm, who is from the first crop of Grade 1 winner Midnight Storm, finished 10th in his stakes debut, the $300,000 Iroquois (G3) September 18 at Churchill Downs. The Iroquois was 1 1/16 miles. “There’s not much left for him other than the stake at the end of the meet,” Stewart said. “Maybe he’ll get an allowance there before then. Just training and just looking good. We’re just letting him develop.”

Stewart said millionaire Grade 2 winner Long Range Toddy was scratched from the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Jan. 29 because of a slight fever, but returned to the track earlier this week and “doing well.” Stewart said Last Samurai remains on track for the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles February 12. Last Samurai closed his 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the inaugural $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes December 11. Post positions for the Razorback will be drawn Monday. Long Range Toddy and Last Samurai are owned by Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark.

Robert Yates/Oaklawn Barn Notes

Photo: Chel-C Bailey/Coady Photography

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