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Baze of Glory

Northern California jockey becomes the second to pass 9,000-win milestone with dedication that earns respect from racing world

June 06, 2005|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

Baze had his moments in the Southland. He reached the 3,000-win mark at Hollywood Park in December 1988. He won stakes with Hawkster, Both Ends Burning and Answer Do, and in 1990 he was aboard as Lite Light won the Oak Leaf at Santa Anita. But riding in a colony that was steeped with stars, his win totals shrank. In 1989, he won 161 races, his lowest total in 10 years. In 1999, he was down to 125 wins.

A broken collarbone slowed him, but Baze doesn't use that as an excuse.

"It cost me about three weeks," Baze said. "I'm a quick healer. Mainly, the problem was that I was riding a lot of cheap horses. I wasn't getting the kind of stock you need to win more."

In July 1991, Baze moved back to Northern California, rejoined his agent Harris and quickly began hanging up big numbers again. On April 16, 1992, he won seven races on a card at Golden Gate, breaking by one the track record that had been shared by four jockeys -- Bill Shoemaker, A.L. Diaz, Ron Hansen and Joe Baze, Russell's father -- who had six winners in one day in 1965.

"He was a good rider," said Pincay, recalling the years he rode alongside Russell Baze in Southern California. "He won some good races. But sometimes when you move from one place to another, it takes a while to get established."

Joe Baze, out of the game and living in Montana, had another son, Dale, who rode more than 1,600 winners. The Hollywood Park-based Tyler Baze, the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice in 2000 and eighth this year on the national money list, is a second cousin to Russell and Dale.

Joe Baze trained the first horse Russell Baze ever won with, at Yakima Meadows in Washington on Sept. 16, 1974.

"Oregon Warrior was a big, dark horse," said Russell Baze, who was barely 16. "My dad told me that he didn't like horses running on the outside of him. So I kept him five-wide all the way."

In those days, Joe Baze ran a training center in Granger, Wash., southeast of Yakima.

"I worked around horses, doing everything," Russell Baze said. "I really enjoyed it. But by the time I got to my senior year in high school, there was a possibility that I might not stay small. But I quit growing."

In January 2004, riding at Golden Gate, Baze won his 8,834th race, passing Shoemaker, his idol, to gain the No. 2 spot on the career list. But in November, when one of his mounts stumbled leaving the gate, Baze went down and suffered a broken right collarbone. That prevented him from winning 400 or more races for only the second time in the last 13 years.

Barring injuries like that, Baze estimates that he might pass Pincay sometime in 2007.

"He's got a lot of time, he's very young," said Pincay, who was 56 when his career ended prematurely.

Baze, who had just finished working several horses at Golden Gate, smiled when he heard that.

"Maybe I am kind of young," he said. "But I've got a lot of miles on me."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Most jockey victories

Top 10 jockeys in victories:

* Laffit Pincay...9,530

* Russell Baze...9,010

* Bill Shoemaker...8,833

* Pat Day...8,784

* David Gall...7,396

* Chris McCarron...7,141

* Angel Cordero...7,057

* Jorge Velasquez...6,795

* Sandy Hawley...6,449

* Larry Snyder...6,388

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