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Another Amazing Baze
Tyler Baze, 17, rising in ranks of nation's best riders

August 8, 2000
by Jay Maebori
South County Journal

The 17-year-old wide-eyed jockey looked around and was wise enough to look up before asking for a little help.

After all, it was Tyler Baze's first ride in Southern California, and entering the starting gate beside him were Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron and the world's leading rider, Laffit Pincay Jr.

"It was at 6 furlongs at Santa Anita on the turf," Baze recalled of that afternoon last October. "It was such a rush. I just hoped I would stay on. I said, 'God, protect me.'"

As it turns out, Baze needed some protection. His horse broke an ankle during the race but still finished. The rider came in safely, if not victorious. A little help never hurt. And Baze knows it.

The nation's top apprentice rider in wins has gotten plenty of assistance from up above -- as well as from those around him.

Riding horses at Emerald Downs in Auburn and working as a groom for trainer Mike Puhich in the early mornings two years ago, Baze expressed interest in becoming a professional rider.

The teenager from the town of Graham in Pierce County was homeschooling at the time and showed a willingness to work hard. So, Puhich asked his uncle, Ivan, a jockey agent since 1943, if he would take Baze as a client.

"I have started many apprentice jockeys. I like working with them," Ivan Puhich said. "I saw Tyler get on one or two horses, and if he had any talent, I would be able to get it out of him."

Thus began the formal training of Tyler Baze, who continued to work horses tirelessly in the mornings in preparation for his shot at the big time. Despite joining the meet at Turf Paradise in Phoenix about two months late for his professional debut, Baze still ended up fourth in the rider standings.

Ivan Puhich decided Baze was ready to forge his way into the Southern California circuit. Of course, there were naysayers, doubting Baze's talent and claiming he was too big to ride. Wesley Ward, a former local jockey and current California trainer, advised Puhich to send Baze back home, saying he'd never make it.

Puhich just laughed. Ironically, Ward was Eclipse Award-winning apprentice rider in 1984, the same distinction Baze hopes to win this year. That would be pretty heady company, winning the same honor as the likes of McCarron and Kent Desormeaux.

Baze is nearing 150 wins and riding nearly every race on a competitive card. Local fans can see him ride and bet on him during Del Mar simulcasts at Emerald Downs.

Despite Baze's meteoric rise, Puhich is quick to point out his deficiencies. He's worked long enough with jockeys to know what it takes to make it.

"It's a big step going from an apprentice to a journeyman," Puhich said. "He's not doing that well yet. He hasn't set any record or anything like that to be amazed by. He knows this. I tell him what he does wrong and I tell him when he does well."

In order to get the chance to ride, Baze, about 5-5 and 110 pounds, has to watch his weight closely. He has a weight allowance as an apprentice, part of the initial appeal of using him as a jockey.

Kent's Vann Belvoir and Puyallup's Geoff Cooper both were teenage apprentices and journeymen before they grew too big to compete. Belvoir is a trainer and Cooper works at Emerald Downs

Still, the extra toil is worth it for Baze.

"I never thought I'd be riding here. It's a dream come true," he said. "I thought it would take 20 or 30 years. I was nervous and shaking at first. I didn't know what I was doing."

But after a couple of months among the best jockeys in the world, Baze has been accepted.

"I've got nothing but good things to say about him," said former Emerald jockey Luis Jauregui, now riding in Southern California. "He's a little kidder like any other 17-year-old boy, but when it comes to riding he's focused. He's a 17-year-old and probably making $15-20,000 a week. He's got a lot of pressure on him, and he's handling it really well."

That's partly because Baze lives with Puhich, who is strict and treats him like one of his own sons.

"Just because you win races doesn't mean you can go out whenever you want," he says.

That policy is a relief to Baze's father, Earl, who works on the starting gate at Emerald Downs and is able to watch Tyler ride.

Earl Baze would love to lead his son into the starting gate for the first time here and have Tyler ride against uncle Gary in the Longacres Mile. Tyler Baze doesn't think he'll have a mount in the Northwest's biggest horse race this year, but there's already plenty to be happy about for the Baze family.

"It's just magnificent, a dream come true for me, too," Earl Baze said. "Tyler was always been around the animals and always been riding. On our little farm growing up, he was jumping on the cows, jumping on the pigs, jumping on the horses. He rode anything."

As he continues to succeed, those rides are getting better and better. On Sunday, Baze rode for trainers John Sadler, Richard Mandella and Bob Baffert. Having the Baze name, one of the more recognizable in racing, doesn't hurt, either.

"I guess it's helped me," Tyler Baze said. "But I'm here to make my own name, too."

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