One of the highlights of Tuesday night's Eclipse Awards ceremony was the reaction of Tyler Baze when Laffit Pincay Jr. opened the envelope and announced that Baze had been named the champion apprentice jockey for 2000. Baze's jaw dropped. The stunned look lasted for several seconds, then he buried his head in the arms of his agent, Ivan Puhich, and sobbed.
For years, Eclipse Award winners were announced ahead of time, and the evening was pro forma. But Baze's unscripted reaction was a perfect illustration of drama that was added this year by waiting until the night of the awards to announce the winners.
Baze, 18, gathered himself, then walked to the stage, where Pincay, who presented the award for both apprentice and champion jockey, gave Baze his trophy.
"I don't know what to say," said Baze, his eyes still red. "I want to thank Ivan Puhich, the best guy around, and my best friend."
Baze returned to his table, buried his face in his napkin and cried again.
His victory was in one of the most closely contested votes in this year's Eclipse Awards. Baze, who is based in Southern California, edged New York's Norberto Arroyo Jr. in a split vote. The bloc of voters from the National Turf Writers Association joined the racing secretaries and Equibase chart callers who vote under the National Thoroughbred Racing Association banner to pick Baze. Daily Racing Form chose Arroyo.
In 2000, Baze won more races than Arroyo, but Arroyo won more money than Baze. Arroyo also rode more winners in New York than any other rider. Both riders stayed on their primary circuit and never faced one another. Baze became the first West Coast-based jockey to be named champion apprentice since Steve Valdez in 1973.
Arroyo, who was seated at a table not far from Baze's, seemed surprised by Baze's victory. Later, after the dinner, Arroyo and Baze spent several minutes together and finished their conversation with a long hug.