Just Call It Baze-ing Saddles
Horse racing: From East to West, this family of jockeys--led by Hall of Famer Russell--is making its mark
December 22, 2000
By Bill Christine
Los Angeles Times
On any given day, at tracks from one end of this continent to the other, a jockey named Baze is eligible to win a race.
On Tuesday at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, Dale Baze brought two winners home. At 2:05 p.m. Thursday at Hollywood Park, Tyler Baze rode a winner. Fifteen minutes later, at Golden Gate Fields, Russell Baze was aboard a winner, his 400th this year. And stick around: Gary Baze, who has come out of a lengthy retirement, plans to ride at Emerald Downs when the track near Seattle reopens in the spring.
If all of these Bazes were brothers, the IDs would be easy, but that's not the case. Russell Baze and Dale Baze are brothers. Tyler Baze is Russell Baze's second cousin. And Gary Baze is Tyler Baze's uncle.
Would a Baze by any other name ride just as smartly? That's hard to say, but if betting jockeys is your thing, you won't want for action following the ubiquitous Baze family around.
Russell Baze, 42, leaves all of his kinfolk with a tough act to follow. He began winning 400 races a year in 1992, and with one exception has hung up 400-win seasons every year since then except 1999, when a late-season back injury cost him five weeks in the saddle and he totaled 373 wins.
No. 400 for Baze this year was Run A Copy, a 3-year-old filly that had finished second twice with other jockeys. She and Baze won by four lengths.
"It feels real good, just like it did every other year," Baze said. "I wish it had been nine [400-win] years in a row, but things happen."
Baze, who was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1999, is the only jockey to win 400 races in a year more than three times. The most races he has ever won was 448 in 1995.
"I'm always happy to do it," he said, "but it's not something I think about until I get 30 or 40 away each year. Then I start counting them down. I like to get it over with as soon as possible."
Because Baze seldom ventures away from the Northern California tracks and hardly ever rides in stakes races around the country, Eclipse awards voters have never elected him champion jockey, but in 1995 he was given a special Eclipse award.
Tyler Baze, who turned 18 on Oct. 19, is sniffing after an Eclipse award, the one that goes to the best apprentice jockey. He has met his more famous second cousin twice, but already he's riding like him. When Tyler's apprenticeship--and the five-pound weight allowance--ended Dec. 12, he had racked up 239 wins, more than any other apprentice. The other apprentice likely to corner a lot of Eclipse votes is Norberto Arroyo, who has ridden in New England and New York. When Arroyo's apprenticeship ended in August, he had won 174 races, but his $6.2-million purse total tops Baze's by about $2 million.
"I would think what Tyler's done should count more," trainer John Sadler said. "He's had many of those wins in Southern California, which has the toughest riding colony in the country. I don't think anybody disputes that anymore."
Sadler is openly biased. He put Baze on the first winner he ever rode--Fleeting Wonder, a 3-year-old filly, at Santa Anita on Oct. 31, 1999--and he has been Baze's biggest supporter this year.
"He's very professional, much beyond his years," Sadler said. "He's calm, cool and collected, and unlike most apprentices, he never panics in a race. He just rides the heck out of horses."
To beef up his statistics, Baze has been commuting on Mondays and Tuesdays to Turf Paradise in Phoenix, riding there while Hollywood Park is dark. Ivan Puhich, Baze's agent, thought his rider could inflate his winning percentage, and that strategy paid off. Baze was winning at a 40% rate the first few weeks at Turf Paradise, and he's still above 30% there. Overall, he has been winning at a 17% clip this year, about the same pace Arroyo managed during his apprentice days.
For his part, Baze is not preparing any Eclipse awards acceptance speech.
"If it happens, it happens," he said. "It's been a lot of hard work. I really haven't had a chance to slow down."
If Cammie Baze, the jockey's mother, had had a vote, her son wouldn't be riding at all.
"She didn't want me to do this," Tyler said. "When she rode, at places like Phoenix, Portland Meadows and Canterbury Downs, she got hurt a few times. She had some bad spills. She didn't want the same thing happening to me."
Earl Baze, Tyler's father, is also a former jockey who has trained horses, shod them and worked on the starting-gate crew at Emerald Downs. Tyler broke young horses for his father and worked as a groom at Emerald Downs before he moved to California and hooked up with the veteran Puhich. It was an eye-opener for Baze, competing against Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron and Eddie Delahoussaye, jockeys he had idolized for years. Also in the California colony is Gary Stevens, who is Baze's uncle.
"I like what I see about Tyler," Stevens said. "He rides more like an older rider, like a seasoned rider. He's very patient out there."
If there is a hitch to Baze's future, it is his shoe size. He wears a size 7, a warning that he might not be 5 feet 4 and only 110 pounds for long.
"That's the biggest danger," Sadler said. "He might outgrow a big future."
Baze said that if his career as a journeyman sputters, he's prepared to leave--maybe go back to Turf Paradise, where he could be splashier in a smaller pond. But Thursday he added two wins to his journeyman's total, which bodes well for the Santa Anita meet that begins Tuesday.
"If he can get lucky out of the box at Santa Anita, he'll be all right," Sadler said. "But if he gets unlucky, it's a different story. All I know is that he's got the skills to ride with all of these guys as a journeyman."
Notes . . . One of Tyler Baze's two wins Thursday was with Breakfastatbluebird in the feature.