Baze Of Glory
Apprentice jockey Tyler Baze turns heads and makes his dad proud.
December 13, 2000
By Larry Bortstein
The Orange Country Register
INGLEWOOD - These cold, damp fall Northwest nights, Earl Baze is plunking the strings of his old guitar, trying to find the right melody and lyrics for a special song.
He's a Baze, so naturally he spends much of his time at the racetrack, as have two generations of Bazes before him and as another currently is.
But when he's not working on the starting gate at Emerald Downs near Seattle or shoeing horses or training a few on his own, Earl Baze writes and performs country songs.
Lately he's been working on new material.
Like any performer, he'd like to present it for the first time in front of a big audience - in this case the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans on Jan. 30.
That's the night Earl, 43, hopes his son Tyler, 18, is honored as North America's outstanding apprentice jockey at the annual Eclipse Awards banquet.
"If Tyler gets the award, I'll just jump right up on that stage and sing this song I'm working on," Earl said.
In quest of the Eclipse Award, Tyler, one of the most accomplished apprentice jockeys on the Southern California thoroughbred circuit in a decade, has been riding at Hollywood Park each Wednesday through Sunday and at Turf Paradise in Phoenix on Mondays and Tuesdays.
"We wanted him to put up numbers that nobody could ignore when they voted for the Eclipse Awards," said Ivan Puhich, Baze's agent.
But there is no more Baze can do to add to the more than 200 victories he's piled up as an apprentice.
Today, on the anniversary of his fifth winner, he enters the ranks of the journeymen.
When he rides two fillies for Jack Van Berg at Hollywood Park today, he no longer will be entitled to the 5-pound weight allowance, or "bug," that under racing rules is granted to an apprentice.
Norberto Arroyo, who rode in New York and New England before his apprenticeship ended Aug. 5, is Baze's strongest opponent for the 2000 Eclipse Award.
But with Eclipse ballots reaching the electorate later this month, Baze could find his biggest battle is not with Arroyo, but with history.
The largest bloc of Eclipse Award voters is in the East. No Southern California jockey has been voted the apprentice title since Steve Valdez in 1973, the third year the awards were handed out.
Baze is cocky enough to think he should end that drought of more than a quarter-century.
"I think competing against the guys I ride with out here every day should count for more than winning at smaller tracks against lesser riders," he said.
Take it from trainer John Sadler: "He may seem cocky sometimes, but he has great respect for his elders, as well as for the game."
Sadler saddled Baze's first winner, Fleeting Wonder, a 3-year-old filly who captured a 11/16-mile event for $28,000-$32,000 claimers at Santa Anita on Oct. 31, 1999.
Unlike many other young riders eager to make a name, Baze doesn't gun all his mounts out of the gate.
"He's like a 40-year-old rider with 30 years of experience," said Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, who also happens to be Baze's uncle.
Kent Desormeaux, voted the apprentice Eclipse in 1987 while tearing up the Maryland circuit, is the most recent winner of the award to go on to superstardom as a journeyman rider.
"The thing that separates Tyler from most apprentices is that he knows where everyone is at all times during a race," said Desormeaux, rider of two of the past three Kentucky Derby winners. "He does a good job with any kind of horse."
But how long will he be able to keep at the job? Already the spectre of weight lies heavily on Baze's shoulders.
At 5-foot-4, he comfortably tacks 110 pounds.
"But he has long arms and big feet," says his father. "We're all built that way. My older son, also named Earl, is 19, but he's almost 6 feet tall. I rode when I was young, but I got big fast. I don't want Tyler to be one of those guys who suffers for years trying to make weight. I've seen guys living in the sweatbox their whole lives and it hurts their insides. I don't want that for my kid."
Tyler said he's not having weight concerns yet.
"I'll stay light if I ride a lot of races," he said. "But that's not up to me."