DEL MAR ---- When 17-year-old Tyler Baze came out on the track for Wednesday's first race at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, he could barely believe his eyes.
There were 31,494 people in the stands, all whooping and hollering as the first race of the meet was about to go off. Not exactly a calming influence for an apprentice jockey.
"I've never seen that many people at the track before in my life," said Baze, who receives a five-pound weight allowance during his one-year apprenticeship.
However, Baze didn't let the situation get to him. He calmly guided Iron Woodman to the front and a 1 1/2-length victory at odds of $10.50-1 for trainer Ron Ellis.
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"It was awesome," said Baze on Thursday. "Ron told me to do whatever it takes to win. I didn't see much speed in the race so I decided to go to the front and either hold on or die."
Baze held on and he won two more races on Thursday aboard Dubyuh Dubyuh ($9.60) and Bilbaino ($9.20) to catapult himself into a second-place tie in the riding standings with Victor Espinoza, one behind leader Corey Nakatani.
Mention the name Baze in Northern California or the Pacific Northwest and you'll receive a litany of achievements.
Russell Baze, a second cousin, was voted into the thoroughbred Hall of Fame last year and has had over 400 victories in a year several times. Uncle Gary Baze is a standout at Emerald Downs in the Seattle area and has been the biggest influence on young Tyler.
"I always wanted to be a jockey," Tyler Baze said. "I always dreamed about riding here at Del Mar and riding against Laffit Pincay Jr. and Chris McCarron.
"My dream came true. You just have to work for your dreams to come true."
And Baze's work ethic seems to be second to none.
He started out working in barns in the Pacific Northwest and telling anyone who would listen that he would be a jockey. He graduated to galloping horses in the mornings and finally riding.
"In an era of spoiled athletes and prima donnas, he's a throwback," said trainer John Sadler, who teamed up with Baze to win nine races at Hollywood Park. "He's a John Stockton-type. He says 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir.'
"He's eager to pitch in and go to work. He'll even grab a pitchfork and clean a stall."
"I'm not lazy," said Baze, whose parents, Earle Baze and the former Cammie Hunt, were both jockeys. "I work my butt off all the time."
Baze rode his first horse at Santa Anita on Oct. 3, 1999, down the 6 1/2-furlong hillside grass course. Unfortunately, the horse broke both front ankles.
"I couldn't believe what happened," said Baze, who got off the ground and got ready for his next mount.
After scoring his first win aboard Fleeting Wonder on Halloween, Baze's agent, Ivan Puhich, and Sadler decided the best move would be to go to Turf Paradise in the Phoenix area to get a crash course in riding.
Baze, who has been home taught since the fourth grade, passed with flying colors. He ended up being the fourth leading rider, garnering 109 wins from 544 mounts and earning $582,671 in purses. Not bad for a teen-ager.
"You can't start in the pros these days," Sadler said. "You have to start in the minors. He came back to Southern California already seasoned."
"Sometimes I wish I hadn't come back because of the friends I made over there," Baze said, "but I'm glad I did return."
Baze learned his lessons well from the likes of Chance Rollins, who has since moved his tack to SoCal, too.
"He just needs experience at this point," Sadler said. "He's just working on his first 1,000 rides, but all the tools are there."
Now it's just a matter of time, and staying focused.
"I just want to do this as long as Laffit Pincay has and stay healthy," said Baze, who knows at 5-foot-4 and 110 pounds that he still might grow out of the profession. "I'm learning something new every day."