INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Of the top 15 riders at Hollywood Park, five have been riding longer than the 17 years that apprentice jockey Tyler Baze, currently tied for sixth in the local standings, has been alive.
"It's amazing they could ride that long," Baze said. "Laffit Pincay is so fit, he just keeps going."
Baze, who began riding last October, is hoping to have as long of a career as Pincay, Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, Martin Pedroza, and Alex Solis, and build on the success he has had in the last eight months at Turf Paradise and Hollywood Park. Baze, the son of jockeys and a relative of jockeys Gary and Russell Baze, won the first race of his career on Halloween last year, and jokingly worried it was a ominous sign for his month-old career.
"I thought, 'I'll never win a race again,' " he remembered earlier this week.
Seven months later, it seems that was far from a bad omen for Baze, a Washington native.
After riding briefly at Santa Anita last fall, Baze moved to Turf Paradise for the winter and was the fourth-leading rider at the Arizona track. Through Tuesday, he was eighth in the nation in wins this year, tied with Edgar Prado at 115. Baze has ridden 14 winners at this meeting, and is riding several horses a day regularly.
"The important thing is he got the background by going to Phoenix," said trainer John Sadler, who put Baze on his first winner. "He rode 500 horses. It's something we encourage apprentices to do. Most of them want to stay here and learn on the job, and that's too hard."
Of course with a name like Baze, Tyler was born to be a jockey on the Pacific coast. Tyler's parents, Earl and Cammie, were jockeys; his uncle, Gary, rides at Emerald Downs; and his second cousin, Russell, rides in northern California and leads the nation in wins.
It was on Tyler Baze's family's farm in Washington that he sat on his first horse at the age of 3, and began galloping on the racetrack the day after his 16th birthday.
While Tyler met Russell only once when he was a child, he is close to his uncle, who recently returned to riding after a stint as a Jockey's Guild representative.
"Gary had an Equicizer and he taught me the ropes on that," Baze said of the mechanical horse used to simulate riding. "He taught me how to switch sticks and all that stuff."
Baze was tied for the lead at this meeting in the first week, during a span when many of the circuit's leading riders were at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. While Baze's placing has slipped in recent weeks, he has not been discouraged.
"The riders are a lot more experienced than [at] Turf Paradise," Baze said. "They're a lot more business-like. They've been there, done that, and they'll do it again. I watch the riders and pick things up. I pick one rider out of a race and watch him. I learned a lot at Turf Paradise and I'll learn a lot here. Hopefully, I can do this for a couple of years."
He is quick with a smile, but there is concern in Baze's voice that he could outgrow his career. One brother stands six feet, another 5' 7". Tyler is 5' 4" and tacks 110 pounds. He realizes he could grow out of the sport. There are not many pounds to spare.
"This is about as low as I can do and it's tough. I have to watch what I eat," he said Thursday. "The only hard part is keeping the weight down."