DEL MAR, Calif. - For the past two months, as jockey Tyler Baze went through an extended drought that left him far behind in the Del Mar standings, there were whispers that Baze was struggling with more than the frustration of not winning. The catharsis apparently began Sunday, when Baze cried freely after breaking out of a two-week, 62-race losing streak, with two victories, including the Del Mar Handicap aboard Leprechaun Kid.
Baze, 22, has been battling an eating disorder, so much so that on Tuesday, according to his agent, Ivan Puhich, he was scheduled to see a nutritionist. In addition, Baze said he has been saddened by the recent passing of a grandmother he regrets not knowing better. The combination of factors goes a long way toward explaining why Baze, who was the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey in 2000 and was second in the Del Mar standings with 52 wins one year ago, had won with just 8 of 176 mounts this summer at Del Mar before Sunday's breakout day.
"He had some weight problems and was down to about 100 pounds," said Puhich, 79. "It started when he had some mouth surgery during Hollywood Park. He didn't eat for four or five days. He might have been bulimic. But he's ready to face the issue and do what he needs to do to continue his career.
"I want the public to know. I don't want to hide it. You get in the jocks' room, and you see those guys eating four times a day and flipping. I warned him about it. He's got to get on a diet and stay on it the rest of his life, or until he stops riding."
Some riders who need to watch their weight resort to flipping, a euphemistic term for vomiting after eating.
Mike Mitchell, the trainer of Leprechaun Kid, said Baze "really needed" the win on Leprechaun Kid.
"He's getting stronger," Mitchell said.
According to Puhich, Baze is now "at 103 or 104 pounds, but we want to get him to where he's at 112 or 114, and not get any lighter."
"When he lived with me, before he even rode, he weighed 122 pounds," said Puhich, who had Baze stay at his house when he began his career at age 17. "He did a lot of running, and I put him on a correct diet to maintain his weight.
"Part of this is my fault," Puhich added. "I'd say, 'You've got to do 110 to ride that horse.' I'm not taking any blame off my shoulders. I had heard the rumors, too. One trainer had warned me that he was riding with a heavy saddle.
"He couldn't eat after that dental surgery. He was getting his teeth capped. They gave him a bunch of shots, but it didn't deaden the pain. He hurt so much during the surgery that he broke the chair. And then all he could do was eat soup for days. That was the start of it.
"This has been very hard," Puhich continued. "He's more than a son to me. I love him. If something happened to him, I'd be totally devastated."
Baze said that "physically, I feel great." But he acknowledged to feeling as though was under tremendous pressure in recent weeks.
"That first win," Baze said, referring to Sunday's second race aboard Miss Bobbie Quick, "it felt like everything fell off my shoulders. I had had some horses who ran great and finished second or third. They were running great, and I put them in a position to win, but they were not getting there, and it was very frustrating. It gets to the point where you just go nuts."
The recent death of a grandmother left Baze feeling melancholy, he said.
"A few weeks ago my grandma, my mom's mom, died," Baze said. "I had never met my grandpa, and I feel like I should have made a point to get to know my grandma better."
Baze said that many people offered great support during the rough recent times, most notably his girlfriend, Christina Waugh, and his roommate, Roland Ayers, who is an assistant to trainer Jeff Mullins.
"Everybody was very encouraging," Baze said. "I've got a lot of friends on the starting-gate crew. I've got kind of a big family at the track. The fans, though, they were terrible. I tried to ignore it. But as soon as I won a race, they all loved me again. The best part is having a trainer like Mike Mitchell stick by you."
While accepting congratulations from other riders in the jockeys' room after Sunday's races, Baze's cell phone rang incessantly. On Monday morning, Baze said, "You know how many messages I had? Twenty-six."
"That made me feel good."
* Baze was taken to Scripps Encinitas Hospital on Monday afternoon for X-rays of his left ankle after being thrown from his mount, Five o'Clock Toddy, before the day's first race. Baze was taken off his remaining scheduled mounts for the day.
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