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Easy Rider: Why Track Rats Are Betting on Horse-Racing Prodigy Tyler Baze

November 2000
By Jon Regardie
Los Angeles Magazine

THIS FALL, AS MOST 18-YEAR-OLDS TAKE FRESHMAN ENGLISH AND learn to drink in the dorms, Tyler Baze rises at 4:30 every morning and prepares for the first race at Santa Anita. While his contemporaries max out their parents' Visa cards, Baze earns thousands against the best jockeys in the world on the Southern California horse-racing circuit. * Although it may be premature to anoint Baze the Tiger Woods of the track, the 110-pounder is definitely in the saddle. During a stint at Arizona's Turf Paradise last season, he finished in the money in 268 of 544 mounts, earning $582,671 in purses. Midway through last summer's season at Del Mar, only one jockey counted more starts.

"I'm missing out on a lot of things, but I'm privileged," says Baze, who tends to speak with his hands covering his mouth and of top jockeys such as Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay Jr. in near reverential tones. "I had to grow up a lot faster than a lot of other kids nowadays."

Baze was born in Seattle into a horse-racing mini-dynasty: His father and mother were jockeys, and an uncle and a cousin rank among the top riders in Washington and Northern California. Baze trained on an "equicizer," a wooden device with springs that moves like a horse, and worked as a groom before catching the attention of 74-year-old agent Ivan Puhich, who recognized his natural ability. Puhich has since become Burgess Meredith's Mickey to Tyler's Rocky Balboa. Baze won his first race, aboard Fleeting Wonder, on Halloween 1999. He was 17 years old.

"He still asks for permission to go to movies," Puhich observes, adding that "he has the potential to be a very rich young man if he saves his money."

So far Baze has ridden mostly claiming races, the least sexy events on the card. Puhich plans to boost him into more lucrative Stakes contests as soon as possible. Though eight years the junior of the next-youngest jockey in the Del Mar profile book, Baze has earned the respect of older jockeys with his willingness to accept instruction and pay attention to track safety and etiquette. His only real obstacle may be a growth spurt: Though only five feet four, Baze had to diet ferociously to drop 18 pounds and has an older brother who stands at five ten.

"I've ridden some horses that I didn't think had a shot," says Chance Rollins, a 13-year veteran jockey who has served as an unofficial mentor to Baze. "Then he rode them, and they won."

"He seems like he knows where he is at all the time, and he is not in everybody's way. For a young rider that's great," observes Hall of Famer Delahoussaye, who frequently rides against Baze. "I think he's going to be one of the stars."

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