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Young and skilled, Baze is enjoying the ride

by Steve Anderson
November 10, 2003
Daily Racing Form

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Tyler Baze will be the first to admit he is having way too much fun climbing up the jockey ranks in Southern California.

"It's a thrill," Baze said. "It's fun riding winners. It's not fun riding longshots. Riding winners keeps you happy."

Baze, the 2000 Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top apprentice jockey, has had a breakthrough year. He has gone from being a journeyman who rides everyday horses and gets an occasional stakes mount to riding for the first time on the Dubai World Cup program and in the Kentucky Derby and a Breeders' Cup race.

"I'll win all three next year," said Baze.

Through Friday, Baze, 21, trailed Patrick Valenzuela by three winners in the jockeys' standings at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, which was to end on Sunday. One of his top wins of the meeting came on Avanzado in the Grade 1 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap last month.

Baze's success has caught the attention of horsemen and fellow riders, including his uncle Gary Stevens.

"Someone asked me the other day how I would compare him to myself when I was 21," Stevens said. "I would put him at a level when I was 26 and had a Derby win under my belt. He's improved tremendously in the last year and continues to improve. I like what I've seen.

"He's got a great demeanor. When he comes back to the room, you wouldn't know if he won a $500,000 race or lost by a nose. That doesn't happen too much with young athletes. He's 21 and a veteran."

On Thanksgiving weekend, Baze will travel to Japan for the first time to ride Fleetstreet Dancer in the $2 million Japan Cup Dirt. Back home, he will ride primarily at Hollywood Park, hoping to win his first riding title in California.

Through it all, he has kept his sense of humor and dedication. He is a regular in the stable area in the mornings, working horses for his main stables, such as those of Rafael Becerra and Doug O'Neill.

"You've got to work, work, work," he said. "Maybe I'll get a break in 25 years."

Baze rode the first winner of his career in October 1999 at Santa Anita, but spent that winter at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. He returned to Southern California in early 2000 and won 246 races that year, more than any other Southern California-based rider.

The jockeys' room in 2000 was much different than it is now. Since retired are Hall of Famers Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, and Laffit Pincay Jr. Stevens, another Hall of Famer, is taking an indefinite leave.

"I turned to those guys to talk to and learn from," Baze said. "There are still riders in the room you can learn something from."

Becerra and Baze have become a formidable team. Saturday in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes they will team with Book of the Month, a Notebook colt owned by Stan Fulton who was a flashy winner in his debut on Oct. 11.

Book of the Month came from off the pace, proving that Baze is more than just an excellent rider on a speed horse.

"I think he can do both," Becerra said. "He's learned a lot and it looks like he's getting better and better."

Baze remains effective as a gate rider, a skill he learned from his father, the former jockey Earl Baze.

"I can get a horse out of the gate," he said. "I'm good at that. But I like it when they come from 20 lengths out and fly home and win like Eddie D."

During his career, Delahoussaye was one of the most famous riders in California. Baze is starting to build his own following.

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