Now in his fifth full year riding, the 2000 Eclipse Award winner as North America’s top apprentice leaves little doubt that he’s on his way to fulfilling all those glowing prophesies.
The ascension of Tyler Baze, who is part of the well-known Baze clan of horsemen from America’s Northwest, is nearly complete, but the 21-year-old continues to strive for the improvement he knows will be needed for him to remain among the premier jockeys in Southern California. He listens, he watches and he learns. It’s what he’s always done; it’s what’s got him here.
And then there are the horses he rides and the people who give him the leg up on those horses. “You gotta have the horses to win races,” says Baze, who remains a bit of a “gee whiz” kind of guy when asked to talk about himself. “Regardless of what people say, if you don’t have good stock under you, you can’t do any good. It’s nice when trainers give that to you.”
Among those trainers who have kept him aboard good horses: Doug O’Neill, Jeff Mullins and John Sadler. They were influential in his taking down the Hollywood Park riding title, and they have been major factors in his race for the championship at Del Mar.
Typical of his self-effacing manner was this response to a question of whether the Hollywood Park title means he has arrived: “It was exciting. A good accomplishment, I guess. But I don’t feel any different. I try to do my best, and that’s all I can do.”
The trainers who have championed his cause since the beginning are eager to speak up about his skills and how he has progressed through his first five years as a professional.
Says O’Neill: “He’s always been an extremely hard worker and a real classy kid. You can just see him over the past six to 12 months become more confident on the track. He’s winning from all over the place.
“To me, he’s always been a tremendous gate rider and a rider that tries hard all the time. But now he’s getting very confident and he’s winning with all kinds of horses, not just speed horses. And he’s winning on the grass, too.”
An important part of the Baze credo: “Whatever the trainer tells me to do, I’ll do.”
Both O’Neill and Mullins can vouch for that. “He listens to what the trainer says,” O’Neill said, “and there’s been more than a few times that I’ve gone down and apologized to him because he’d ride exactly how we wanted him to ride and the race didn’t unfold like that. That’s another great thing about him; he’ll listen to you and you really have to be careful what you tell him, because he’ll do it to a T.”
In a similar vein, Mullins said, “He communicates good with a horse, but he also communicates good with us. A lot of riders, you can tell them things and it’ll go in one ear and out the other, but the thing about Tyler is he’ll listen and do what you ask of him.”
Like all trainers, Mullins recognizes that sometimes a rider has to use his own judgment when things unfold differently from the plan, “but most of the time he’ll do exactly what you tell him. That makes it easier on him; if he gets beat it’s not his fault.”
As to how the rider has progressed, Mullins said, “He’s matured and turned into a good rider. He used to be really good on speed horses, but he’s gotten now so he can get a horse to come off the pace. He’s getting a good clock in his head.”
Sadler, who has been the longest and most ardent of Baze’s supporters, says this about him: “Tyler started very young (17), and people seem to forget just how young he still is. When you start that young and you stay around for a while, they think you’re older than you really are.
“He’s very young and still improving. He’s stronger, more consistent, and he makes good choices all the time at the races. He can ride all kinds of races. He rides the turf very well, he rides up front very well and he comes off the pace very well. He’s the whole package.
“He looks like the future of the California jockeys’ colony.”
As for Baze, himself, he believes his biggest improvement in the past year is “finishing stronger; being a stronger rider at the end. I’ve worked out and got stronger. I keep working hard and do the best I can. I know I’m a stronger rider than I used to be.”
Among those Baze considers as his mentors are jockey Chance Rollins and his agent, 70-something Ivan Puhich. “I’ve watched and learned and listened. Ivan told me not to get a big head, keep my head on my shoulders, listen up and learn. That’s what I did.”
Baze seldom hangs out at the racing office on the backstretch like so many of his compatriots, preferring to be near the horses at the barns. Besides, he generally works at least five to six horses every day, sometimes as many as eight. He spends a lot of time at the Sadler barn because “he’s been pushing me since I first started. It’s nice to have somebody like that.
“I spend a lot of time at Jeff’s [Mullins] barn. His assistant, Ral Ayers, is my roommate and we’re best friends. It’s nice to have a friend. When I have a bad day, he’s there to pick my head up and when I have a good day, he’s there to celebrate with me.”
Baze occasionally gets to ride against his second cousin, Hall of Famer Russell Baze, and his uncle, Gary Baze. He remembers, particularly, riding against his uncle in the Pomona Derby three years ago. “When I went past him,” Tyler Baze said, “I yelled out, ‘Hey, Gary, see you later.’ When we got to the [jockeys’] room, he acted like he was mad, and said, ‘The next time you go by me that fast, I want you to call me Uncle Gary’.”
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