A Photographic Memory for Winningest Jockey

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Handful of Pearls (7) narrowly gives Russell Baze his 12,000th career victory Handful of Pearls (7) narrowly gives Russell Baze his 12,000th career victory

For as long as I’ve been going to the races I’ve heard grumbling from horseplayers that photo finishes are somehow “doctored” to get a desired result. Tracks used to post photo finishes throughout the facility in the days before digital photography. That didn’t seem to help. (“Hey, look, they shaved the nose off that brown horse.”)

Most tracks now put photo finishes up on television monitors once the order of finish is determined and a race is made official. Some tracks (all should, in my opinion) post photo finishes on their website for everyone interested.

That hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theorists who complain that the placing judges, stewards, and anyone else in a position of authority have never lost a photo (I’m not aware of any jurisdictions that allow wagering by these officials). There are people out there, who, when they’re not busy trying to disprove the moon landing, insist that someone, somehow, is altering the result of a horse race’s photo finish, either by shaving off noses or moving the finish line.


The latest example came on Sunday when Russell Baze scored his 12,000th career victory aboard Handful of Pearls in the final race of the closing-day program at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton in Northern California. Handful of Pearls looked home free until Angel Sanchez and long Here It Tiz came flying in deep stretch. It was far too close for track announcer Frank Mirahmadi to call.

Skeptics were sure Here It Tiz was in front at the wire and that Pleasanton officials, wanting to have bragging rights to the Hall of Fame jockeys’ latest milestone, put up Handful of Pearls’ number. Yes, really, there are some people who think that way.

It was close. Very close. But the photo finish camera indisputably shows that Handful of Pearls had her nose in front when it counted. That photo is quite a keepsake for America’s all-time winningest jockey.

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  • Sandra Warren

    I wouldn’t want to mention anyone’s name, but I happened to be walking out of the winner’s circle (after Russell graciously signed my program) while someone was grumbling in an upset manner that the fix was in, and “they” (meaning the fairgrounds, I guess) didn’t want to show the photo. As he stormed away from me, I looked up on the jumbotron, and there was the photo you are showing above, clear as day, showing proof it was all legit. Not even a dead heat. I find it really distressing that every time there is a magical moment in our sport, somebody has to piss on it because of the money they didn’t get. There’s no shame in losing to a Hall of Famer!

  • Hillsdale

    I once worked at a QH track in upstate Ill. once and the placing judge was a friend. He told me many times during a photo with a clear winner, the head steward would over-rule them and tell them just make it a DH. That happened several times during that meet. The steward was a respected Thoroughbred racing official from Chicago.

    • RayPaulick

      Not doubting you, but I’m from Northern Illinois (we don’t call it upstate), and I’ve never heard of a QH track anywhere in that section of the state.

      • Hillsdale

        Quad City Downs….a harness track which had a few QH meets. I worked there about 1977 and was clerk of scales…It was a fun meet, for the most part. QH people really are family and know how to party.

        • Hillsdale

          Come to think of it, maybe they only had one QH meet. I’m not sure. I remember it was in the fall and I fell in love with the area around the quad cities. Almost like living in the west….I guess that is really the gateway to the great plains.

      • Hillsdale

        The track was actually in Silvis, which is next to Moline. I’m not even sure the track is still standing, but it was a nice, small track. Silvis is where the John Deere golf tourney is being played this weekend.

      • Hillsdale

        Quad City DownsLocation5005 Morton Drive, East Moline, IllinoisOwned byChurchill Downs Inc., Arlington ParkCourse typeFlatOfficial website

    • John McEvoy

      WHAT quarter horse track in Illinois? How many DQs could there have been at this plac?. Some facts, please.

      • RayPaulick

        I’m thinking it must have been a dog track.

      • Hillsdale

        John, I said DH, not DQ. The head steward was also acting as one of the placing judges and he couldn’t see too well. In QH racing there are many, many photo finishes. He would just call close ones DH’s, even though the other placing judges could pick a definite winner. Now that I think about it I’m pretty sure there were two or three QH meets at Quad City Downs, but I only worked one.

  • nu-fan

    I kind of wish that Mr. Baze had not ridden in race #11 at Pleasanton. While it was great for Pleasanton and the Alameda County Fair, it really didn’t give many of us the opportunity to watch Mr. Baze win that 12,000th win since neither TVG or HRTV were running those races after race #8. I did go to the Cal Racing video site and did catch race #10, which Mr. Baze did not win and the announcer mentioned that “Looks like we’ll have to wait until another day for this win.” So, I didn’t bother watching race #11. But, instead, I looked forward to seeing Mr. Baze go for that goal when racing resumes at the California State Fair on Friday. And, I bet that HRTV would have been following each of Mr. Baze’s races, this Friday, until that magical number was reached. That would have given us all the opportunity to share in this victory instead of just the relatively small crowd at Pleasanton. Just saying….

  • Olebobbowers

    Trust me…Russell Baze has a way of ‘shaving’ noses off the opposition when he’s in a close photo! Happens time after time after time. Maybe we should nickname him ‘Shavey’.

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