For Two Bazes, It’s All in the Numbers

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Russell Baze, after  scoring career win No. 12,000 at Pleasanton aboard Handful of Pearls. Russell Baze, after scoring career win No. 12,000 at Pleasanton aboard Handful of Pearls.

The numbers start out the same: 120 belongs to troubled jockey Tyler Baze, and 12,000 is the latest milestone associated with his second cousin, Hall of Fame rider Russell Baze.

The 120 represents the number of days Tyler was suspended by California Horse Racing Board stewards on Sunday for violating the terms of his conditional license, according to a report in Daily Racing Form. He was taken off his mounts at Hollywood Park last month after failing a sobriety test one morning. Because of his history of substance abuse, Tyler Baze was required to submit to random testing. Unfortunately this was not the first time he is being forced to the sidelines because of alcohol.

Hours after the stewards issued their ruling and 350 miles to the north, Russell Baze recorded another unfathomable achievement in his record-blazing career, when he registered win No. 12,000. That’s 2,470 more than Laffit Pincay Jr., who in 1999 surpassed Bill Shoemaker’s previous mark of 8,833 career victories. The only rider in the world with more wins than Russell Baze is Brazilian Jorge Ricardo, who won his 12,000th race on May 26 and currently has 12,018 winners to his credit.

Baze’s 12,000th win came during the final race on the closing-day card of the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. It was a $4,000 claiming event, with Baze taking his mount, odds-on favorite Handful of Pearls, to a wire-to-wire victory. It was his fourth win from seven mounts on the day, three of them short-priced favorites. Andy Mathis trained  Handful of Pearls for owner Keith Hewitt.

The win wasn’t easy, though. Baze opened up by a length and a half with a furlong to go and looked home free in the six-furlong sprint. But longshot Here It Tiz and jockey Angel Sanchez  came flying to the outside, just missing by a nose. Baze held his mount together just long enough, intermittently urging him on with right-handed strokes and then showing his mount the whip.

“Is it 12,000 for Russell Baze?” track announcer Frank Mirahmadi called out. “If so, it’s another unthinkable accomplishment for the living legend.”

Russell Baze presumably packed up his tack and headed home for a quiet family dinner. Once he leaves the racetrack, he melts into anonymity, seldom in the public spotlight and never in the headlines for the wrong reason.

Baze, who turns 55 years old Aug. 7, has spent nearly his entire career riding in Northern California. He’s never won an Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding jockey, but after the 1995 season when he won 448 races, his career high, he was given a Special Eclipse Award for becoming the first rider in history to win 400 races or more in four consecutive years. He topped 400 the next three years, too. Upon receiving the Special Eclipse, the ever-humble Russell Baze said he didn’t really understand why he was getting the award but thanked those who decided to honor him nonetheless.

Tyler Baze won an Eclipse Award, too, when he was an 18-year-old apprentice rider. Tears welled up during his acceptance speech and he could only get out a few words, prompting ESPN’s Kenny Mayne, who served as emcee that night, to step in and say, “They’re so cute at that age.”

But Tyler Baze, unlike his Hall of Fame cousin, has had some bumps during his career involving his life away from the track. In 2005, just one year after having his best season with over $10 million in mount earnings, he flew to Indiana for a stakes ride at Hoosier Park and failed a random breathalyzer test.  It happened again in Southern California in August 2011, and shortly thereafter he lied to stewards about his whereabouts and failed to take a required breathalyzer test. That landed him a 90-day suspension.

In 2012, Baze was admitted to a hospital for treatment. He returned last September with his conditional license, and was riding well when he failed his most recent sobriety test.

Tyler Baze will be required to spend a minimum 60 days at an in-house rehabilitation facility, according to the Racing Form, and the board of stewards will have to approve his fitness before he can ride again.

If and when he is able to climb back in the saddle, the most important number in Tyler Baze’s life is likely to be “1” – as in one day at a time.

 

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  • Maggie The Wonder Dog

    Ray, Russell has not spent his entire career riding in Northern Ca. He rode for a time back in the late 70s in So Calif. He was represented by Ron Anderson. Back then the Jocks room was full of Hall of fame riders. Take nothing away from Russell. Great rider, better person. And his ability to continue to work his butt off after so many years is amazing. Russell has earned all 12.000 of those wins. Congrats Russell.

    • jetto

      the article reads “has spent nearly his entire career riding in Northern California”…keyword being “nearly”

      • RayPaulick

        The word “nearly” was added after the correct reminder from Maggie The Wonder Dog. My recollections were of Russell Baze only riding the Del Mar meeting and accepting occasional stakes mounts in Southern California. I appreciate Maggie’s input.

        • jetto

          u need an editor Ray? LOL…

      • harry

        Russell has the most class of any rider that has every rode!!!!!! Doesn’t matter to him if he’s riding one for Jerry H or a one man stable he rides them all to win!!! The only rider I have ever had the pleasure of knowing that would ride each and every horse past the wirer never standing up before it’s over! Has the best work ethic I have ever seen in a rider! Never crying about getting up and woking horses in the am there by 7 each and every day! My hats off to you Russell and Ray congrats and hopefully we see 13,000!

  • Lost In The Fog

    Congratulations to Russell on reaching another in a long string of milestones! At the ripe old age of 54 he’s still winning 30% of his starts.

    • nu-fan

      The only regret (a teeny one) that I might have regarding this milestone (that was reached) is that I wish it occurred at Golden Gate Fields so that their loyal fans could have seen this achievement. However, I bet there were quite a few of those GGF fans who made the trip to Pleasanton, yesterday, just to see this event.

  • Sandra Warren

    I was there at PLN and it was a magical moment. Baze had to win the 8th, 9th, and 10th to break 12,000, and he had no mount in the 11th. So when he lost the 10th, there was a lot of disappointment. A few minutes later, the track announcer called for a trainer in the 11th race to contact the stewards. Knowing this would mean a replacement jock was needed, the suspense started to build. Eventually two jocks were replaced, and Baze was named on the favorite (classy of Dennis Carr to give up his mount). It was such a close photo finish, everyone around me thought the 9 had won, but I had seen several of these close finishes go to the inside horse the whole meet. Miramanhi kept the suspense going by repeatedly saying “Result of the photo….” and stopping there. I began to grow confident that the photo had gone to Baze. When the number came up, the place roared like Zenyatta had won, at least as was possible for the few thousand of us that were left. For those of you who wonder, they showed the photo on the jumbo tron, and Baze definitely won, fair and square. Jeanne Wasserman presented Baze with a gold ring inscribed “12,000 wins” and Baze graciously hung out and signed programs and took pictures with kids for over a half hour. It was everything racing should be. It has been my honor to watch Baze ride in this area for the last 30 years. He is a great ambassador for the sport. My heart breaks for Tyler.

    • nu-fan

      Thank you for providing the details. I was left wondering what was going to happen at the later races after HRTV stopped showing the races at Pleasanton after (I think) the 8th race. Went to Cal Racing’s website and saw the 10th race but didn’t know that there was a chance for Mr. Baze to race in the 11th race. Next stop for him will be at Cal Expo, starting this Friday, and I am fairly certain that Mr. Baze will be honored at that track as well for reaching this exceptional milestone. He’s the greatest, especially when one takes into account his personal qualities. Yes, I agree with you: He is a great ambassador for the sport! And, yes, I could hear the crowd at Pleasanton cheering Mr. Baze during the earlier races, yesterday. Nice.

    • Kris

      Great story, Sandra, and thanks for sharing.

  • Ed Burgart

    Russell was the second leading rider behind Gary Stevens at Del Mar in the early 1980s. The preceding fall at Oak Tree, Russell rode Both Ends Burning to victory in a $500,000 1 1/2-mile turf race. Ray Harris represented Russell at Del Mar that year before Pat McDowell took over Russell’s book when Baze rode for a short period in Southern California thereafter. Russell always enjoyed riding in Northern California where his family resided and returned to the Bay Area less than six months after his very successful Del Mar season.
    I have met few riders who exude the class Russell Baze has. When he competed in an All-Star jockey competition at Los Alamitos in the mid 1990s, he was the only rider who wrote a thank-you letter after the completion of the quarter horse/thoroughbred jockey competition.

    • RayPaulick

      Thank you, Ed, for sharing that story. Much appreciated.

  • WILLIAM L. ANTON

    I have read the blogs below, I cannot add a thing to any of them. All the great conversation about Russell as a jockey and a fine human being is oh sooo true. One quick incident. He rode the favorite for me, the gate opened Russell and the horse went to the horses knees and nose. I realized we were going to get none of it. Think again, we ran third. The following morning I met up with him in the kitchen. I was very sincere thanking him for the fine effort in running third for me. As a small stable third money was still pretty good. His reply was, (and not so decent terms) “Don’t you ever thank me for something like that>!! That is my job to get all I can for you”. What more can I say, a real trooper. Congrats, Russell.

  • KatraB

    Russell Baze knows God and God knows Russell Baze! ;) Continued blessings to this great race
    rider and wonderful person! Ride on and Godspeed!

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