Michael Baze dead at 24: ‘the nicest kid…the sweetest kid”
Michael Baze, the 24-year-old former leading rider at Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Arlington Park, is dead. Louisville Metro Police found Baze deceased in a car today at 4:30 p.m. near Gate 5 in the stable area of Churchill Downs. According to sources, the car had been parked there for several hours with the engine running. It is believed Baze drove to Louisville from the Chicago area, and was to begin riding at Churchill Downs, having just engaged Bobby Kelly as his agent. According to Daily Racing Form, Kelly had been trying to contact the rider by telephone throughout the day.
Police are conducting a death investigation and said no foul play is suspected.
Baze, born April 14, 1987, in Renton Wash., was from a prodigious family of jockeys and trainers. His father, Mike, was a jockey in the Pacific Northwest, and his first cousin is Tyler Baze, Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 2000 and now a top journeyman rider who only recently returned from an injury sustained at Del Mar last summer. Hall of Famer Russell Baze is his father’s cousin. Gary Baze, a legendary rider at Longacres near Seattle, is his uncle.
Michael Baze began riding in 2003 in Southern California, his first win coming aboard Out on the Sly at Hollywood Park on May 2, 2003 — less than three weeks after his 16th birthday. He ventured to the East Coast shortly thereafter, then returned to Southern California, where he was leading rider at Hollywood Park and Del Mar in 2007 — his best year, when his mounts earned $9.3 and he ranked 18th nationally. He spent last year and early 2011 in the Midwest, winning the Arlington Park riding title in 2010. He rode at Oaklawn Park earlier this year, finishing fourth in the standings. Among his 2011 mounts was Nehro, the Kentucky Derby runner-up. Baze rode him to a second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
According to Daily Racing Form, Baze won 918 races from 6,969 career starts for mount earnings of $32.4 million.
Alcohol problems surfaced earlier this year at Oaklawn Park. Baze failed a breathalyzer test before the races on March 11, was taken off his mounts that day, and fined $500. It wasn’t his first brush with authorities involving alcohol, and friends feared he had been experiencing additional problems in recent weeks.
Ron Ebanks was his last agent in Southern California two years ago, and said he had a hard time getting him mounts. He urged Baze to try the Midwest, where he rode for top trainer Wayne Catalano, and was Arlington Park’s leading rider.
“He was a beautiful kid,” Ebanks remembered. “This just breaks my heart. He was the nicest kid, the sweetest kid, and had so much talent and potential. Everyone who came in contact with Michael liked him. Everyone. This hurts so much… He’s the kind of jockey you would have been writing about for a long time.”
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Jefferson County deputy coroner Jim Wesley said preliminary results of the autopsy on Michael Baze reveal “no anatomical cause of death,” pending toxicology results, which could take several weeks.