There was plenty of Southern California star power on display last weekend at Oaklawn, notably champion Game Winner and Grade 1 winner Improbable for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in a split $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds.
Game Winner and Improbable jetted home Tuesday, but some of that Southern California star power remained. Quietly, Tyler Baze joined the riding colony last Sunday and scored with his second mount when favored Bolita Boyz ($5.40) won the seventh race, a $92,000 allowance sprint for older horses, for trainer Robertino Diodoro and runaway leading owner M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk).
Baze, 36, won an Eclipse Award as the country's top apprentice jockey in 2000 and has been a mainstay on the ultra-tough Southern California circuit for years. His move to Oaklawn was fallout from Santa Anita's March 5 announcement that it was suspending racing indefinitely because of poor weather and track conditions.
“Sitting here not making any money and I've got three kids and two house payments,” Baze said Friday morning. “Sat there for three weeks and didn't do anything and had this opportunity. Jose called me and offered me this. It was just an offer I couldn't pass up.”
Jose is agent Joe Santos, who will represent Baze until the Oaklawn meeting ends May 4, a deal struck during a brief phone call March 15 and facilitated by Baze's relationship with Oaklawn track announcer Vic Stauffer, who represented the jockey in 2008-2010.
Asked the impact Stauffer played in his decision to move to Oaklawn, Baze said: “This probably would have never happened.”
Baze entered Saturday, the 34th day of the scheduled 57-day season, with a 2-1-3 record from 12 mounts and purse earnings of $160,144. His second victory at the meet came in Thursday's seventh race, a $90,000 maiden special weights event at a mile, with Ready Orb Not ($9.80) for trainer Phil Sims.
Oaklawn has the highest purse structure of any winter venue, averaging $566,321 per day through last Sunday, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.
“It was a no-brainer,” Baze said, adding he asked for feedback from longtime clients John Sadler and Jeff Mullins before leaving Southern California. “I can't sit there and not do anything. I can only twiddle my thumbs for so long. Like I said, I've got two mortgages and three kids. Three weeks without a paycheck is a little rough.”
A cousin of retired Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, Baze entered Saturday with 2,607 victories and $116,022,771 in purse earnings in his North American career, according to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization. His first Oaklawn victory came in the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds in 2017 aboard the Sadler-trained Cistron.
Baze, the seventh-leading rider at the Santa Anita winter/spring meet, said isn't sure where he will ride after the Oaklawn meeting ends, but has “a lot of offers on the table.” Santa Anita is scheduled to resume racing Friday.
“I'm just taking it day by day,” Baze said. “Right now, this is a good thing for me and it's meeting new people. My wife's been telling me to do it for 10 years. Finally, did it. Just get out of California and try to ride for new people. Get your career booming. What's kept me there was my house and now I've got kids. This is actually a perfect time to do it.”
Arkansas Racing Commission rules permit an agent to carry two journeymen riders and an apprentice. Santos began the meet with David Cabrera, Israel Rodriguez and apprentice Luis Fuentes.
Rodriguez's last day as a regular was Thursday, Santos said, and he will ride this summer at Gulfstream Park. Cabrera hasn't ridden since March 14 after returning to his native Mexico because of a “family issue,” Santos said, adding the jockey's timetable for returning is unknown.
Santos is scheduled to represent Miguel Mena at the Churchill Downs spring meeting that begins April 27.
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