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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