PROLIFIC RIDER LOOKS TO CONQUER OLD HILL

Published By: 
Phil Janack
Published: 
May 13, 2014

            Jockey Russell Baze has only been to Maryland twice in a 40-year Hall of Fame riding career that has touched parts of five decades. When he competes in the Xpressbet Jockey Challenge on Friday, it will be his first time riding at Pimlico Race Course.

            Friday’s challenge brings together seven of the eight active Hall of Fame jockeys, minus Gary Stevens. Joining Baze are Edgar Prado and Kent Desormeaux, who used Maryland as a springboard to later success, Mike Smith, John Velazquez, Calvin Borel and Alex Solis.

            For Baze, it will be his first time here since he had two mounts at Laurel Park on Feb. 16, 1991, finishing second with Devil’s Orchid in the Barbara Fritchie and 10thon Bet the Pot in the General George.

            On Oct. 23, 1988, Baze won a handicap race on Balthazar B. and was then ninth in the All Along Stakes with Angelina Ballerina. Those mounts also came at Laurel.

            Baze’s appearance this weekend is a notable presence for North America’s all-time leader with an incredible 12,253 victories – and counting.

            “I’m extremely blessed, to be able to ride for as long as I have without having any kind of serious injuries,” Baze said. “Just the accumulation of races year after year after year, I don’t realize it at the time when I’m doing it. It’s only when I look at the total tally that I realize, ‘Hey, we’ve won a lot of races.’ It’s just fantastic the support I’ve had from the trainers in northern California for so long.”

            Baze has won more than 30 riding titles at Bay Meadows and nearly as many at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco. He is a big fish in a small pond, though he waded into deeper waters with a three-year stint in southern California from 1988-91.

            “I had pretty good success when I was down there,” Baze said. “The reason I went down there was to get the opportunity to ride better horses and win some of the bigger races, and it just wasn’t happening. I wasn’t winning as many races as I was accustomed to winning.

            “We decided to make the trip back up to northern California and it took right back off when I got back up here. I really love the area, too. It’s nice to have a year-round circuit in one area where I don’t have to be moving the family around and I don’t have to be away for an extended period of time.”

            Baze’s first winner came for his father, Joe, on Sept. 16, 1974 at Yakima Meadows in Washington. Among the many milestones since then were his 5,000thwin in 1995; his induction into the Hall of Fame in 1999; becoming North America’s all-time leading rider with his 9,531stwin on Dec. 1, 2006; and his 12,000th victory on July 7, 2013.

            He is the second rider to reach the 12,000 level, trailing 52-year-old South American jockey Jorge Ricardo, who got there in May of 2013. He won 400 or more races seven consecutive years from 1992-98, and 13 times overall.

            The jockey challenge will take place in races 2, 4, 6 and 8. In between, Baze will keep an eye on the track to track any changes and supplement his handicapping of each race, both on paper and with video replays.          

            “There are going to be good riders in this, so you don’t have to make any adjustments for them because they’re good, quality riders,” Baze said. “They’re not going to be doing a lot of unpredictable things. I’ll watch a lot of the races from the track and see if there’s any bias with the track surface. I just hope I draw good and get good trips.

            “There’s no doubt in my mind I can compete with those guys; it’s just a matter of having the mounts. I realize the turns there are a little tight and that first turn is a little bit sharp, but I don’t predict any trouble getting around the track. They loop to the left, just like all the rest of them.”

            Baze is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore on Thursday, compete on Friday and fly back to California on Saturday.

            “I’m going to thoroughly enjoy myself coming back there. I’m really looking forward to getting back and seeing Baltimore and having a good time,” Baze said. “To get us all in one spot at the same time is going to be pretty unique, I think.”

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