A champion among a legacy of great riders
by Grant Clark
o one gave much thought when Oregon Warrior
crossed the wire first at Yakima Meadows on September 16, 1974. It marked the
third victory of the year and ninth overall for the six-year-old Oregon-bred
gelding. The horse actually had eight more career wins than his rider a
thin, baby-faced 16-year-old known around the track as Joe Bazes kid.
Joe was an exceptional jockey winning
riding titles at Longacres, Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields and guiding
Pitch Out to a victory in the 1971 Longacres Mile before becoming a
It was Joe who gave his son, Russell
Baze, a leg up on Oregon Warrior. Russell entered the race 0-for-12. The
closest he had come to a victory occurred a couple weeks before, when he had
finished third aboard an Appaloosa, his first mount at the Walla Walla fair
meet. No one in attendance could have known they were watching history
Oregon Warrior, a son of War Flirt and
grandson of War Admiral, never achieved any type of monumental accomplishments
on the track he raced until the age of eight, winning 11 of 111 starts
but he will always be remembered as the first horse to carry Russell
Baze into the winners circle.
tickled to death, said Baze about the victory. I made $250.
Baze has since made 9,009 additional trips to the
winners circle, easily solidifying his place as one of racings
On September 20, 2004, Baze
became the fourth jockey to be inducted into the Washington Thoroughbred Racing
Hall of Fame, joining his cousin Gary Baze, Ralph Neves and Gary Stevens as the
only riders to be inducted thus far.
is just remarkable, said EPSNs Chris Lincoln, who hosted the 2004
Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame induction dinner last September.
The numbers alone are mind-boggling. This guy is doing things no one else
has come close to doing. Some people say its because he rides in northern
California, but the truth is, no matter where you ride, you put up a fraction
of the numbers hes put up and youre one of the best riders on the
planet. Ive seen Shoe and Laffit, Pat Day, Chris McCarron and his name
definitely belongs up there with them. Hes that good.
The Bazes Washington Racings First Family
Joe Baze was riding at Exhibition Park (Hastings Park)
in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada when Russell was born on August 7, 1958.
Despite being born in the Great White North,
Russells roots were firmly planted in Washington. His grandfather, Bert
Baze, was a farmer and rodeo rider from Missouri who decided to relocate to
Sunnyside a town in central Washington about 40 minutes outside of
Yakima in the early 1900s.
his wife, Mabel described as a 410 tough-as-nails former
jockey nick-named Bunt had eight children, including four
sons who became trainers: Earl, Kenny, Joe and Carl.
The Bazes racing family tree begins with Mabel,
who successfully rode horses for years in the Blue Mountain circuit in Oregon,
Washington and Idaho.
Back then they used
whoever was light enough, Russell said. So she got to ride a lot of
races. She was the one that really got the ball rolling for the family.
Legend has it that Mabels riding career
ended only after suffering a spill at a county fair while pregnant with Carl.
Mabels passion for the Sport of
Kings was not lost on her children. Joe and Carl each begin their careers
in the Thoroughbred industry as jockeys before turning to conditioning horses.
Uncle Joe was an incredible jockey,
said Gary Baze, a 2003 inductee into the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of
Fame who has won more than 3,300 races during his career. We all picked
his brain whenever we had the chance. Ive been in this business for a
while and I still find myself asking him questions.
In addition to Russell, two other of Joe and
Beverlys sons were successful riders. Dale helped to contribute to the
Bazes legacy as racings first family by winning 1,634 races during
his career. Mike was the top rider at Longacres in 1978 and is the father of
the current young reinsman Michael Baze. Two other sons also kept their
connection to the race industry. Farrier and singer Earl is the father of the
hot young rider Tyler Baze, the 2000 Eclipse Award winning apprentice jockey.
Randy is an equine (and human) chiropractor. Another brother, Kelly, tried for
a career in riding, but ended up with a career in the Navy instead.
In 1976, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer named
the Baze clan as their sports family of the year.
Following a distinguished 20-year riding career, Joe
Baze retired in the early 1970s to open a training center in Granger,
where Russell, his four brothers and sister grew up. Every day before school,
Joe put his kids to work, riding ponies and cleaning stalls. At the age of 13,
Russell began to take riding as a career seriously.
Three years later, as soon as he was old enough, he
took out his racing license and started his professional career, riding
weekends and summers, receiving $17 for each mount.
It was exciting, Russell said. It was
tough work, but I was having fun. Its actually all Ive ever wanted
n addition to the victory aboard
Oregon Warrior, Russell finished his first year of riding with one other win,
capping 1974 with a record of 2-3-4 from 20 mounts with $1,846 in earnings.
Today, it seems strange if he doesnt win at least two on a card, but the
groundwork was being laid for a successful career.
The Longacres Years
was an apprentice reinsman when he arrived at Longacres in 1975. Cousin Gary
was the two-time defending riding champion, having claiming the title in 1973
with 120 wins and in 1974 with 112.
The two Bazes
battled throughout the 1975 season at the Renton racetrack, with Gary
eventually winning his third consecutive title by winning 99 races. Russell
finished second in the standings, posting a record of 72-51-50 from 444 mounts.
In addition to being the leading apprentice at
Longacres, the 1975 season also marked Russells first career mount in the
Longacres Mile. As a 17-year-old bug boy he finished fifth aboard Cupatin.
Russell rode two more full seasons at Longacres, but
failed to equal the success he had during the 1975 meeting, finishing 1976 at
Longacres with a record of 32-48-48 from 440 mounts and 1978 with a record of
28-43-23 from 272 mounts.
Russell figured he would
benefit from a change of scenery. Northern California turned out to be exactly
what he was looking for.
Home in Northern California
Remarkably, before Russell started riding full time in
northern California in 1980, he had never won a riding title. Since then
hes more than made up for that, winning the riding championship at every
major northern California meeting at which he has completed in the last 25
years. He owns 27 riding titles at Golden Gate Fields and 33 at Bay Meadows.
His most recent title occurred during the 2005
meeting at Bay Meadows, where he finished with a 30.2 winning percentage and
notched 119 victories nearly doubling the records of second-place riders
Frank Alvarado and Roberto Gonzalez, who each finished with 61 wins.
Shoemakers domination was the greatest
until Russells here, Darryl Hove, a longtime chart-caller in
California, told the Daily Racing Form. Weve been racing in
northern California for nearly 70 years, and Russells been the leading
rider one-third of the time. I doubt anyone has ever come close to what Russell
has done, and look at all the jockeys who came here with reputations and left
because they were discouraged that they couldnt beat Russell.
Im not trying to take anything away from
Shoe; he was the best I ever saw. Shoemaker won the majority of his races on
the west coast. He won at Hollywood Park, Del Mar and Santa Anita as often as
Russell has up here. Ironically, back then southern California was considered
inferior to New York, and some people wondered if Shoemaker could win back
Baze, however, has never been about
numbers and milestones.
I think the thing
Im most proud of in my career is that Ive never been beaten for
lack of trying, Baze said. Im just blessed that I have an
occupation that I love to do.
Simply Majestics 1988 Longacres Mile
Following Simply Majestics victorious romp in the
1988 Longacres Mile, Baze jokingly said, I finally get to be included in
the family roster.
By 1988, the Baze family
had already registered five combined victories in the Longacres Mile. In
addition to Joe Bazes win aboard Pitch Out in the 1971 edition of the
race, Gary Baze had already won four Miles - winning back-to-back runnings of
the race in 1980 and 1981 with Trooper Seven to go with wins in 1985 on Chum
Salmon and in 1987 on Judge Angelucci.
however, wasnt as fortunate as his father and cousin in terms of the
Mile. Prior to 1988, Russell had ridden in five Longacres Miles. In those races
he finished fifth twice, sixth and tenth. It had been three years since he last
rode in the Mile. His last Mile mount occurred in 1985, the year his cousin
Gary guided Chum Salmon to a victory. Russell didnt even get to finish
the race, as he was forced to pull up Distant Ryder.
Russells Mile luck changed for the better in
1988. He was slated to ride Simply Majestic, a Bobby Frankel trainee who
emerged as a serious Mile contender after defeating 1987 Mile winner Judge
Angelucci by a gaudy 10 lengths in the Golden Gate Fields Budweiser
Breeders Cup that April.
impressive victory over the previous years winner, Simply Majestic went
off as the second betting choice in the 1988 Mile. The favorite was the Aaron
Spelling-owned Candis Gold, who was named after the television
producers wife. Candis Gold was coming off a 1987 season where he
ran in the Kentucky Derby-G1 and finished fourth to Ferdinand in the
Breeders Cup Classic-G1. Candis Gold, under Eddie Delahoussaye,
failed to fire that afternoon, finishing eighth in the nine-horse field.
The race was all Simply Majestics, as Russell
guided the colt to a 4 1/2 length victory over longshot Kent Green. His final
time was 1:33 4/5 which tied the track record.
This is the race everyone wants to win,
Baze said following the race. Its good to come back home and
finally win it.
To date, Joe and Russell are
the only father-and-son duo to each win the Longacres Mile. Russells
success in the Mile, however, did not end there.
1992 Baze Leads the Nation
Following 1988, Russell decided to move his tack to
southern California. He stayed for three injury-filled years winning a
combined 475 races with a win percentage of 11.9.
After returning from a three-week layoff due to a
broken pelvis, Russell, even though he posted more than $13 million in earnings
over the three-year span, realized that things just werent working for
him in southern California.
I could have
stayed and done all right, Russell said, but back in northern
California was where I needed to be.
returned, better than ever, to the Bay Area in 1992. On April 16, 1992, he set
a northern California record for most victories on a single card when he won
with seven of his nine mounts at Golden Gate Fields. The wins just kept pouring
in after that.
Since 1992, Russell has led the
nation in victories seven times in 1992 (433 wins), 1993 (410), 1994
(415), 1995 (448), 1996 (415), 2000 (412) and 2002 (431) and has won 400
races in 11 of the past 13 years, coming up short only in 1999 (with 373 wins)
and 2004 (321) when he missed significant time due to injuries. No other jockey
has won 400 races in a year more than three times.
In 1995, Russell was honored with a special Eclipse
Award for being the first jockey to win 400 or more races in a year for four
Baze was the recipient of the
George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 2002. This honor is given by fellow
riders to one whose career and personal character reflects positively on the
sport and themselves.
Issac Murphy Award
judge Bazes greatness on the track, all you need to do is look at the
Isaac Murphy Award winners roster.
the National Turf Writers Association created the prestigious award, which is
given to the rider with the nations highest win percentage. Between the
awards inception in 1995 through 2003, Baze was the only recipient.
If I knew Baze was going to win it every year, I
would never have come up with the award to begin with, Bill Nack,
renowned author and National Turf Writers Association member, jokingly said
during a visit to Emerald Downs in 2003. I remember after presenting it
to him for the fifth straight year I told him were either going to have
to re-name the award after him or get rid of it all together. Thats just
the clearest sign of how dominating a rider he is. When its all said and
done, he might put the numbers so high up there that no one ever catches
Baze finished 1995 having won 29
percent of his races. During the following seven years he won at a 28 percent
clip before winning 30 percent of his races in 2003.
His remarkable run of nine straight Isaac Murphy Awards
came to an end in 2004 when Ramon Dominguez claimed the top spot by winning 383
of his 1,353 mounts (28.3 percent). Baze was second in the nation, receiving
nearly 200 less mounts then Dominguez and winning at a 27.2 rate.
Win No. 8,000
With wife Tami,
the daughter of horse trainer and former jockey Jack Arterburn who Russell met
in 1978 and married the following year; daughters, Trinity, 25, Brandi, 23 and
Cassie, 20; and son Gable, 14, watching, Russell, at age 44, became the
youngest rider in history to reach the 8,000-win club on October 26, 2002.
Russell notched the milestone after guiding
Ourwhistlebritches, a two-year-old filly trained by William E. Morey, to a 2
1/2 length victory in a six furlong race at Bay Meadows.
When I get close (to milestones), I dont
get too anxious, Russell said.
probably because Russell and milestones have gone hand-in-hand since he began
riding three decades ago. He recorded his 3,000th career win at Hollywood Park
on December 8, 1988 aboard Hagleys Lion; his 4,000th on March 3, 1993 at
Golden Gate Fields on Frank Musso; his 5,000th on July 29, 1995 at Santa Rosa
aboard Cyrus Says; his 6,000th on December 4, 1997 at Golden Gate Fields on
Clover Hunter; and reached the 7,000 win plateau on July 4, 2000 at Pleasanton
aboard the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee, and aptly named, This is the Moment.
Sky Jacks Record-breaking Mile
Romp Russell ended a 10-year Longacres Mile hiatus in
1998 when he rode Budroyale, the richest earner to ever race in Washington.
Budroyale turned out to be a Mile winner. Unfortunately for Russell,
Budroyales Mile triumph was still a year away and he had to settle for a
disappointing seventh-place finish on the Ted West trainee.
The next year, Russell fared even worse in the Mile,
finishing last in the eight-horse field on four-to-five favorite Classic Cat.
Another eighth-place finish followed in 2002
aboard Futural, a former graded stakes winner who was a shell of his former
greatness once the 2002 Mile rolled around.
Im going to need to get a better horse if
Im ever going to win this race again, Russell said with smile
outside the Emerald Downs jockey room following his trip aboard Futural.
A dozen months later, Russell got his request in
the form of Sky Jack. Russell has won 9,010 races, but few are as memorable or
dominating as his victory aboard the Doug O Neill-trained roan in the
2003 Longacres Mile.
Ive been on some
awfully good horses, said Russell, who has won approximately 500 stakes
races during his career. This was as good as a performance from a horse
as Ive ever been on.
Sky Jack, who
also won the Hollywood Gold Cup-G1 in 2002, covered the eight panels in a Mile
record time of one minute, 33 seconds. His winning time set an Emerald
Downs track record and matched the state record set by Slew of Damascus
in 1993 at Yakima Meadows.
In addition, Sky
Jacks winning margin of 6 1/4 lengths bettered the previous Longacres
Mile record of six lengths set by Chinook Pass (1983), Quality Quest (1955) and
Amble In (1946).
It will definitely go down
as one of my most memorable wins, Russell said.
Russell guided Sky Jack to a wire-to-wire victory in the 2003 Longacres Mile,
the following years running of the Mile was the exact opposite.
In the 2004 edition of the Mile, Russell showed his
versatility, rallying the Hollendorfer-trained Adreamisborn from last place in
a field of 12 to win the 2004 edition over a sloppy track.
Youre always a little bit more confident
going into a race when you have Russell riding your horse, said
Hollendorfer, who was saddling his first Mile winner. Im not sure
how many races weve won together; one of these days Im going to
have to sit down and count them, but weve had a lot of success.
Adreamisborn may have given Hollendorfer his first
Mile win, but it marked the third victory in the race for Russell, placing him
second on the all-time Mile wins lists. Cousin Gary Baze holds the record with
five. It also made Russell the first jockey in 38 years to win the race with
two different horses in back-to-back years.
Jennings was the only other rider to accomplish the feat. Jennings won
back-to-back Miles with a pair of Argentine-bred runners, in 1965 with *Siempre
and the following year he was aboard *Aurelius II.
It always means a lot to come up here and win
this race, Russell said. Ive had some tough Miles, but lately
things have been going my way in this race.
On January 22,
Russells résumé got a little bit larger when he won aboard
Hollow Memories at Golden Gate Fields to surpass the great Bill Shoemaker and
move into second on racings all-time victory list with 8,834.
Any time you can have your name spoken in the
same breath as Bill Shoemaker, youre doing something right, Russell
said afterwards. He was my idol. Hes the idol of every jock. He set
the standard to match. Hes been the target weve all aimed for.
Theres nothing I can say about him that hasnt been said. Everybody
knows his genius as a rider. I dont get sentimental or conceited, but it
is a special moment.
Joining the Pirate
inched closer to the title of winningest jockey of all-time on June 2 when he
became just the second rider in history to reach the 9,000 career mark at
Golden Gate. On that date, he guided Queen of the Hunt to a wire-to-wire
victory in the cards finale. Only the retired Laffit Pincay, Jr., fondly
known at The Pirate, has won more races
Ive never been the kind of person to say
Im going to win a certain number, Russell said following the
victory. Ive just been real lucky. Im just happy to have the
success Ive had. I dont think Im better than anyone else
Ive just been lucky to ride faster horses.
Fittingly, No. 9,000 came aboard a horse trained by
Hollendorfer, who through June 21 ranks fifth on the trainers all time wins
list with 4,380 victories.
good to me, putting me on his good horses, Russell said.
Theres nobody Id rather do it for.
After the race, Russell and Hollendorfer estimated they
have combined to win approximately 2,000 races since first teaming up in the
Weve worked well
together, Hollendorfer said. Everybody in racing knows what it
means to win 9,000 races. I was happy to stand there with him. It made my
Eight days after his
9,000th win, Russell suffered a complete fracture of his collarbone near his
left shoulder, possible rib fractures and numerous bruises from his hips to
forehead, according to Golden Gate Fields physician Dr. David Seftel. The
injury occurred when his mount, Cowboy Badgett, broke his left front ankle
nearing the quarter pole. The horse went down and planted me like a
tulip, deadpanned Baze. He is expected to sidelined for up to two months
according to Seftel.
It is the second fractured
collarbone in 18 months for Russell, who broke his right collarbone on November
30, 2003. He missed eight weeks of action with that injury.
At the time of the accident, June 6, Russell led the
nation with 205 wins and was 72 clear of his nearest rival, Rafael Bejarano,
and only 520 victories stood between him and Laffit Pincay, Jr. on the all time
Among those 2005 victories were four
aboard the unbeaten three-year-old sprinter Lost in the Fog. In fact, prior to
getting injured, Baze was the only rider aboard Harry Aleos unbeaten colt
in his first six starts. (Edgar Prado got him home first in the June 11 Riva
Ridge Breeders Cup Stakes-G2 at Belmont Park.) As is often the case in
his profession, the most talented riders usually name a more recent mount as
the best. No doubt, Lost in the Fog is the fastest horse Ive ever
ridden, said Baze, using tone for emphasis.
Despite being sidelined with the injury, his focus
remains on 9,531.
Catching Laffit is
obviously the next goal, said the 46-year-old jockey. If we can do
that, then Id like to go for 10,000 (wins).
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.