08/24/2009 1:20PM

Think Pink


It just doesn't sound very dignified. He broke his pinky. How can anything called a pinky be substantial enough to put an athlete like Tyler Baze on the bench for any amount of time? Impossible. That's why, in future reference, the freakish injury sustained by Baze late last Saturday afternoon at Del Mar will be referred to as a fracture at the head of the first phalanx of the digitus minimus of Tyler's right hand.

Or, as Dr. Baze himself put it, "I snapped my finger in two."

I was okay until he said that. Now I've got the willies. The sight of Baze going up and then off the first-time starter R. Bee Ess out there on the turf course, before they even entered the gate, was bad enough. Tyler's not sure if the finger got nailed when the horse reared, or when he hit the ground.

Compared to the grisly, five-horse pile-up at Louisiana Downs on Sunday, the Baze incident was a flash in the pan, a fluke out of the blue. The lesson, though, is clear. A jockey is never safe while sitting atop a Thoroughbred racehorse.

"He was kind of freezing up," Baze said Monday morning, between calls to orthopedic specialists. "When he reared, I was okay with that. But when he came down, he stumbled and I went over his shoulder. When I hit things kind of blanked out, and all I could think of was, 'No. Not now. Not now.'"

The pinky seems a useless digit, good for what? Dr. Evil impressions? Drinking tea? Hook 'em Horns and Hang Loose, Brudda? But for a jockey, it helps to have all 10 fingers in attendance. You can go "whoa" and "giddy-up" to a horse all you want. In the end, it's the hands that do the talking.

At the moment of impact, Baze was in hot pursuit of Joel Rosario for the top spot on the Del Mar standings. He was also anticipating rich rides aboard Informed in the Pacific Classic and Battle of Hastings in the Del Mar Derby over the Labor Day weekend, the last of the meet. You can bet he'll do everything he can to make those dates.

Bad hands

Baze is 26, which means his fingers are pristine compared to veteran jockeys who have ridden upwards of 20,000 horses. The hands truly take a beating. Here, for example, are the hands of a retired Hall of Fame rider who lives in the neighborhood. Note the distinctive twists and turns of the fingers, especially that right digitus minimus--the same one Baze just snapped.

"The only other time I hurt a finger was when I dislocated the same finger the day I rode Nationalore, the world's richest maiden," Baze said, and we remember the day. Nationalore hit the board in the 1997 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Three years and 26 starts later, on July 12, 2000, at Hollywood Park, he was still looking for his first win, and the teenage Baze was determined to help. They made it as far as the first turn when Nationalore was fatally injured.

This time around, Baze took the worst of it. R. Bee Ess had a grand tour of the course--they even had to move the starting gate out of his way--before he finally trotted to a halt, dropped his head, and began to graze. As he was led back to his barn, there was still a clump of grass dangling from his bit.