01/26/2004 12:00AM

Baze, back from injury, will ride four


ALBANY, Calif. - Russell Baze comes back from the longest injury-related layoff of his career Wednesday at Golden Gate Fields. Baze spent two days short of two months on the sidelines after suffering a displaced fracture of his right collarbone.

Baze, fourth on the all-time rider list for career victories with 8,484, is scheduled to ride four horses Wednesday and will ride four more on Thursday.

"I fully expect at least three wins," he said, laughing, when asked about his return to racing for the first time since his accident on Nov. 30, when Snoopy Cat stumbled leaving the gate and threw him. He was then stepped on by After the Run.

"The last couple weeks I've been trying to get back in shape," said Baze, who had to lose four pounds in four days to get back to his riding weight of 114 pounds.

"I've been running a hill we have on our ranch, running stairs, and doing sit-ups. I've done some weight work and range-of-motion exercises. I still can't do push-ups or pull-ups."

Baze, who finished second in the nation with 410 wins last year, worked horses for the first time Saturday.

"The only thing I might have a problem with is whipping, but I'll work on that before I race. I broke from the gate with no problems," he said.

Baze, who has won 25 riding titles at Golden Gate Fields, and 30 at Bay Meadows, is eighth in the Golden Gate standings with 28 wins as he returns to action. He has won the riding title at every major northern California meet at which he has competed since the 1980-81 Bay Meadows season.

"Hopefully, I'll have enough time to get the lead, but the others will be bearing down," he said. "If people didn't believe me before, I think what happened since I've been gone should prove it. We have some great riders."

Baze is listed on three morning-line favorites Wednesday: Bettor Royalty (9-5) in an $8,000 claimer at six furlongs, Big Feeler (5-2) in a $16,000 claimer at six furlongs and Bien Dancing (3-1) in a $4,000 claimer at one mile. His first mount of the day is Dazzling American (5-1) in the day's feature, a $25,000 claimer at six furlongs.

Jockey Kevin Radke benefited most from Baze's absence, and leads the standings with 47 wins. Radke rode 39 of his winners while Baze was out. Radke's agent, Ray Harris, is also Baze's agent.

Radke knows he will no longer the No. 1 rider for leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, but he said, "There are a lot of options now." He also know that Hollendorfer will use him sometimes since he has proven he brings in winners.

Chance Rollins rode 36 winners in Baze's absence and is second in the standings with 46 wins, but he welcomes Baze's return.

"Russell makes us ride to the best of our ability," Rollins said.

Hollendorfer and Baze have developed a special bond over the years.

"I've been working around Russell so long, I miss him when he's gone," said Hollendorfer. "Guys stepped up and did a great job for me when he was gone, and I appreciate it. I'll continue to ride them, but Russell is my main man."