Updated on 09/16/2011 8:33AM

Baze on brink of 8,000 club

Benoit & Associates
Going into Friday night's Bay Meadows card, Russell Baze was only three wins short of 8,000.

SAN MATEO, Calif. - Russell Baze won two races Thursday at Bay Meadows and went into the weekend on the threshold of a racing milestone.

Going into Friday night's card, he was just three wins short of joining Laffit Pincay Jr., Bill Shoemaker, and Pat Day as the only jockeys with 8,000 victories.

At age 44, Baze is poised to become the youngest rider to reach the 8,000 mark. Pincay, now 55, was 46 when he reached 8,000, and Day, now 49, was 47 when he accomplished the feat. Shoemaker, who retired in 1990 at age 58 with 8,833 victories, was 49 when he won his 8,000th race.

Big numbers are nothing new for Baze, who is on a pace to win 400 races for the 10th time in 11 years, and is taking the milestone in stride.

"It's great to be able to say I won 8,000 races, but it doesn't define who I am," he said earlier in the week. "But I'd be lying if I didn't say I think it's pretty cool."

He was scheduled for five mounts Friday and six Saturday, including one aboard Longacres Mile winner Sabertooth in the Pacifica Handicap.

Baze won a special Eclipse Award in 1995 when he became the first rider to earn 400 victories for four straight years. He has won the Isaac Murphy Award for the jockey with the highest winning percentage every year since its inception in 1995, and he was elected to the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 1999. He has been the country's leading rider in victories six times.

If there is one perceived blemish on Baze's record, it's that he has accomplished so many milestones while in northern California instead of on the bigger stages of Southern California, Kentucky, New York, or Florida. He has never ridden a Kentucky Derby or Breeders' Cup winner.

"I suppose there's a kernel of truth to that," he said. "I know this isn't the toughest circuit in the nation, but there are a lot easier than this, and [other jockeys] haven't done this."

Pincay defuses the criticism.

"From a rider's point of view, where you do it doesn't matter," Pincay said from Santa Anita. "This is a great accomplishment. He's one of the greatest in the business. People think he's always on the best horses and so that makes it easy, but it's not easy."

Baze, born Aug. 7, 1958, in Vancouver, British Columbia, began riding in 1974, getting his first win aboard Oregon Warrior, saddled by his father, Joe, at Yakima on Sept. 16, 1974.

His career accelerated when Ray Harris became his agent in 1980. Since finishing fourth at Golden Gate Fields in the first meeting they worked together, Baze has won every riding title at Golden Gate Fields (24) and Bay Meadows (27) since then, except for a sojourn to Southern California, from 1988 to 1991.

Baze is the first to say he has been blessed with no major injuries, and he has a sense of humor about himself and his accomplishments. During the countdown to 8,000, Baze said, "I'd be there if they let me count my wins on Appaloosas."

Jockey Jason Lumpkins gave Baze his stiffest competition for a major title when he lost by just five wins at the 2001 Bay Meadows spring meet. "It's been fun riding with him, a rider of his caliber," Lumpkins said. "He knows what it's about. He's super tough. He tries with every horse and looks the same with every horse. If he's on the lead, laying in midpack, or 10 out of it, he's riding every horse the same."

Northern California trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is perhaps Baze's biggest booster, estimating that Baze has ridden as many as 2,000 winners for him.

"He does what he's supposed to," Hollendorfer said. "He's just total honesty. He's honest in his work ethic and in all aspects of his life. In my opinion, it's what you want in a race rider."

Hollendorfer has no doubt that Baze would do well wherever he rode.

"I've wanted him to come to Chicago where he could showcase his talent, but Russell chooses to be here," Hollendorfer said. "There's no doubt he would be very successful anywhere. The real proof is that other riders recognize that."

Baze has no plans to retire and, at his present pace, he could pass Shoemaker and Day and move into second place behind Pincay in two years or so. He trails Pincay by 1,440 as of Thursday.

"There are only three others who can say they've won 8,000, and all three are in front of me," Baze said.

At that point, he flashed an impish grin as if to suggest that the three may not be ahead of him forever.