11/19/2004 12:00AM

Baze caught by surprise

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ALBANY, Calif. - Milestones have become a way of life for Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, but his latest caught him totally unaware Thursday at Golden Gate Fields.

Baze rode four winners, including the final three races of the day, and moved past Pat Day into third place on the all-time career victory list. Baze ended the day with 8,772 victories, one more than Day, who picked up one win himself on Thursday at Churchill Downs.

The two may alternate in the number three spot for a while, but time and momentum seem clearly on Baze's side in the race to the next milestone, Bill Shoemaker's record of 8,833 winners.

"I knew I was pretty close, but nobody ever tells me these things," said Baze when informed of his latest milestone. "It feels good. I'm definitely keeping good company."

Baze's agent, Ray Harris, had checked the total before Thursday's races and discovered his rider was only two behind Day. Harris didn't mention the fact to Baze.

"He never tells me anything," Baze said. "I guess he doesn't want me to get a big head."

Baze has accomplished some unparalleled feats on horseback.

He has won the Isaac Murphy Award for the highest winning percentage every year since the award was initiated in 1995. With the exception of 1999, he won a minimum of 400 races a year from 1992-2003.

Of the latest milestone, Baze said it would "give me something extra" to talk about with his wife, Tami.

Baze doesn't dwell on his accomplishments, but he has learned to savor the moment a little.

"It's great to be able to keep healthy and have so many good years back to back," he said.

"My agent puts me on good horses. I've been very fortunate of late. Everything I've been on is live. Even the ones that haven't won have run well."

Seven shots on Sunday

Baze has seven mounts Sunday, including stakes winner Halo Cat in the day's feature, an $80,000 optional claimer at six furlongs.

Halo Cat comes off a three-length win against similar at Bay Meadows. Although Halo Cat is at his best stalking, Baze realized there was no speed in that race and gunned his mount out of the gate to open a quick lead. They were never threatened.

He won't have to do that Sunday, with Smoke Till Dawn, a Golden Gate track record holder, and Carthage in the field. Baze can sit third on Halo Cat and hope those two duel and set it up for Halo Cat's late kick.