07/15/2004 11:00PM

Baze closing in on first riding crown

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Tyler Baze is not ready for Southern California racing's annual move from Hollywood Park to Del Mar this week.

"I'm still looking for a place to live down there," he said Friday. "With dogs, it's hard to find a place."

Baze says he does not want the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting to end Sunday, and it's not just because he has yet to find digs that will accommodate his critters in San Diego County.

Through Thursday, Baze was on the verge of his first riding title, leading the standings with 56 wins. Victor Espinoza, with 50 wins, was his closest pursuer.

The riding title would be a major milestone for Baze, 21, who is best known for winning the 2000 Eclipse Award as the nation's leading apprentice jockey.

"This is my first title and I worked hard for it," he said. "It's exciting."

In addition, the title would solidify Baze's position as a top young rider on the tough Southern California circuit. In recent meetings, Baze has finished third behind Espinoza and Alex Solis at the Santa Anita winter-spring season, and third behind Patrick Valenzuela and Espinoza at the Hollywood Park fall meeting last year.

"I expect to win every single title," Baze said. "That's what I'm riding for."

The success at the Hollywood Park meeting comes after Baze hit a rough patch a few years ago after losing his apprentice allowance. Baze won 246 races in 2000, 239 of which came as an apprentice.

In 2001, Baze had 196 wins, but only 95 the following year. Last year, he rebounded with 175.

"The year after I lost my bug, I did really good, but the next year was slow," he said. "It was hard to get through. After that, things started picking up again. It's going great."

Last year at Del Mar, Baze finished tied for eighth in the standings with 15 wins, but had little luck. He got off to a cold start, and was beginning to climb the standings when he injured a foot in a five-horse spill Aug. 11. The injury left him sidelined for a week.

When he recalls the accident, Baze does not focus on the spill or the injury, but on one of his mounts that day, Excess Summer, who won the $100,000 Real Good Deal Stakes under Julie Krone. Excess Summer won three additional stakes in late 2003 partnered by other riders.

"That was kind of upsetting to lose such a good horse," Baze said.

Trained by Jeff Mullins, Excess Summer has recently returned to training after a break of several months. Baze says he is hoping to regain the mount. "Believe me, I'm checking up on him," Baze said.

Baze's biggest win during the current Hollywood Park meeting came aboard Sabiango in the $350,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap on June 12.

After riding at Hollywood Park on Friday evening, Baze was scheduled to travel to Canterbury Park to ride the Claiming Crown program on Saturday. Sunday at Hollywood Park, he is booked to ride eight of the 10 races, including Star Over the Bay in the $150,000 Sunset Handicap.

When he climbs off of Cinema Star after the last race Sunday, Baze will set his sights on Del Mar.

"I want to win the title and win the Pacific Classic," he said, referring to the $1 million race Aug. 22. "Anything can happen. I might pick up a good horse. I'm starting to ride better horses. I want to pick up some good horses for the Breeders' Cup. I know I've got a lot of good 2-year-olds to ride for Rafael Becerra and Doug O'Neill. A lot of good horses run down there."

Mullins on track for third straight title

Jeff Mullins has a commanding lead in the race for the training title at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. Through Thursday, Mullins had saddled 35 winners, five more than O'Neill and seven more than Mitchell. Those three were the only trainers with more than 20 wins at the meeting.

If Mullins wins the title, it will mark his third consecutive on the circuit. He was the top trainer at the 2003 Hollywood Park fall meeting and at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting earlier this year.

Designed for Luck injured; may miss BC Mile

Designed for Luck, who has won three stakes in the last year, has been sidelined with filling in an ankle, trainer Vladimir Cerin said.

The injury will prevent Designed for Luck from starting in the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar next Sunday and could jeopardize an attempt at a start in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star Park in October.

The injury was detected late this week.

"It's never a good sign," Cerin said. "It doesn't feel like there is a chip in there. It's not a tendon. It could be that he just twisted it."

Owned by David and Holly Wilson, Designed for Luck was a convincing winner of his last start, the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile at Hollywood Park on May 31. The win was his first since the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile last October at Santa Anita. Designed for Luck finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

If Designed for Luck is not seriously injured, he could return for the $75,000 Live the Dream Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 8, Cerin said.

Del Mar has two Grade 1's opening week

There are six stakes in the first five days of the Del Mar meeting, including two Grade 1's over 1 1/8 miles on turf - the Eddie Read and Saturday's $400,000 John Mabee Handicap for fillies and mares.

The probable starters for the Read include the last two winners - Sarafan (2002) and Special Ring (2003). Other hopefuls include Bayamo, Sabiango, Vangelis, and Sweet Return.

The Mabee candidates include Dimitrova, Light Jig, Megahertz, Musical Chimes, and Noches de Rosa.

Saturday's card also includes the Grade 1, $250,000 Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap over six furlongs and the $100,000 Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies over seven furlongs.

The Bing Crosby candidates include Green Team, Hombre Rapido, Pohave, and Revello.

The opening-day feature Wednesday is the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds over a mile on turf, which is likely to be divided. Friday's top race is the $125,000 CTBA Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.