02/03/2006 1:00AM

Baze, Garcia jockey race nears the wire


SAN MATEO, Calif. - On Sunday, closing day at Bay Meadows, Russell Baze and apprentice Martin Garcia face off for the riding title. If Garcia wins the title he will snap Baze's streak of 26 consecutive northern California meet riding titles.

Baze, who was also the top jockey in each of the past 34 Bay Meadows meets in which he rode, and Garcia entered the final weekend tied with 41 victories apiece. It is the closest jockey race for Baze since he defeated Jason Lumpkins, 95-89, in 2001.

Each jockey has five mounts Sunday and they go head to head in three races. Garcia will have the last word, riding Paranoide Mistress in the eighth and Sloat Blvd in the ninth. Baze's last ride is in race 7.

Baze, who won his ninth Isaac Murphy Award as the nation's leading percentage rider in 2005 with a career-best winning percentage of 30.1, has won with 26.8 percent of his mounts at the meet. Garcia has won with 31.3 percent of his mounts.

Garcia was ahead of Baze before receiving back-to-back suspensions that sidelined him for seven days. He returned on Sunday. Baze suffered a pulled back muscle that sidelined him several days this meet. He also lost potential winning mounts on Jan. 28, when he went to Santa Anita to ride in the Sunshine Millions.

Garcia took the lead Wednesday with three winners, but Baze tied him Thursday, winning three races while Garcia won twice.

Baze seems to have the edge on Sunday.

In the two races he rides without Garcia, his mounts, Muevete in the second and Windy Day in the sixth, appear to be the favorites. Both will be sent out by leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has teamed with Baze for more than 2,000 victories. Neither of Garcia's mounts in the two races he rides without Baze appear likely to be favored.

Their first head-to-head match comes in the third race, an allowance on the turf. Baze will be trying to guide Argentine-bred Dixieland Wells to his first U.S. victory, while Garcia rides Rare Request, a distant second in his comeback on Jan. 13.

In the fifth, a $40,000 starter allowance for 3-year-olds at six furlongs, Garcia rides Hey David, who just graduated by nine lengths in a bottom-level $8,000 maiden claimer. Baze rides Philly Bulldog, who won his debut by three lengths, beating Hey David, but then ran last in a $40,000 starter allowance at Santa Anita.

In their final matchup, in race 7, a $25,000 claimer on turf, Garcia again rides a last-out winner in Dally May, who makes her first start since Nov. 18. Baze is aboard Andrea's Wish, second in her last two starts.