11/28/2006 12:00AM

Baze got knocked down but he got up again


SAN MATEO, Calif. - In a dangerous sport, jockey Russell Baze says he has been lucky to avoid career-threatening injuries and says that is one of the reasons he entered the week only two victories shy of Laffit Pincay Jr.'s all-time record of 9,530 career wins.

Baze won two races Sunday and was at 9,528 wins entering Wednesday's Bay Meadows card.

Pincay's career was cut short when he suffered a broken neck in 2003. Baze's injuries include five compression fractures, a torn disc and broken vertebrae in his back, a broken bone in his neck, a broken pelvis, three broken collarbones, numerous cracked and broken ribs, a broken leg, a broken wrist, a broken hand, and concussions.

He has problems with an ankle when he wakes up and knee problems limit his ability to run.

Baze, who has not lost a Bay Meadows riding title since winning his first championship here in 1981, missed 43 of the 89 days of the 1987-88 Bay Meadows meeting recovering from a broken bone in his neck followed by a broken leg. He still won the title that meet, edging Tim Doocy 82-78.

He suffered a broken a collarbone in November 2003 and for the first time in more than two decades failed to win the riding title at that year's Golden Gate Fields meet.

There was one injury that almost prevented Baze from challenging Pincay's record. In fact, it might have kept him from riding, period.

When Baze was 10, his father, Joe, a jockey, got some new horses that he put in a paddock at his ranch in Granger, Wash. He told his sons, Jeff, Dale, and Russell, not to try riding them. Boys, though, will be boys.

"They had halters, so it was easy to catch them," Baze said.

He got aboard one and got thrown, landing hard with his elbow hitting a rock.

"I thought my elbow was broken," Baze said.

It wasn't, and Baze said that when he went in the house, "I got little sympathy."

Baze stayed off horses for nearly two years, and his father thought he wasn't interested in riding.

But one day, Joe Baze recalled, Russell went to his mother and asked, "Why doesn't Daddy teach me to ride?"

Joe Baze was a solid rider who co-held the Golden Gate Fields record of six victories in a day, until Russell won seven races on April 16, 1992.

"I taught him everything I know," Joe Baze said. "You can teach anybody the mechanics, but then talent takes over."

Good technique, lots of talent, an unquenchable will to win, and no career-threatening injuries have brought Baze to the brink of claiming the title of world's winningest rider.