02/01/2008 12:00AM

Baze hits 10,000 by a nose

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ALBANY, Calif. - Russell Baze had to wait for nearly five minutes after Two Step Cat crossed the finish line in Friday's third race at Golden Gate Fields before finding out that he had become the first North American rider to win 10,000 races.

Rallying along the rail, Baze and Two Step Cat won by a nose over Brite Oakie, who was a nose in front of Unusual Men in a three-horse photo at the end of the one-mile race for $4,000 claimers.

"This is a milestone, but not the final milestone," Baze told fans after the victory.

Baze said he didn't think he had won the race.

Two Step Cat was bumped going into the first turn and wound up closer to the pace than Baze wanted to be, sitting third, a length behind pacesetting Coyote Moon into the backstretch.

"I was never planning to be that close to the pace, but he gave himself a little breather when he came off the bit at the half-mile pole," Baze said. "I let him take as long a breather as I could without letting them get too far away. When I did ask him, he tried hard."

Trainer Armando Lage was impressed with the way Baze finished aboard Two Step Cat.

"That's the one thing about Russell, he'll ride a $4,000 claimer as good as he rides a stakes horse," Lage said. "That's one reason he's won so many races."

Baze is the second rider to hit the 10,000-win mark. Brazilian jockey Jorge Ricardo reached the figure on Jan. 9 in Argentina.

Baze will compete in an international jockey competition in the Shergar Cup at Ascot in August and said that Ricardo may also compete.

The milestone was just the latest for Baze, 49, who got his first win at Yakima Meadows on Oct. 28, 1974, aboard Oregon Warrior, a horse saddled by his father, Joe, a former riding champion in Northern California and Washington.

He passed Bill Shoemaker with his 8,834th winner in January 2005, and on June 2, 2005, he recorded his 9,000th victory. He surpassed Laffit Pincay Jr. as North America's winningest rider with victory No. 9,531 aboard Butterfly Belle at Bay Meadows on Dec. 2, 2006.

Baze has led the nation in victories nine times, and has reached 400 wins in 11 different years, missing a 12th by only one victory last year. No other rider has reached 400 wins more than three times.

Baze was given a Special Eclipse Award in 1995, and was inducted into the racing Hall of Fame in 1999. He has won the Isaac Murphy Award, given to the rider with the highest winning percentage, 12 times in the 13-year history of the award.

Baze has clinched his 32nd Golden Gate Fields riding title and has also won 39 titles at Bay Meadows.

He holds the Northern California record for most victories on a single card, having won seven races twice, including a 7-for-7 day on Aug. 18, 2006, at the Bay Meadows Fair. Those wins were part of a string of nine straight victories.