Updated on 04/22/2016 3:50PM

Baze keeping ahead of Father Time, Ricardo


Russell Baze won the first race at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday, April 16, aboard the 5-year-old Borrego mare Emerald Green, who was even-money in the one-mile race for $4,000 claimers. The purse was $8,513, and first place was worth $4,675, which meant Baze made around $500, less whatever he pays agent Ray Harris, his valet, Gov. Brown, and Uncle Sam.

Of more statistical significance, the win was No. 12,812 for Baze in a career dating back to bell-bottoms. He won his first race in October 1974, two months after President Nixon resigned. By contrast, there apparently is no quit in Baze.

But there is a pause right now while he mends from injuries sustained in a crash one hour after posing in the winner’s circle atop Emerald Green. The injuries occurred in Golden Gate’s third race, a maiden claimer at six furlongs worth $14,000, where the favored Hewearsthefoxhat broke a leg nearing the finish and threw Baze hard to the Tapeta main-track surface.

“I’ve never had that happen to a horse three strides before the wire,” said Steve Sherman, the trainer of Hewearsthefoxhat for owners Jim Robinson and Ron Brewer. “I was just sick to my stomach. When you see something like that, two bad things have happened, to the horse and to the rider.”

Hewearsthefoxhat suffered an irreparable injury and was euthanized. The 3-year-old homebred son of Old Topper was making his third start.

“I’m just glad it wasn’t real serious an injury for Russell,” Sherman said. “I don’t want to be that guy who ends his career.”

At this point, that might take congressional action or military intervention. Baze, 57, was hardly slowing down when he hit the deck. Emerald Green gave him a 29-win lead in the Golden Gate standings over Juan Hernandez, the latest young gun to make a run at the resident Hall of Famer, who has become a Bay Area institution on the order of cable cars, Coit Tower, and sourdough bread.

“I fractured my collarbone, but it didn’t displace,” Baze said on Friday. “It’s a distal break, near the shoulder, which is the best position stability-wise. This is the sixth day, and I’ve already got pretty good range of motion. At least the bone has stopped grinding in there.

“I also got two compression fractures in by back – T-5 and L-1,” Baze said. “I wore a support band for a few days, but now the pain has receded and the back feels okay. When I hit the ground I had a bruise on my lung, there was some bleeding, and it partially collapsed, but I didn’t even know it happened. It was just a minor thing. At this point I’m forecasting I’ll be back three weeks from the time of the accident.”

In the meantime, his towering win total is safe and sound from any domestic threats. For the record, the closest active jockeys to the Baze number are Edgar Prado, with 6,880 wins through Thursday; Mario Pino, at 6,707; and Perry Wayne Ouzts, with 6,582. Prado is 48, Pino is 54, and Ouzts is 61, if he’s a day.

Baze could take the rest of the decade off, and the North American record would be safe, at least until the second coming of a cross between Steve Cauthen and Kent Desormeaux. Ah, but listen to those footsteps coming up from South America, where the legendary Jorge Ricardo continues to dog Baze in relentless pursuit. Call it the battle of Last Man Standing.

On the day Baze was hurt, Ricardo was about a hundred winners behind and still a force be to reckoned with in Argentina and Brazil, where he has averaged more than 300 winners a year for 38 years. He has been an inspiration to international superstars Joao Moriera and Silvestre de Sousa, both from Brazil, and just last month, Ricardo, 54, won the prestigious Longines Gran Premio Latinamericano aboard Don Inc (by Include), a performance that earned an invitation to run in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes during the Royal Ascot meet in June.

After Baze left Laffit Pincay’s record behind in 2006, Ricardo leapfrogged his California rival to hit the 10,000 mark in 2008. Baze celebrated his 52nd birthday in August 2010 when he was first to reach 11,000 wins, but it was Ricardo back on top at 12,000 in May 2013, with Baze joining him there five weeks later.

Ricardo missed half a year of riding in 2009 when he was treated for low-level lymphoma, and in September 2013, he sustained a fractured shoulder and broken jaw that forced him to scale back his seemingly tireless output. His victory aboard Don Inc was greeted by his South American fans as a return to the prominence he has so long enjoyed.

As for Baze, his career has been helped by a lack of serious injuries that would have kept him away for very long. Then again, he has never been injured at 57.

Still, neither veteran is of a mind to quit. Baze, low-key and humble to a fault, is not the type to make it personal. Although when pressed, he did admit that 12,000-plus “is an insane amount of winners,” and he enjoyed riding head-to-head against Ricardo in special competitions in England and Brazil.

As for Ricardo, the Brazilian has flatly stated that his goal is to reclaim the top spot and then “to ride until Russell retires.”

With guys like these, who needs Batman vs. Superman?

Fred Reardon More than 1 year ago
Good luck!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
They both deserve accolades for winning so many races. but in fairness to Jorge Ricardo he rides in full fields of 10 to 14 horses all the time in BRASIL/ Argentina and RUSSEL usually face only 4 or 5 opponents at golden gate.
Kenny Black More than 1 year ago
And thats russell"s fault ,and the last time I checked most of the top south american riders head to the US eventually so the talent pool down there is short on  experience and depth . Leave it to you Ray to find somethimg negative to say about one of the most honorable straight laced overall great people this sport has ever known,what happened did you lose another two dollar show bet Ray???