04/23/2007 11:00PM

This Baze not born to saddle

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The sequence of milestones for a young man in the extended Baze family is somewhat predictable. Getting out of diapers is followed by learning how to ride horses, maybe a few seasons of Little League, and then the launch of a career as a jockey as a teenager.

Michael Baze, one of the hottest jockeys in Southern California, skipped part of that sequence.

Despite being a second cousin to Russell Baze, the world's winningest rider, and a first cousin and close friend of former apprentice champion Tyler Baze, Michael Baze did not sit on his first horse until he was a teenager.

"I am the only one who did that, and I have a big family," Baze said last weekend. "I grew up around horses - we had a pony in the backyard - but I wasn't really interested until Tyler started riding."

With his small size - he stands 5 feet 4 inches tall and can tack 110 pounds - Michael Baze has the body of a jockey. He has proven in recent months that he has the ability. At the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting that ended Sunday, Baze had 45 wins, finishing sixth in the standings.

Success has come quickly to Baze, 20. He began his career at 16, won his first race three years ago at Hollywood Park, then headed to the East Coast. He rode primarily at Monmouth Park and Philadelphia Park in 2004-05. Baze suffered a shattered nose in a spill in New York in the winter of 2004-05 and needed a plate to support a badly injured eye socket. He returned to Southern California in the winter of 2005-06.

Looking back, Baze wishes he had learned more before beginning to ride full time.

"I didn't have a lot of experience," he said. "From the day I got on my first horse to my first race was five months. I think you should get more experience. I wished I would have hung out longer and worked more horses."

Baze said he began to improve when he teamed with jockey agent Nick Cosato in February. With Cosato, Baze has gained more mounts, and he said he has been more active in the mornings, often riding workouts six days a week.

By mid-March, Baze had cracked the top 10 at Santa Anita.

"I could see a progression," he said. "I was starting to ride more. You could tell it was getting better. Trainers told me they liked my agent and they'd give me a shot.

"I love the fact that I've been going up in the standings. It's like you're on a closer. I'm always getting closer. I wish I could have done better at the beginning."

Born in Washington state, Michael Baze saw his cousin Tyler during vacations and holidays. Tyler's Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice in 2000 spiked the interest of a 13-year-old Michael Baze.

"We grew up together before we started riding, spending Christmas together," Michael said of Tyler Baze, 24. "I love riding head-to-head with him."

Tyler Baze, recalling their times together as kids, said that Michael "was more interested in motorcycles" than horses.

One of Michael Baze's most memorable victories came in the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf aboard Symphony Sid. Baze had Symphony Sid as many as 10 lengths in front before winning by 5 1/2 lengths. Baze still smiles when he recalls that race, as if his front-running tactics were a theft.

His riding highlight of the recent Santa Anita meeting lasted less than 21 seconds, a maiden win on the 2-year-old Sea of Pleasure on March 29.

Sea of Pleasure was timed in 20.78 seconds, setting a course record. Sea of Pleasure will make his next start in the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 3, which will mark the first time that Baze has ridden at that famed track.

"I didn't really ask him until the eighth pole, and then galloping out he was really strong," Baze said of Sea of Pleasure's win. "I'm pretty excited about the way he's coming up."

Baze is shooting high at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that begins this week. He says he is hoping for a top five finish in the standings - or higher.

"I hope it keeps rolling," Baze said. "I'm riding a lot more races. Hopefully, I'll be in the top five. You want to be number one."