08/24/2007 11:00PM

Baze questioned in whip incident


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Jockey Russell Baze met with Bay Meadows stewards for 2 1/2 hours Saturday to answer charges against him arising from Thursday's first race, when Baze struck Imperial Eyes twice with his whip after the horse broke down. Steward Darrell McHargue said Saturday afternoon that he and the other stewards were "in the process of deliberating their decison."

Stewards viewed films of the incident with Baze and his attorney, Brian Pitnick, a trainer in Northern California. Also testifying at the hearing were investigators from the California Horse Racing Board, assistant trainer Steve Sherman, who saddled the ill-fated Imperial Eyes, and his veterinarian, Dr. William Grantham.

"I really don't want to comment until the ruling, but we were able to present our side," Baze said.

The stewards have charged Baze, a 49-year-old Hall of Fame rider, with misuse of his whip, conduct detrimental to horse racing, and animal cruelty.

Imperial Eyes, the 3-5 favorite in an $8,000 maiden claiming race at one mile, had opened a seven-length lead in the lane before breaking down inside the sixteenth pole. After taking a bad step, Imperial Eyes seemed to right himself. He switched leads and then broke down just as Baze hit him with his whip. Baze then hit him a second time. Despite the injury, Imperial Eyes held on to finish second.

Imperial Eyes suffered a condylar fracture of the cannon bone above the ankle in his left front leg. He walked into the van that took him to the receiving barn. Sherman and Dr. Grantham were discussing the possibility of surgery when Imperial Eyes went into distress and was euthanized.

The case has attracted national attention. Jerry Lynn Hunter, Bay Meadows stable superintendent, said the track began receiving e-mails expressing outrage immediately after the race.

Sherman, who saddled Imperial Eyes for his father, Art, said neither he nor his father faulted Baze.

"I think Russell's getting a really bad rap," Steve Sherman said. "In my opinion and my dad's opinion, he did nothing wrong."

Other trainers and jockeys, though, have been critical of Baze's whipping the horse after he appeared to be injured.

Sherman recommended that critics of Baze's ride view the entire incident and not merely the clip of Baze applying the whip as Imperial Eyes broke down.

"When he took a bad step, Russell pulled up, but then he seemed to re-gather himself. When he took off again, Russell hit him with his whip just as he broke down," Sherman said.