06/14/2016 5:06PM

Baze retires his way: With no fuss

Vassar Photography
Russell Baze after winning for the 12,000th time in his career, aboard Handful of Pearls at Pleasanton on July 7, 2013.

Russell Baze’s decision to retire after the Golden Gate Fields card on Sunday – final day of the meeting – caught many by surprise. Some members of his family didn’t know he planned to retire until the night before, and he didn’t even tell his agent, Ray Harris, until he dismounted from the final Thoroughbred he would ride, Wahine Warrior, who finished in a dead heat for second in the 10th race.

But Baze had thought out the decision, and he retired in typical low-key Baze fashion.

“I didn’t want them to make a big fuss,” Baze said on Tuesday. “I did exactly what I wanted to. I didn’t retire until I was ready to retire.”

Baze, 57, rode 53,578 Thoroughbred mounts to 12,842 victories – both world records – in a career that began in 1974. He suffered a broken collarbone on April 16 on a day his wife, Tami, and daughters Trinity and Cassie were at the track. Those three as well as his two other children, Brandi and Gable, urged him retire then.

“I said I’d like to come back and finish the meet and try to win the title,” said Baze, who accomplished that goal, with 125 wins to 111 for runner-up Juan Hernandez

Tami, Trinity, and Cassie were the only people who knew Baze was planning to retire Sunday. Baze told Brandi and Gable on Saturday night. The family was at the track during the final week, posing for pictures in the winner’s circle.

Harris told Baze on April 20, shortly after the injury, that he would be retiring soon to move to a new home in Sedona, Ariz.

Baze said Harris’s planned retirement was “a contributing factor,” in his decision, but a minor one.

“I’ve known Ray wanted to retire for a while,” he said.

The pair began working together in 1979 when Harris convinced Baze to make the Bay Area his home base instead of returning to Longacres in Washington each summer, and they have been together ever since, except for a brief period when Baze went to Southern California.

Harris recalled how they first got together at Golden Gate Fields.

“I told him if I get you in the top five (of the jockey standings), will you stay?” Harris recalled. “He said okay. I had Chris Lamance, an apprentice who finished third, and Russell was fourth. Then Russell really began to win on the fair circuit.”

He never stopped winning, setting standards that appear untouchable among North American-based riders, although South American rider Jorge Ricardo, who also has more than 12,000 victories, could overtake his win total.

Ricardo has said he would never stop riding until Baze retired and he passed Baze’s win total.

“More power to him,” said Baze.

Teaming with Harris, Baze won 40 riding titles at Bay Meadows and 54 at Golden Gate Fields, including the recently concluded meeting.

Baze won his final stakes appearance, taking the Albany on Saturday with Chips All In. Later on the card, he won the 10th race aboard Vow to Be Tops, his third winner of the day and final winner in his illustrious career.

In addition to his longstanding partnership with Harris, Baze enjoyed great success with Jerry Hollendorfer, the third-winningest trainer in history with 7,108 victories entering the racing week. The two teamed for 2,722 victories, winning at a 32 percent clip while hitting the board 66 percent of the time.

“Obviously, he was one of the best riders in history,” said Hollendorfer, pointing to Baze’s skill at placing horses, his ability to read and anticipate openings in a race, and his ability to finish strongly. “He has something extra most riders don’t.”

Hollendorfer, known for his hard work, appreciated Baze’s work ethic, as did every trainer at the track.

The retired trainer Greg Gilchrist, who trained champion sprinter Lost in the Fog, one of Baze’s most-accomplished mounts, said: “He’d be out there five or six days a week in the morning, and he didn’t have to be. He’d earned that.”

Baze proved to be valuable to trainers out of the saddle, too, recommending ways to improve a horse.

“Any rider that can tell you something about a horse is valuable – something like the horse doesn’t like going inside or between horses,” said Hollendorfer. “Small things add up.”

Gilchrist said: “You’ll get a lot of riders come back chirping at you about changing a bit or blinkers, and nine times out of 10 it goes in one ear and out the other. Russell would speak more about the horse, saying something like, ‘I get a feeling he’d finish better if we let him relax more early.’”

“Any little thing you can do to help a horse is important,” Baze said.

Although Baze is a member of both the U.S. and Canadian Hall of Fame, won 400 or more races in one year 13 times, and was honored with a Special Eclipse Award and the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, Baze does not care about being remembered for any of that.

“What I hope people remember is that I never got beat because I didn’t try hard enough,” he said.

Career highlights
◗ He is the world’s winningest jockey with 12,842 wins through June 12, 2016

◗ Overtook Laffit Pincay, Jr. as the winningest jockey in North American Thoroughbred racing history when he recorded career victory No. 9,531 aboard Butterfly Belle on Dec. 1, 2006 in the fourth race at Bay Meadows

◗ Inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2012

◗ Won 54 riding championships at Golden Gate Fields, and 40 titles at Bay Meadows before its closure in 2008

◗ Led North American riders in victories 13 times – in 2014 (324 wins), 2012 (374), 2009 (415), 2008 (403), 2007 (399), 2005 (375), 2002 (431), 2000 (412), 1996 (415), 1995 (448), 1994 (415), 1993 (408), and 1992 (435)

◗ Won 400 races in a year 13 times - no other jockey has won 400 races in a year more than three times

◗ Honored with a Special Eclipse Award in 1995 for being the first jockey ever to win 400 or more races in a year for four consecutive years

◗ Honored by his fellow riders with the 2002 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award

◗ Set a Northern California record for most victories on a single card when he won with seven of his nine mounts at Golden Gate on April 16, 1992 

◗ Tied the U.S. record for consecutive wins by a jockey when he won nine straight races over two days (Aug. 17-18, 2006) during the San Mateo County Fair meeting at Bay Meadows

Milestone victories
Win No.    Date    Track   Horse
12,000    July 7, 2013    Pleasanton    Handful of Pearl
11,000    Aug. 14, 2010    Santa Rosa    Separate Forest
10,000    Feb. 1, 2008    Golden Gate Fields    Two Step Cat
9,000    June 2, 2005    Golden Gate Fields    Queen of the Hunt
8,000    Oct. 26, 2002    Bay Meadows    Ourwhistlebritches
7,000    July 4, 2000    Pleasanton    This Is the Moment
6,000    Dec. 3, 1997    Golden Gate Fields    Clover Hunter
5,000    July 29, 1995    Santa Rosa    Cyrus Says
4,000    March 3, 1993    Golden Gate Fields    Frank Musso
3,000    Dec. 9, 1988    Hollywood Park    Hagley’s Lyon