04/29/2003 11:00PM

Baze trains sights on Pincay mark

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Finally, Russell Baze has a number to shoot at.

The fourth-winningest jockey in history, with 8,223 victories starting the week, Baze needs 1,308 victories to surpass Laffit Pincay Jr. as the winningest rider in history.

Pincay, who announced his retirement Tuesday, has 9,530 victories. Bill Shoemaker ranks second with 8,833 victories.

The 44-year-old Baze has recorded at least 400 victories in 10 of the past 11 years and is on pace to reach the figure again this year. At that pace, he could surpass Pincay sometime in 2006.

Asked if he wished the bar were set higher, he replied quickly, and jokingly, "No, it wouldn't be safe to say that at all."

But then he immediately expressed disappointment that Pincay was forced to retire because of a serious neck injury.

"Nobody takes any satisfaction from his retirement," Baze said.

"It would have been nice for him to go out on his terms. I predicted he would come back and ride so that he could go out on his own terms. It's too bad."

Baze, and even more so his agent, Ray Harris, has never shied away from predictions that he would become the winningest rider of all time.

Baze trails Pat Day, who is third on the all-time win list, by 232 wins and is now the No. 2 leading active rider. Baze is riding more horses and winning races at a higher percentage than Day has been in recent years, and he is closing the gap at a rate that will enable him to pass Day if he stays healthy.

"I wasn't focusing on catching Laffit," Baze said. "I can't look that far down the road. I still just take it one race, one day at a time.

"When you say it fast, [1,300 victories] doesn't sound like much. But 1,300 is more than a lot of jockeys win in their careers."

Baze remembers when Pincay was trying to catch Shoemaker as Pincay's career reached its nadir in Southern California. Pincay came to northern California to explore the possibility of riding here before deciding to remain in Southern California.

"Competitive riders do those things," said Baze, who spent three years in Southern California before returning to the northern California circuit he dominates. "He was looking to set records.

"I think it was a big wake-up call to owners and trainers in Southern California that he was still hungry, and he began to get live mounts again.

"We all hope we can finish our careers riding as well as Laffit."

* Baze will ride Hippogator, a 5 1/2-length winner in her debut Sept. 9, when she makes her comeback in a six-furlong allowance race that will be Friday night's Bay Meadows feature. Stablemate Top Cappelletti, who won her debut at Santa Rosa Aug. 4, also makes her comeback in the race for 3-year-old fillies.