04/02/2004 1:00AM

Baze in unusual spot - not on top


ALBANY, Calif. - When the Golden Gate Fields meet concludes on Sunday, it will be the end of an era.

For the first time since 1980, Russell Baze will not be the leading jockey at a major northern California meet at which he has participated. Baze, currently fourth in the standings, has won 55 straight riding titles, 25 at Golden Gate Fields and 30 at Bay Meadows. The streak does not count a three-year period from 1988-1991 when Baze rode in Southern California.

"It's not going to be a big deal," Baze said. "It just didn't happen. I ran a ton of seconds and thirds. I thank the trainers who stayed with me."

An injury caused Baze's record run to end. He suffered a displaced fracture of the his collarbone on Nov. 30. Since returning, he has won more more races than any other rider here.

Baze was the leading rider when he was injured, with 28 wins through the first four weeks of the meet. He was in eighth place when he returned on Jan. 28. He was sidelined two days short of two months, the longest period he had been unable to ride during his northern California career.

In 1999, Baze suffered a compressed fracture of a vertebra in a spill at Bay Meadows but rallied after his return to defeat Dennis Carr 43-40 to win the Golden Gate fall-winter title.

Kevin Radke and Chance Rollins, who will finish as the top two in the standings, took advantage of Baze's absence, winning 39 and 36 races, respectively, while Baze was out.

"You can't expect trainers to take riders off horses when they're winning," Baze said. "More power to the leading rider. He did a good job."

Baze has recorded at least 400 victories in 11 of the past 12 years, missing only in 1999, and has won all nine Isaac Murphy awards, given to the rider with the highest winning percentage in the nation. His winning percentage was 30.2 in 2003.

But that fell to under 20 percent for the first month of his comeback, Some felt Baze came back too quickly from the injury, but Baze disagreed.

"My shoulder never has hurt, but it was sore at night sometimes," he said. "People don't want to believe that, but I'm the biggest baby in the world. I would have said if it hurt."