05/14/2013 1:29PM

Golden Gate Fields: Baze could reach 12,000 wins this summer


When Russell Baze surpassed Laffit Pincay Jr. as the world’s winningest rider on Dec. 1, 2006, the prevailing question was how high would he take the mark. His longtime agent Ray Harris floated 12,000 as a realistic goal. And Harris’s prognosticating acumen is as good as his ability to pick winners for Baze to ride.

Baze has 11,932 victories going into Thursday’s Golden Gate Fields card. At his current rate, he should reach 12,000 during the Sonoma County Fair at Santa Rosa shortly before his 55th birthday on Aug. 7. Baze got victory No. 11,000 there on Aug. 14, 2010.

Baze is no longer the world’s winningest rider, having been surpassed by South American rider Jorge Ricardo, but he continues to win at a nearly 30 percent clip and continues to stretch his Northern Hemisphere-leading total.

Baze and Harris have combined for more victories than any other jockey-agent duo. Baze has topped the 400-win mark 13 times and led U.S. riders in victories 11 times. No other rider has more than three 400-win years.

Since its origin in 1995, the Isaac Murphy Award, given to the rider with the highest winning percentage, has gone to Baze every year except 2004.

Baze won 40 riding titles at Bay Meadows and has won 44 at Golden Gate Fields, with Harris as his agent each time.

The two united in 1980, when Harris told Baze he would like to be his agent if the jockey would stay year-round in Northern California. Harris also told Baze he could become a top rider.

They made an agreement that if Baze made the top 10 jockey list he would stay. He did, and the rest is history.

“Twelve thousand? It’s a goal, but what does it mean?” Harris asked. “Could you ever imagine that would happen?”

Baze can finish with the best of them, and he still has the strongest left-handed whip in Northern California.

Perhaps his greatest strength is his ability to read races and give every horse its best chance to win. And when you’re on the best horse, as Harris frequently has Baze, that’s a winning move.

Baze is slowing down, partially by choice, partially by age and a sometimes balky back, and partially by the declining number of races in Northern California with its four-day race weeks and frequent seven-race cards.

Although Harris says, “Not too much has changed” in his approach to selecting horses, he has made adjustments in the way he does business.

“We have less races run, and that has changed the number of horses we ride,” he said.

“It’s amazing Russell’s kept up his win total, but Russell can ride anything. What amazes me is his fortitude. He still works harder than any jockey out there.”

When you’re representing a rider with Baze’s credentials, your job becomes easier. In addition to the numbers Baze has on his side, he also is a member of Thoroughbred racing’s Hall of Fame, the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, and has won the George Woolf Award as well as a special Eclipse.

But, like Baze, Harris works harder than any of his rival agents as he tries to give his rider the best possible mounts.

It helps that Baze remains the No. 1 man for leading trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, for whom he has won at a 31 percent clip this meet. He also rides for many top trainers, such as Steve Sherman (33 percent winners) and Billy Morey (42 percent winners). Jedd Josephson (40 percent), Keith Nations (33 percent), and Greg James (30 percent) also have had success with Baze at the meet.

But Harris has branched out, and Baze rides for more smaller barns than in the past. He also rode in a two-furlong race for 2-year-olds for the first time in a while this year.

Baze has done a lot of riding for Genaro Vallejo this year while winning at a 30 percent clip. He has gone 3 for 4 for Reina Gonzalez.

On Thursday, Baze rides a horse for D. Wayne Baker, who is 2 for 48 at the meet. On Friday, he rides for Daniel Dunham (0 for 11 at the meet) for the first time.

“If a guy rides the fairs, some of the [bigger] trainers don’t have horses in certain categories,” said Harris, who scouts out good runners at all levels.

Smaller trainers like getting Baze to ride for them, but sometimes expectations become higher because of Baze’s presence.

“It’s worked out all right,” Harris said of expanding barns. “I try to treat everyone fairly.”

Orr memorial service

A memorial service for longtime Northern California trainer Ike Orr will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday in the Top of the Stretch room at Golden Gate Fields.

Orr, who died at age 90 on April 22, trained horses for more than 50 years and saddled stakes winners such as Silky’s Nurse, Kobuk Country, Lino, Champs Champ, Selecting, California Express, She Tiger, and R.C. Tulle.

Longer sprints for 2-year-olds

Two-year-olds return to action this week, running around a turn for the first time after several early two-furlong races.

Thursday’s four-furlong race for fillies features Lady Fifty Two, a half-sister of Lady of Fifty, a stakes winner here at 2. A daughter of Harlan’s Holiday who has seen all four of her siblings win, Lady Fifty Two is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and will be ridden by Dennis Carr.

Her primary rival is No Better Terms, who also has seen all four siblings win. A daughter of Pure Prize, No Better Terms is a sister of one 2-year-old stakes winner and two stakes-placed runners at 2, including one who was graded stakes-placed. Baze will ride for trainer Steve Sherman.

Males go 4 1/2 furlongs Friday. From a breeding aspect, Alar Sultan is one to watch. He’s a son of Grand Slam, who won a pair of Grade 1’s as a 2-year-old. His dam is Extended Applause, who had multiple stakes placings at 2.

◗ All gates will open at 9 a.m. Pacific on Saturday for Preakness Day racing. Golden Gate’s first live race is set for 11:45 a.m. All fans will get at least their first bet on the house by receiving a cash voucher worth at least $2 upon entering the track.