07/25/2012 3:23PM

Hovdey: Baze knows what's fair is fair

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Russell Baze has ridden more that 11,000 winners in his Hall of Fame career.

In terms of a well-aged vintage you can’t do much better than Russell Baze, who will be turning 54 on Aug. 7 while in the midst of competition at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa. Baze has been doing the Santa Rosa meet for so long he can’t recall his first experiences there, but that’s okay. Until he decides to stop making history he should not be required to remember it.

Of all the Northern California fairs, Santa Rosa tends to stand out. Thoroughbred racing in “wine country” has an attractive ring. There is a turf course in play to provide variety. The town of Santa Rosa boasts enough distractions for any discerning visitor, and then there’s always artsy Sebastopol, just to the west, where time stopped at around 1968 and hippies still roam free. Baze loves it.

“It’s the Saratoga of Northern California,” said Baze, which was actually a funny line, since there is already a town called Saratoga in Northern California, but you knew what he meant.

“We get the same place every year and just stay right here,” Baze said. “There’s mild weather, good facilities, and great crowds. And the turf course sets it apart, since it gives trainers that extra option for their horses.”

Of course, if anyone deserved to take a few weeks off in the summer it’s Baze. But after the long grind at Golden Gate Fields – now the only major track in Northern California – he sees the hopsctoch parade of county fair meets as a chance to shake up his routine.

“Changing the venue every couple of weeks, you’ve got to stay on your toes riding the different surfaces,” Baze noted. “And really, if I take time off I get out of shape, and it takes time to get back into riding shape, and you kind of lose your timing. It’s just easier to keep riding year-round.”

It shows. Some time next year, Baze will hit the 50,000 mark in lifetime mounts. This compares, literally, to no one. Closest to him on the all-time list of North America’s busiest jockeys are the retired notables Laffit Pincay (48,486), Earlie Fires (45,028), and David Gall (41,775). Perry Ouzts, the king of River Downs, has ridden 44,471 through July 24 and, at 57, is still going strong.

It wasn’t that long ago such accomplished jockeys as Joel Rosario and Martin Garcia spent part of their summer at Santa Rosa. Baze was asked if there are any new faces of promise in the room.

“Ronald Richard is a nice kid from Louisiana who shares my valet this year,” Baze replied. “He’s got some promise. So does Irving Orozco and Juan Sanchez – I guess they would be the top three bug riders. We’ll see.

“We might have had it easier when I was an apprentice because there were more horses and bigger fields, which gave us more opportunities to get out there and practice,” Baze added. “Now there’s not that much to go around. And you’ve got to get out there and do it. You can’t watch it and learn.”

Baze has won 11,654 races entering Wednesday’s opening-day Santa Rosa card, along with a place in the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. The total has Pincay’s 9,530 disappearing in the rearview mirror, but Baze is not alone at the top. He continues to hear footsteps at a great distance – Argentina to be exact – where the legendary Jorge Ricardo is matching Baze practically win for win.

The website Pagina de Turf dutifully records their ongoing battle. Ricardo, who is 50, is riding at Hipodromo de la Plata near Buenos Aires. Through Tuesday his career total stood at 11,692. Baze’s 217 wins this year leads the North American standings, but clearly he needs to step it up if he wants to get back to his spot as World’s No. 1.

Richard Lewis is more than happy to provide the jockey with as many opportunities as possible. As Santa Rosa’s director of racing, Lewis sweats field size and quality just as much as the guys who run the summertime shows at Monmouth, Del Mar, and Saratoga. In fact, Santa Rosa racing is so attractive, in some respects, that the leading local trainers – guys like Jerry Hollendorfer, Jeff Bonde, Ed Moger, Bill Morey and Steve Specht – find themselves juggling condition books.

“Put it this way,” Lewis said. “We can compete with Del Mar, but we can’t compete with Del Mar.”

Saturday’s program at Santa Rosa is topped by the $50,000 Horseman of the Year Stakes. The horseman to be honored is Santa Rosa attorney Jack DeMeo, who gets considerable credit for not only the fair’s expansion to 17 days but also the installation of the grass course. Fittingly, the race is for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.

Also on Saturday, co-hosts Frank Mirahmadi and Mike Patricks will be joined at their prerace handicapping seminar by none other than Russell Baze and Laffit Pincay. At that point Baze already will have ridden the first three days of the meet, including a $3,200 claimer by the name of Don’t Stop Ridin’ in the third race on Friday. He was asked if North America’s all-time leader might consider leaving such low-rung events to others.

Somebody’s got to win those races,” Baze said. “It might as well be me.”

Which is how you get to 11,654.

michael More than 1 year ago
as a horse racing fan, i love russell baze!! i always root from him when he is not in northern California! I hope he keeps on riding! He has run in some big races and has won all over the country. I think the real problem with horse racing is the fact that the more a horse or jockey wins, the less they hope for upsets to beat them! for exam, Cigar and Lost in Fog would routinely go off at 1-9. well, as a fan, it's amazing to watch these horses run! I know because i have watched these horses run live. however, as a bettor, why would you bet for these horses? it pays 2.10 to win. Same with the jockey. Russell, brings down the odds on every horse he gets on, whether good or average. While I root for Russell as a jockey and as a fan, better for him only gets you $3 to win. again, if you want to win any money, you hope he never wins. secondly, because he rides so hard on every race, he is always in the money, and that tends to ruin trifectas and exactas. congrats Russell! Keep on riding! ride forever! you still have plenty of time to get that elusive triple crown or breeders cup win! and you have to remember, theres only one or two horses from northern california going to these big races annually, so he only has slim pickings. be patient!! good luck!!
John Fulton More than 1 year ago
Russell won the last stakes race that I won as a trainer and is a world class jockey and, even more important, a world class person. I live in Argentina and I think it is important to note that Jorge Ricardo rides at San Isidro and Palermo and not just at La Plata. He is the hardest working jockey that I have ever seen. I admire both of these gentlemen and it is fair to say that both are top class riders no matter where they are riding.
Daniel Garcia More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the googles on father's day Russell! Maybe i'll be riding against you in the next year or two.
MJP More than 1 year ago
I respect him big time, but have to admit I used to like to bet when he would take some of the Fair meets off. You try and beat him, and he ends up winning on the third best horse. When he's not there, it's more wide open wide plentiful overlays.
Brent Wells More than 1 year ago
Russell just never seems to get his horses in a trouble spot. He has an uncanny ability to foresee what will happen BEFORE it even happens.
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
what makes Russell amazing is the longevity - the ability to not get hurt and keep riding consistently. yes he has not ridden on the biggest stage and yes he has had great mounts compared to his competition - but he is an iron man in the sport. he chose to be a big fish in a smaller pond and made rthe most out of it. he could have been a decent rider (not top) on any circuit and stayed in NorCal to maximize his success. this makes him less ambitious than many other riders and also more successful. sometimes I have felt he rushes horses into the race and that his rides lack subtlety and then he will surprise me with a super patient or well time ride going long on turf, dirt or synthetic. even if one notes that he is not among the elite in terms of talent - there is no need to hate him for doing a good steady job for a very long time.
Vikki Tucker More than 1 year ago
You people kill me with your negative comments about Russell Baze. He is definitely one jockey I would love to meet and have autograph my program. Why do so many people jump at the chance to criticize success? Is it because they have none? And does anybody remember "Lost In The Fog"? Who else could have ridden that horse to fame.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
You had my vote until you made that Lost In the Fog comment. I could have ridden that speedball to victory. It wasn't like you got and special instructions before the race.
Pierre Prudhomme More than 1 year ago
After he had won the feature race at Santa Anita, coming from behind at more than 7-1 and beating my pick, I suddenly realized that I had neglected to tell the beginners with me that he was the winningest jockey of all time! I then asked for his autograph and commented to him on a "nice ride". He didn't say thanks. He replied "Nice horse!" He gave credit where credit was due. Classy guy. Give Russell Baze his due respect!
David Mckenna More than 1 year ago
Nick Santagata or Joe Bravo
mnlatemodelfan More than 1 year ago
when i first went to nocal racing ib 1980-81 an old horseplayer from new jersey told me "baze ruined the racing"
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
A win is a win is a win..........russell just too agressive, moved too early on major tracks... guys like eddie d, pirate, chris mc would tag him late........go back nocal ....... ..............still have to be in top barns to win 400 yr
Saw Mill Worker More than 1 year ago
Should be an asterisk after his total wins when retires noting they were on second rate tracks or bull rings.