04/27/2017 2:30PM

Hovdey: Say hey, Bay Area Hall now has Mays and Baze


Question: Which name in the following list does not belong? Willie Mays, Bill Russell, Joe DiMaggio, Russell Baze.

Answer: They all belong, right there in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.

Baze and his record 12,842 winners joined Mays, Russell, DiMaggio, and a host of other athletic icons with San Francisco connections last Monday night in a gala enshrinement banquet at the St. Francis Hotel. The event directly benefited youth sports programs in the region while drawing a spotlight on the depth and breadth of Northern California’s impact on the national sports consciousness.

Those inducted alongside Baze included local products Bill Cartwright, who went from the University of San Francisco to a long NBA career that led to his coaching the Chicago Bulls, and Kerri Walsh Jennings, the beach girl from Santa Clara who won three Olympic gold medals in volleyball and has her sights set on a fourth.

Matt Williams, from the central California town of Bishop, earned his place in the Bay Area class of 2017 with a stellar career at third base for the Giants. And even though inductee Carmen Policy hails from Ohio, his name became synonymous with Bay Area football as president and chief executive of the 49ers through four Super Bowl titles.

“The only other jockeys in the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame are Johnny Longden and Bill Shoemaker,” said Golden Gate publicity ace Sam Spear, who joined Baze at the dinner.

Baze has spent the last 10 months in quiet retirement. But whether he likes it or not, his name still makes news, and his towering win total is unapproachable by any stretch of the imagination. He does, however, lend an ear once in a while to South America, where Jorge Ricardo has accumulated more than 12,000 winners in pursuit of the worldwide title.

At 55, Ricardo is these days only the third-most-famous Brazilian jockey, taking a backseat to international stars Joao Moreira and Silvestre de Sousa. The younger men are quick, however, to defer to Ricardo.

“He is unbelievable,” de Sousa said only a few years ago. “When I rode against him, I saw him do some amazing stuff. I remember I was drawn inside him in a race once, and the things I saw him do in less than a minute, I have never seen anyone ride like that.”

Ricardo had drawn within 32 winners of Baze when he went postward March 25 at Argentina’s Palermo Race Course in the second race on the card. Riding a horse named Fran Triomphe in the 1,400-meter turf event, Ricardo was battling for the lead from the inside as the field headed down the stretch when his mount suddenly veered left. Ricardo went airborne and landed hard on the inner rail, fracturing his left femur.

It was a fractured collarbone sustained a year ago at Golden Gate that put Baze on the fast track to retirement. He returned, won enough races to beat Juan Hernandez for the meet title, then walked away into the California sunset with nary a peek in the rearview mirror.

Ricardo has vowed to ride until he tops the Baze total. He came back from a shoulder fracture in 2013 to get this close, so I would take the man at his word. The femur is the largest bone in the body and takes a long time to heal. But like Charlie Whittingham always said, it’s a long way from his heart.

And Tyler, too

It was a good week for another branch of the widespread Baze family. Tyler Baze, Russell’s second cousin, cracked the green ceiling at Keeneland by winning the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes last Sunday with West Coast shipper Itsinthepost, the winner of the San Luis Rey at Santa Anita.

Baze has won races just about everywhere he has tried, but the Elkhorn was his first at Keeneland.

“It’s always been a dream,” he said.

Baze is 34 and no longer needs to be referred to as “Eclipse Award-winning apprentice,” which he was, but a long time ago. These days, he is in the thick of every title fight at Santa Anita and Del Mar, going head to head with Flavien Prat, Rafael Bejarano, and the rest of a solid West Coast room.

If nothing else, the Elkhorn result deserved a “Man Bites Dog” kind of headline. California turf horses usually do not make much of a dent in Kentucky turf races these days. Californians rarely try the Elkhorn since it went from nine to 12 furlongs in 1996, and the last Westerner to win the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland was Touch of the Blues for Neil Drysdale in 2002.

When Finnegans Wake and Peter Miller knocked off the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in 2015, they were the first Western invaders since Beat Hollow in 2002 for Bobby Frankel.

Now that they have mastered Keeneland, chances are Baze and Itsinthepost could turn up in a 1 1/2-mile race near you. The 5-year-old son of American Post was bred in France but has been thoroughly Americanized by trainer Darrell Vienna and then Jeff Mullins, who took over upon Vienna’s retirement a year ago. Itsinthepost has run 10 times for Mullins, with four wins and five seconds, and Baze aboard each time.