07/09/2007 12:00AM

Jockey race down to wire


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Jockey Michael Baze starts the final week of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting Wednesday with a six-race lead over the apprentice Joe Talamo.

Baze, 20, will be the first to admit that his lead is not safe. He saw evidence of that Saturday by going winless when Talamo won three races, including two Grade 1 races.

"A couple of days like that and it could go either way," Baze said.

Wednesday, Talamo, 17, can cut the gap further. Talamo has mounts in all eight races, while Baze has just two rides. Baze may have an advantage Thursday; he rides all eight races and Talamo has five mounts.

Baze had one win Sunday, while Talamo did not ride a winner. It is likely that the title could go down to the final days of the meeting, which ends Sunday.

On Wednesday, Baze rides first-time starter Izarra in the sixth race and the maiden claimer Market Exchange in the last race.

"If I only ride one or two and win one, that's better than riding nine and not winning any," Baze said.

Talamo's busy day Wednesday includes rides on top contenders Celtic Way in the third race, Risky Game in the fourth, Sayit in the sixth, and Mashina in the seventh.

Celtic Way starts in a $10,000 claimer for sprinters and won at that level June 22. Talamo rode Sayit to a troubled third-place finish in her career debut June 17. Sayit will be favored to win a maiden special weight race at 5 1/2 furlongs and is considered a top 2-year-old prospect by trainer Vladimir Cerin.

Mashina beat $40,000 claimers at 1 1/16 miles on turf June 24 and jumps to the $50,000 level for a one-mile turf race.

In the first race, an optional claimer at 1o1/2 miles on turf, Talamo rides Westerly Magic, who is entered for the $40,000 claiming price.

Even with those competitive mounts, Talamo questions whether he can win the title with so little time remaining at the meeting.

"It's going to be hard to do," he said.

Talamo, who won the riding title at Fair Grounds earlier this year, is still basking in the Grade 1 victories by Nashoba's Key (Vanity Handicap) and Bilo (Triple Bend Handicap) last Saturday.

"Even if I don't get leading rider, the last week has been the highlight of my career," he said. "Leading rider is great, but it's hard to compare."