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Updated on 05/15/2011 10:48AM
Michael Baze autopsy inconclusive; jockey found dead was facing cocaine charge
By Marty McGee
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – An autopsy performed on Michael Baze did not reveal a cause of death, and a toxicology report for the 24-year-old jockey may not be available for up to three weeks, the Jefferson County, Ky., coroner’s office announced Wednesday.
Baze, a former leading rider at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Arlington Park, was found dead by emergency workers Tuesday at 4:47 p.m. Eastern in the Churchill Downs stable area in his Cadillac Escalade, which apparently had been parked with the engine running throughout the day. The toxicology report will include a test for carbon-monoxide poisoning. Police say foul play is not suspected.
The body was found two days before Baze was due in court to face a charge of cocaine possession.
Bobby Kelly, whom Baze had recently hired as his agent, said he tried to call and text Baze all morning but got no response. Kelly said backstretch workers informed him that Baze apparently had been in his vehicle in the same spot all day before emergency workers were called.
Since beginning his career in 2003, Baze had ridden regularly in a number of major racing states, including New Jersey, California, Illinois, Arkansas, and Kentucky. As a member of the famed Baze family of jockeys from the western United States, his name was known to innumerable employees and fans within the sport.
“It’s something you can’t stop thinking about,” said Joe Talamo, who rode alongside Baze on the Southern California circuit. “We were close, but he also kept to himself. It’s like you had to say something for him to open up to you. It’s just so sad. Everybody’s upset about this.”
Baze was fourth with 34 wins at the Oaklawn Park meet that ended April 16, then rode a handful of races at Keeneland through closing day, April 29. He intended to ride at the Churchill spring meet but had not yet had a mount.
Baze’s brief life was filled with triumph and occasional trouble.
Jefferson District Court documents show that Baze was scheduled to appear Thursday in court on a felony charge of cocaine possession stemming from his arrest in Louisville last Nov. 18, when he was riding at the Churchill fall meet.
Baze also had experienced legal troubles involving alcohol, most notably a drunk-driving arrest in Carlsbad, Calif., just hours after he posted the only Grade 1 victory of his career aboard Mi Sueno in the 2009 Del Mar Debutante for trainer Eric Guillot.
“We were really close,” said Guillot, 48. “I treated him like a son,”
Guillot said the two met for dinner last fall in Louisville and that he was concerned Baze was battling alcoholism and depression.
“It seems he never felt where he belonged in this world,” said Guillot. “He was a silent talent. He’d be way up there, leading rider and couldn’t be stopped, or at the bottom and couldn’t win a race. He got in these funks of depression and couldn’t get out of the hole. It’s a sad day.”
Baze won his first graded stakes aboard Symphony Sid in the 2006 Carleton F. Burke at Santa Anita for trainer Mike Mitchell. “He was a good little rider, kind of a shy kid,” said Mitchell. “It just seemed he took a turn for the worse.”
Baze was the son of retired jockey Mike Baze and the first cousin of active jockey Tyler Baze. His uncle was Gary Baze, while Russell Baze, the Hall of Fame jockey who is the all-time winningest jockey in history, is the first cousin of his father, Mike.
Besides his father, who lives in New Mexico, Baze also is survived by his mother, Teri Gibson, and one brother and one sister. Baze was in the process of getting divorced from his wife, Kelly.
Gibson said Wednesday from the Seattle area that her son would be cremated in Kentucky, with the ashes to be transported to Auburn, Wash. A memorial service has been tentatively planned for May 24 at Emerald Downs in Auburn, she added.
Born in Renton, Wash., Baze began his riding career in 2003. His best year was 2007 when his mounts earned more than $9.3 million. In all, he won 918 races from 6,969 starts for mount earnings of $32.4 million.
Baze rode Nehro to a runner-up finish at 36-1 in the March 26 Louisiana Derby before being replaced by Corey Nakatani, who rode the colt to runner-up finishes in the April 16 Arkansas Derby and in the 137th Kentucky Derby last Saturday.
– additional reporting by Steve Andersen
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