Updated on 07/08/2013 2:52PM

Pleasanton: Russell Baze gets 12,000th victory

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William G. Vassar
Russell Baze smiles after getting the 12,000th win of his riding career aboard Handful of Pearls in the final race of the Alameda County Fair on Sunday.

PLEASANTON, Calif. – Russell Baze picked up a mount on the favored Handful of Pearls in the final race of the Alameda County Fair meet Sunday and rode the 4-year-old filly to the 12,000th victory of his career, winning a photo over Here It Tiz.

"I'm glad to get it out of the way," said Baze, who needed more than 30 minutes to get back to the jockeys’ room after being mobbed by family, friends, and fans following the milestone victory.

"It was kinda cool to win that way," added Baze, who got the jump on the field and nursed Handful of Pearls to her second career victory. "I knew it was really close. That other filly had the momentum, but my filly was running with her neck stretched out. I would have settled for a dead heat."

The victory was his fourth of the day, including a score in the $59,000 Everett Nevin Stakes on Skydreamin.

He had finished last in the next-to-last race Sunday aboard the favored Crown of Aragorn and seemed set to have his milestone win delayed until the California State Fair in Sacramento, which begins Friday.

But Frank Alvarado took off Gold Boom before the final race, and Dennis Carr took off Handful of Pearls. Baze's agent, Ray Harris, quickly contacted Handful of Pearls's trainer, Andy Mathis, and got the mount for Baze.

It was Baze's second milestone victory aboard a pick-up mount. His 5,000th victory aboard Cyrus Says at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, Calif., came when another rider got sick and took off the mount.

Russell Baze milestones

Sept. 16, 1974: First win
July 29, 1995: 5,000th win
Dec. 3, 1997: 6,000th win
Aug. 9, 1999: Inducted into National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame
July 4, 2000: 7,000th win
Oct. 26, 2002: 8,000th win
June 2, 2005: 9,000th win
Dec. 1, 2006: 9,531st win to surpass Laffit Pincay Jr. as North America’s all-time winningest rider
Feb. 1, 2008: 10,000th win
Aug. 14, 2010: 11,000th win
Jan. 25, 2013: 50,000th mount
July 7, 2013: 12,000th win

For Baze, 54, the road to 12,000 has been a long one.

Baze was 0 for 12 to start his career before scoring a victory aboard Oregon Warrior on Sept. 16, 1974, at Yakima Meadows in Washington for his father, Joe. That win was the first of many milestones. Baze joined the elite 5,000-win club in 1995, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, surpassed Laffit Pincay Jr. as the all-time winningest North American-based rider in 2006, and hit win No. 10,000 in 2008.

While he recognizes the importance of such milestones, they are not his focus.

“Sure, it’s nice getting milestones, but they are something I’ll think about after I retire,” he said. “I’ll just come in and get ready to ride the next race. There will be a lot more races after 12,000.”

Baze is the second rider in history to record 12,000 victories. South American rider Jorge Ricardo, 52, reached the 12,000 mark less than two months ago on May 26. The two respect each other and have a friendly rivalry going, Baze said.

“We rode in a jockeys’ competition in England,” Baze said of their lone meeting. “I felt sorry for him because he didn’t draw very good horses.”

Ricardo says his goal is to ride more winners than any other jockey and that he won’t retire until after Baze retires. Knowing that, Baze laughs and says, “I’m going to ride until I’m 72.”

Hidden in that quip is one of the reasons Baze has so many victories. He’s as competitive and hardworking an athlete as basketball’s Michael Jordan and football’s Jerry Rice. After Baze eclipsed his record of 9,530 victories, Pincay Jr. said: “Russell is a great rider, and he works very hard. It takes a lot of ability and dedication to win that many races.”

The competitive fires always have burned brightly for Baze. “I like winning,” he said. “It pays a lot better.”

In his younger days, he frequently would bet a soft drink with his younger brother, Dale, who also was a jockey, when they rode against each other.

Sitting in the Alameda County Fair jockeys’ room recently, he watched a between-race event with kids bouncing along on big rubber balls in a hippity-hop race on the racetrack.

“I remember they did that with fans during Friday night racing at Bay Meadows,” Baze said. “Then they wanted the jockeys to race. Most of those guys were just bouncing up and down, but I was trying to win. And then they had me race the winner from the fans’ contest. I know Bay Meadows wanted me to let him win, but no way was I going to lose.”

Baze is a big fish in the small Northern California pond of horse racing. He rides many favorites but says that’s not the only reason he’s won so many races.

“I get to ride good horses,” he said, “but I win a lot of races on horses I don’t think have much chance.”

Baze has his share of critics, one of whom gave him a backhanded compliment: “He’s the best rider of bad horses I’ve ever seen.”

But he rides fearlessly on runners other jockeys might shun or ride cautiously in defeat.

When Two Step Cat won a $4,000 claimer at a mile for Baze’s 10,000th victory, his trainer, Armando Lage, said, “That’s the one thing about Russell: He’ll ride a $4,000 claimer as good as he rides a stakes horse. That’s one reason he’s won so many races.”

Baze became the first American jockey to ride in 50,000 races earlier this year. He’s won the Isaac Murphy Award as the nation’s leading jockey by winning percentage every year since the award was first given in 1995 except for 2004, when he finished second.

Baze had partnered with Northern California trainer and fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, the third-winningest trainer in history, to produce 2,522 victories through Friday.

“Russell’s a good jockey, and he’s stayed healthy,” Hollendorfer said. “That’s why he’s won a lot of races.”

Of course, “healthy” is a relative thing for a jockey. Baze has broken his neck, back, pelvis, and collar bone and suffered other injuries in spills over the years. He has the normal aches and pains associated with the dangerous business of riding horses but has managed to avoid career-threatening injuries.

“You prepare the best you can,” said Baze, who does a regimen of sit-ups and push-ups when he gets up in the morning. He also does plenty of stretching and stays fit by working horses up to six days a week.

Jockeys are only as good as their horses, and Baze’s ace in the hole is agent, Harris, who convinced him to stay in California in 1980 with the guarantee that Harris would get Baze in the top 10 among riders at their first meet together. The two have been together ever since except for Baze’s three-year Southern California sojourn from 1988-91.

“He’s always been easy to work with,” Baze said.

With each milestone comes more questions about the future and, inevitably, retirement. Just as he doesn’t think of milestones reached, Baze is not spending a lot of time or energy contemplating retirement.

“I still enjoy what I’m doing,” he said. “I have a fantastically exciting job.”

Burnie Lenau More than 1 year ago
karl, i look forward to meeting you and discussing your thoughts and comments. I have viewed the photo and it is posted on cal fairs web site. However, i would still like to follow up with you on some of your assessments and allegations because they are quite serious and our industry does not need more of this type of behavior, we certainly have enough problems already. As Dennis states "it certainly got my attention", mine also as I almost never post because it so often deteriorates into name calling and nothing productive becomes of that. As, so far, this has also. My point from the very beginning and it will stay that way, is that Russell Baze is an honarable, upstanding, hard working person in his craft that has reached 12,000 wins, more than anyone in North America ever!!! To me it does not matter where he got them but that he got them. He loves what he does and treats everyone i know with kindness, politeness and care. If we had more people in the worlld like Russell Baze we would have a much better world in which to live. Congratulations Russell Baze and much more continued success.............
karl More than 1 year ago
Russell is a good honorable person. I never stated he was the problem and would never besmirch his reputation. Now as for the officials involved there SHOULD be an investigation into this because there is such a air of impropriety to this. As for the photo there is no way it should take days for it to be available. Countless times I have watched the video and others slowing them down as to make sure the finish line is at the same places as compared to the other races, each time the finish is the same. If you are at sacramento Sunday I will be more than happy to talk to you since we will be racing there the same day.
Celeste Shannon More than 1 year ago
It is a shame that there has to be some that just have to have everything perfect. Does it really matter, he was going to win his 12000th one place or the other. As for Russell's ability as a jockey I would submit that it takes a very good jockey to win so many races on "junk horses" as it does to have the best mounts. Also have you forgotten Lost In The Fog, I would say that was not a "junk horse" to bad. It is easy to be a critic.
Thomas Mckay More than 1 year ago
Russell has been just magnificent. He rides cheap claimers as if he was riding in the Kentucky Derby. I have followed horseracing since 1951 when I was a groom at Caliente Racetrack. For me, Russell is the 'Champion of Champions.' I have tracked him since 1974. Of course, Willie Shoemaker, Jerry Bailey, Johnny Velasquez, Edgar Prado, Garrett Gomez and a host of other riders are superb and have helped thrill my life..Have a happy
George Russell More than 1 year ago
Even Hollendorfer knows Baze is sub-standard rider with limited ability to only ride junk horses and beat up on junk jockeys. Hollendorfer doesn't use Baze to ride in all those Grade 1, 2 and 3 races for a reason !!! Because he is NOT a good enough rider to gauge top class horses.
George Russell More than 1 year ago
Hey, has anyone seen the PHOTO ??? Like the old lady for Wendy's, "Where's the Beef"? How come the stewards NEVER show their face??? No PHOTO, No EXPLANATION for the jock switch from Carr to Baze, No interview or article with Baze's explanation, he MUST know there is skeptical bettors about the convienience of his 12,000 GIMMEE !!! They are all a bunch of WIZARD OF OZ'S hiding behing the curtain, no transperancy at all !!!
Bartholomew Johnson More than 1 year ago
Baze wins most of his races in 5 horse fields at Golden Gate. 12k victories in over 50k mounts -- a little above average. I give him credit for longevity though.
JFAL More than 1 year ago
Baze being the winningest rider of all time is misleading. It's like a guy hitting 1000 home runs in double A ball and saying he is the HOME RUN KING.
Lorrie Anthony More than 1 year ago
According to California Horse racing Board rule No. 1441, ". . . A photo of each finish shall be promptly posted for public view in at least one conspicuous place in the public inclosure ." It sure would clear up all this speculation if the track did just that! Post the photo for the public to view - not sure why this has not already been done to clarify the Offical decision. Nothing posted on Calracing.com for July 7th, although the photos for the other racing days are available. The public is entitled to see this photo, as are the connections of both horses!!!!
karl More than 1 year ago
I have to say that the parties involved with the top two horses did nothing wrong, Mr Mathis' s asst trainer Mr Legrone did a great job training the filly here at Pleasanton as did Mr Delima just next barn over. Russell certainly rode the hair off Pearl to try and win the race. What transpired with Dennis taking off(being ordered off) and the very shady win photo... with Mr Delima not being allowed access to it (told he can get it in a month???) all this to get Mr Baze's 12, 000th win at Pleasanton was a big shame if not highly illegal on all parties who forced the jockey change and fixed the photo. So the CHRB should launch an investigation into what really happened and those parties from the racing officials, agents and stewards be held to those standards that they hold everyone else to. Oh and b banned for life for race fixing otherwise horse racing will suffer greatly from a moment that should have been a great occasion. Burnie with the influence you have in the TOC and more you should be behind this.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
Are you high? or do you just like to get a rise out of people? Why don't you try to get on one of those reality shows. Horse racing suffers because of people like you trying to cause a stir about something that is not there. Why don't you go join Peta. They seem to like to drum up nonsense when it comes to horse racing, or milking cows.
George Russell More than 1 year ago
Dennis, or I should say Stu Pid, Do you actually object to having a photo shown to the betting public ??? When I hear dumb comments like yours it makes me start to believe in evolution.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
I love the comments about the jockey who ran second. A couple of goofs said that A Sanchez was stiffing not to win. The guys had 10 mounts all year and he decides to stiff a horse to let the guy win that's rode 11,999 winners. Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
Dennis More than 1 year ago
Karl So you're saying they altered the photo to let Russell win because Pleasanton management had a sign made. That's your story. And you're calling Bernie an idiot? If they had that power, why not make it a dead heat. That way Russell still gets the win and the so called real winner of the race gets to win as well. Or maybe youre working for DRF to keep this thread entertaining. It's certainly got my attention as I have posted here in several months.
karl More than 1 year ago
You know it would have made ALL the sense in the world to have it a dead heat, even Russell said he would have taken a dead heat. Sanchez didn't want to get off the #9 because he was SURE he won. So read the article again and see if Russell would have been overjoyed with a deadheat.