09/01/2003 11:00PM

Skill and luck avoid total calamity


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Because Russell Baze kept his cool and three other jockeys reacted quickly and professionally, none were injured in a spill in Saturday's first race at Bay Meadows.

Russell Baze was aboard favored Court Recorder and was getting a perfect stalking trip. He was moving up nearing the quarter pole when his mount suffered a fatal injury.

Until track officials get a necropsy report, the precise injury will not be known, but both of Court Recorder's hind legs locked up as if the horse had broken his back, pelvis, or hips.

Baze somehow kept Court Recorder from falling immediately and also managed to keep him straight, which was the first bit of luck and skill that avoided a calamitous spill.

Cassie Anne, with Jason Lumpkins riding, was also beginning to move, as was eventual winner My Forbidden Past under David Lopez. They were only two or three strides behind the stricken Court Recorder.

"My horse was beginning to drift out a bit," Lumpkins said. "I could have kept David pinned in, but I felt I had momentum and wasn't concerned about drifting a little."

It was a fortunate decision, made before Court Recorder was injured, and allowed Lopez and My Forbidden Past to get past Court Recorder on the outside as Lumpkins allowed even more room when the breakdown occurred.

Chance Rollins, aboard runner-up Santiago Rojo, was directly behind Baze about three lengths back, and Francisco Duran, riding Hit the Press, was behind Rollins with no clear view of Baze.

Rollins was able to swerve outside and avoid Court Recorder.

"Being aware is the whole thing," Rollins said. "You have to know where you're at and what's going on."

Rollins had been involved in a near-fatal accident involving apprentice Hector Romero six days earlier at Sacramento and said Saturday's incident "could have been a bad deal."

Rollins said Baze gave everyone a chance to avoid him by going straight.

"That's what you try to do, keep them straight," he said. "If you break down and wheel out, it causes problems."

The jockey's reaction is the key, said Rollins, but "You got to have the horse work with you."

Romero wasn't as lucky when his horse broke down at Sacramento. The horse rolled on him as they both fell into Rollins's path, and Rollins's horse apparently hit Romero.

Romero suffered a punctured lung, lacerated liver, and broken rib and also lost his spleen and a kidney. He was in critical condition initially but had improved and was able to get up for the first time last weekend. He will need a minimum five- to six-month recovery period according to his agent, who is known as Tall Dave.

Ninebanks the Turf champ again

Ninebanks ($5.80) got a perfect stalking trip behind dueling leaders Obermeister and Long Gone Con and repeated his 2002 victory in the $100,000 California Turf Championship, edging last year's runner-up, Surprise Halo, by a neck at Bay Meadows on Monday.

Ninebanks broke from the outside under Ron Warren Jr., but quickly got over to the rail behind Obermeister and Long Gone Con. He pulled Warren to the lead in the stretch and withstood Surprise Halo's late charge to win the one-mile turf race for California-breds in 1:37.47. Native Desert, a three-time winner of the race, was third another 2 1/2 lengths back.

Ninebanks, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Peter Abruzzo, has now won 6 of 10 starts over the turf here. He defeated Surprise Halo by one-half length last year.

Second generation, first victory

Selwyn LaGrone, 30, got his first victory as a trainer Monday at Bay Meadows with Tin and Tonic, only his second starter.

LaGrone grew up around the barn of his father, Leon, but has been a licensed trainer for less than two months.

LaGrone, who has four horses stabled at Golden Gate Fields, claimed Tin and Tonic for $3,200 for his uncle Thomas LaGrone on July 12 at Solano. Tin and Tonic was his first starter, placing second on Aug. 17 at the Bay Meadows Fair.

LaGrone was a little disappointed by the second-place finish.

"It's an inside family joke," he said. "My father won with his first starter, and I wanted to do the same."

* Bay Meadows' Labor Day attendance was 10,433, the largest turnout since 10,623 on Labor Day 1995. Earlier this year, 10,157 turned out on Memorial Day.