12/04/2006 12:00AM

Thankful Baze gets back to work


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Russell Baze didn't do much celebrating after passing Laffit Pincay Jr. on Friday at Bay Meadows to become the winningest rider in racing history.

Baze, 48, was up early Saturday to go to Golden Gate Fields and work four horses before coming back to Bay Meadows to work another horse. He then had to get ready to ride his seven mounts that afternoon. As he headed down the road from his farm in Woodside, Calif., he was greeted by a sign that read: "Congratulations Russell Baze. Winningest Rider in History. The Pride of Woodside."

For the first time, Baze couldn't share the glory that came with the achievement of riding 9,531 winners.

"This is the one thing I've done that nobody else can say they've done," he said. "There's only one winningest rider, and that is me."

During the countdown to the record, Baze endured end-of-the-day press conferences in the Kyne Library at Bay Meadows, rushing in after his final mount so as not to keep Pincay, who attended the sessions, or the media waiting. On Thursday, after tying Pincay's record, the first thing he told Pincay before the press conference started was, "I'm not trying to drag this out, honest."

When Pincay rode his 8,834th winner on Dec. 10, 1999, to pass Bill Shoemaker and become the all-time winningest rider, he scored one win Wednesday, one Thursday to tie, and one on Friday to set the record. Baze followed the same pattern, almost matching Pincay, who went past Shoemaker in his seventh ride after tying the record. Baze went past Pincay in his sixth mount after tying the record.

Baze rode two more winners on Saturday but was blanked in four rides Sunday. His world-record total stands at 9,533.

In the winner's circle after his record-setting 9,531st victory, Baze saluted Pincay: "There's not a greater rider or a better sportsman in horse racing." Baze then thanked virtually everyone at the racetrack.

He thanked horsemen: "From the big stables to the little guys with two horses, I can't thank them enough."

He went on to thank the racetracks, racing offices, family, friends, and his agent, Ray Harris.

He also saluted the fans.

"You make the wheels turn," Baze told them. "You make it possible for the riders, the trainers, and the horses to have a place to run. From the bottom of my heart, I can't thank you enough."

The winner's circle was filled with jockeys, friends, family, and horsemen after Baze's historic ride. Winning trainer Mark Glatt was in Southern California, but Baze thanked Jeanne Shand, who saddled Butterfly Belle for Glatt, as well as Christie's Fame, aboard whom Baze had tied Pincay's mark of 9,530 the day before.

Contacted by phone at Hollywood Park, Glatt said, "We're going down in history, although he did all the work."

On Sunday, two days after setting the record, Baze was apologetic for not thanking enough people.

"I missed a lot of people," he said. "I didn't thank the gate crews and pony people. They all played a part in this."

After Baze's record-breaking ride, there was an anxious moment as the inquiry sign went up. The inquiry had nothing to do with Baze and Butterfly Belle but did result in Empress of Justice, who finished in a dead heat for fourth, being disqualified to sixth after she drifted in after the start and caused crowding, forcing Moderation to steady.

Baze's quest brought together many members of his family. His parents, Joe and Beverly, had arrived in San Mateo from the Northwest the previous Saturday - although Baze didn't know that until after the races Sunday. Baze's three daughters - Trinity, Brandy, and Cassie - flew up from Southern California on Wednesday, and his wife, Tami, who rarely comes to the track, was also there every day during the countdown.

Perhaps the only person unhappy about Baze's victory was his son, Gable, who was excused from school at noon each day so that he could watch his father's pursuit of the record.

Officials at Bay Meadows might not have minded had the quest taken a little longer. Attendance from Wednesday through Friday was up more than 50 percent from the previous year, when the corresponding dates were held at Golden Gate Fields, which admittedly has both lower attendance and handle than Bay Meadows.

Ontrack handle was up 50 percent, 20 percent, and 13 percent during the final three days of Baze's quest. Out-of-state handle was down 2opercent Wednesday but up 25 percent and 44opercent Thursday and Friday. The all-sources handle was up 3 percent, 16 percent, and 26 percent for the final three days of the chase.