04/03/2008 12:00AM

Tyler Baze rises in jockey standings


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jockey Tyler Baze's season has come alive with the start of the spring.

Baze rode 8 winners from 34 mounts from March 27 to Monday to vault past an absent David Flores into third-place in the jockey standings at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting. Through Monday, Baze had won 43 races at the meeting, 20 fewer than leader Garrett Gomez.

"I had a good week in the last week," Baze said.

Saturday, Baze is hoping to pull an upset in one of the meeting's most important races, the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

Baze rides the outsider On the Virg, who is making his stakes debut for trainer Todd Pletcher. The mount marks a rare chance for Baze to ride for the nation's leading trainer, who employed Gomez for On the Virg's first three starts - a sixth in a maiden race last December and consecutive wins in a maiden race and an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles this year. Gomez is riding at Aqueduct on Saturday.

"I just appreciate the opportunity," Baze said.

Baze, 25, is riding in the Santa Anita Derby for the second time, having finished second in 2003 aboard Indian Express.

"I just got beat a head in the Santa Anita Derby," he recalled. "I was on the verge of winning, and now I'm On the Virg. Hopefully, he'll run well."

Groan if you must, but Baze's recent results are nothing to scoff at. He is well behind Gomez and Rafael Bejarano in the race for the riding title, but could finish third. The meeting ends April 20.

Less than a year ago, he took six weeks off to deal with an eating disorder. He credits his agent, Ron Ebanks, for helping him return to contention in the jockey's standings.

While the emphasis Saturday is on the Santa Anita Derby, Baze is looking to the Kentucky Derby on May 3 as well. He rides Tres Borrachos in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park next Saturday.

Ten Meropa staying on turf

Ten Meropa was considered a candidate for the Santa Anita Derby after he won the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes on turf in his U.S. debut on March 2. But Ten Meropa got sick and missed training, and will be staying on turf in the near future.

Thursday at Santa Anita, Ten Meropa worked a half-mile in 50.60 seconds on turf, preparing for a start later this month, according to co-owner Joe Masino.

"We're not going to push him," Masino said. "We think he's a nice horse. It's not advantageous to take on the big boys."

Masino said that Ten Meropa battled "mucus and a cough" after the Baldwin Stakes, which has limited his training. The long-term goal is the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on turf at the end of the summer.

"We'll probably run at the end of the month or the start of next month," Masino said. "We'll take our time and hope we get him where we want to go."

Strong Santa Anita Derby Day card

Saturday's 11-race program is one of the more attractive of the meeting. It includes four stakes, seven races with 10 or more entries, and only three races with claiming horses.

Two of the claiming races are optional claimers, including a $75,000 race over the rare distance of about 1 3/4 miles on turf. The distance is most commonly associated with the $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, the closing day fixture.

There is a $1 million guaranteed pick-six pool for races 6 through 11. The first leg of that sequence is the Santa Anita Derby.