06/22/2011 5:55PM

West Seattle Boy still going strong at age 12

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Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
West Seattle Boy has won 23 of 98 career starts.

He’s a big, bay handful who refuses to act his age. His competitive history embraces nearly every significant moment of the 21st century. He reappears in the Northwest every spring, just as the rhododendron begin to bloom, and disappears in the fall having done his job as a hard-working member of the Thoroughbred breed.

His name is West Seattle Boy. He is 12 years old, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

Last Sunday at Emerald Downs, just south of the city whose name he shares, West Seattle Boy won for the 23rd time in a career of 98 starts dating back to his winning debut over the same ground on the third day of June in 2001. The world has changed considerably since then. West Seattle Boy, not so much.

On that June afternoon, 10 years ago, West Seattle Boy gobbled up a field of $25,000 maidens with the same disregard he handled his field last Sunday. He lags behind, aims outside, and comes with his run, fueled by a balanced, bouncing stride that has served him so well for so long.

The race was for $3,500 claimers, which places West Seattle Boy squarely among the vast majority of American horses forced to compete with “For Sale” signs slapped to their flanks because American racing can’t figure out another way to do business. West Seattle Boy will never be confused with the array of greats who have competed during his lifetime – horses like Zenyatta, Ghostzapper, Curlin, Smarty Jones, Rachel Alexandra, Afleet Alex, or Barbaro – but he’s still throwing punches and still posing for pictures, which is more than can be said for any number of shooting stars who barely lasted their 15 minutes of fame.

:: West Seattle Boy's lifetime past performances

At Emerald Downs the other day, though, they were holding their breath. West Seattle Boy had run three times this year without winning, and the skeptics were stepping up. It’s not true that every time a senior gelding loses a race a red light goes off at PETA, but sometimes it seems that way. Lisa Baze, who owns West Seattle Boy with Jerry Carmody, was so nervous she begged off ponying the old boy to the post and turned the job over to her daughter Kyrie.

“After he ran fourth the time before, a guy told Jesse, ‘He doesn’t look like he wants to run. What are you going to do with that horse?’ ” Baze said, referring to Rigoberto “Jesse” Velasquez, West Seattle Boy’s trainer and her significant other.

“Yes, he’s old, and we did question bringing him back this year,” Baze went on. “That’s why we really wanted him to win, if only so people can see how good he feels and that he can still do it. They don’t get to see him in the morning. They don’t see him bucking and rearing and running around the track, a happy horse, just playing.”

For the record, West Seattle Boy rallied from 25 lengths back to win by a half-length at odds of 7-2, completing a mile in the mud in 1:40.76, and cashing a winner’s prize of $2,915.

It should be no surprise that someone named Baze is among West Seattle Boy’s inner circle. The name tends to crop up often when the subject is horse racing in the Pacific Northwest.

Lisa Baze is the daughter of Earl Baze, the first of the Bazes to make a name for himself as a jockey. Her uncle Joe Baze was one of the best riders ever produced in the Northwest, and her cousins, either first or second, include jockeys Russell Baze, Gary Baze, Dale Baze, Tyler Baze, Mike Baze, and Mike’s son Michael Baze, whose recent overdose death at Churchill Downs rocked the racing community.

“I was raised on a horse,” Lisa said. “And we raised all our horses. We had their moms and their moms’ moms. We knew what they could do and didn’t ask for anything they couldn’t. They were like family, but like everyone in the family they had a job. And they were able to run till they were 9, 10, 12 years old.”

Lisa rode briefly but has spent most of her life at the track galloping and ponying horses for an array of trainers, including Bob Baffert, Don Warren, and Mike Chambers. While working for Howard Belvoir, a Washington stalwart, Baze found her name on the ponying list alongside an unstarted 2-year-old one morning in early 2001.

“I really got attached to him,” Baze said. “I started looking forward to seeing him every morning. Then when he was 5, he was claimed. I was devastated.”

That was June 2004, after which ensued what has amounted to an ongoing quest by Baze to keep West Seattle Boy under her protective wing. Since August of ’04, midway through his 5-year-old season, the horse and Baze have been inseparable.

West Seattle Boy was only briefly a minor stakes horse, but he does hold the record for the most wins at Emerald Downs, with 18.

“He’s a very sound horse,” Baze said. “Sometimes the withers of an older horse will atrophy, but he is very well-muscled. Just gorgeous. We turn out every winter at my partner’s farm and don’t bring him back until spring.

“We don’t train him really hard,” Baze went on. “He lets us know what he wants to do. He’s really smart and very athletic, so he’s not going to do anything to hurt himself. Even when he plays around and gets up on his hind legs, he’s very cautious of his surroundings.

“We have several older statesmen in our barn,” Baze said. “Jesse’s a very good caregiver. He gets on the horses himself, he does all the shoeing. If you’re listening and paying attention, the old horses will tell you when they’re feeling good or something’s bothering them. We can’t afford to claim a lot of horses who have problems. So we try to take very good care of the ones we’ve got.”

Especially the institution known as West Seattle Boy.

“While we were walking back the other day, grooms were coming out of the barns to congratulate us,” Baze said. “He’s got a lot more people cheering for him than worried about him.“

And that guy who gave Velasquez the hard time before?

“He apologized,” Baze said.