Russell Baze

Hall of Fame jockey Baze competing in State Fair meet

Published: Saturday, Jul. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 15, 2013 - 6:57 am

Russell Baze feels right at home at the State Fair.

"I just keep turning left," the Hall of Fame rider said as he looked out over the Cal Expo racetrack.

Fresh off another milestone, North America's all-time-winningest jockey started work Friday on adding to racing's record book at Cal Expo, where he'll compete daily during the State Fair meet.

Baze, who turns 55 on Aug. 7, won for the 12,000th time Sunday as a last-minute substitute at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton for jockey Dennis Carr, who suffered from heatstroke. Baze's victory on favored Handful of Pearls was his fourth win of the afternoon.

"It got a little dramatic, coming the way it did," Baze said. "It was nice to get it out of the way instead of dragging it out. The mount came open; I was available. And it was nice the horse could actually run."

After Sunday's victory, Baze was welcomed to the winner's circle by his wife, Tami, and his four children.

"My whole family was there," he said. "It turned out to be really neat."

While dominating Northern California racing, Baze has had several landmark victories. He broke Laffit Pincay Jr.'s all-time record (9,530) at Bay Meadows in 2006.

Since then, Baze has been in a class by himself. In 2012, he won more races than any jockey in America – for the 12th time. Among active jockeys, Edgar Prado is second in career wins – more than 5,300 behind Baze.

Baze, who started at Yakima Meadows in Washington in 1974, has ridden more than 50,000 races with a 23.7 winning percentage, and his mounts have earned more than $185 million.

Baze, a fixture on the Northern California circuit for more than 30 years, has come to Cal Expo almost every summer. During the State Fair, he stays in Sacramento for two weeks.

"It's too hard to commute," said Baze, who lives in Woodside. "It's always fun to come up here. I really enjoy the fair. (On non-racing days), I go see all the exhibits."

Don't expect to see him chowing down on bacon-wrapped turkey legs, though. Besides talent, the keys to Baze's longevity are his health and low weight. At a taut 5-foot-4 and 115 pounds, he has been riding longer than most of his competitors have been alive.

His routine remains consistent, too. Six days a week, he's at the track before dawn to exercise horses. He rides five or six races each afternoon.

Baze spends a lot of time each day studying the races.

"I use both the (Daily Racing) Form and my iPad," he said. "On my iPad, I look at the last race and the last winning race of every horse I ride. All the others, I look up in the Form (for past performances). I see how the race should set up. I don't spend hours on homework, but enough."

Baze has no plans for retirement, he said. His current goal? "Win more races."

"When I quit, everybody will know," Baze said. "But it won't be soon."

Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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