Baze is 1 win away from making history

December 1st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Baze is 1 win away from making history


Associated Press

SAN MATEO, Calif. - Russell Baze is one victory away from earning the ultimate reward for 32 years of coaxing cheap horses across finish lines at obscure racetracks.
Baze rode Christie's Fame to a 4 1/2-length win in Thursday's sixth race at Bay Meadows for his 9,530th career victory, tying the nearly 7-year-old mark set by Laffit Pincay Jr.
Baze's lone victory from six mounts almost didn't happen. He picked up the mount about an hour earlier after jockey Ricky Frazier took off because of illness.
"I bet he was really ill after that horse won," Baze joked.
The victories are coming farther apart for Baze as he chips away at Pincay's record. He has ridden 11 winners in his last seven racing days.
"It's a lot easier going into tomorrow only needing to win one," he said.
Baze resumes his quest Friday with seven mounts, and two of them were favorites on the morning line. Three of them were third choices, while the others were listed as 8-1 and 6-1 shots.
"Honest, Laffit, I'm not dragging this out," a smiling Baze told Pincay, who will return Friday for his fifth day of waiting for his record to be broken.
The 59-year-old Pincay has owned the record since Dec. 10, 1999, when he overtook Bill Shoemaker's mark of 8,833. Shoemaker had held the record for 29 years after taking it from Johnny Longden.
"At the quarter pole, I knew he was going to win. Thank God," Pincay said.
Announcer Michael Wrona called Thursday's race, just as he did when Pincay tied Shoemaker at Hollywood Park.
Fittingly, Baze tied the record in a $6,250 claiming race - typical of the races he has ridden at minor-league tracks during most of a career that began with his first winner in Yakima, Wash., in 1974. That horse was trained by his father, Joe, who won riding titles at Bay Meadows.
Baze's parents came in from Montana, joined by his wife, teenage son, and three grown daughters who came up from Southern California. Baze's wife, Tami, was busy organizing the family for pictures afterward.
"They were tickled to death," he said.
So was the sparse crowd that leaned over the railing above the winner's circle. Baze was greeted by a standing ovation and shouts of "Way to go, Russell!" and "We love you."
For years, Baze has been the dominant jockey in the Bay Area, piling up 400 or more wins in 11 of the last 14 years. His 350 winners this year rank third in the nation.
Far from the glamour, rich races and classy horses that define thoroughbred racing in Southern California and New York, Baze tied the record in his typical workmanlike fashion.
He sent Christie's Fame to the lead out of the gate and settled along the rail. They maintained a length lead on the backstretch. Chased by Afeelyated, Baze peeked under his left arm to check his competition before going to the whip briefly in the stretch.
"It set up like I thought it would," he said. "She's kind of naturally fast. At the quarter pole, I couldn't see anybody catching me."
The 48-year-old jockey showed off his toothy grin as he calmly made his way into the winner's circle. There was little time for celebrating, though, since he had two more races to ride.
"The pressure was all off at that point," Baze said.
Christie's Fame won for the third time in 14 career starts and paid $4.80, $2.60 and $2.20 at 7-5 odds. The 3-year-old filly is trained and co-owned by Dennis Ward.
"I'm very excited," said Jeanne Shand, who saddled the horse in Ward's absence. "You never know how luck comes around. It's wonderful."
Co-owner Larry Zimmerman was all smiles, noting that Christie's Fame was beaten in her previous start by a horse that Baze rode.
"I said, 'Russell, what's going on? You don't ride my cheap horses,'" said the 81-year-old owner, who earned $6,600 for the win. "This is something else. I just won the race. Now I got some money."

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