Photo: Don August
I guess it was only appropriate that Russell Baze won three races on closing day of the Winter/Spring meet.
Since day one of the meet back on December 26th, Baze was the focal point. He needed 196 wins to reach the 12,000 mark. His triple on the final day gave him 172 for the meet, leaving him 24 wins shy of the milestone.
His assault on the mark now travels up the freeway 35 miles to Pleasanton and the Alameda County Fair. The fair runs 12 days of racing before shifting to Sacramento for a quick 8 day meet.
In case you are trying to figure out just when Baze will eclipse the mark, he averages 18 wins per year at Pleasanton with a career high of 23. Barring a meet for the ages, he will most likely hit the mark in Sacramento.
With that, I turn to the concluded meet with some praise to go around.
Jockey of the meet: The obvious choice is Baze, who even at the age of 54 had a tremendous meet with 172 wins and a win percentage of 29%. Dennis Carr had a big meet in his return to the bay with 105 wins and the breakout rider of the meet was Pedro Terrero. It was a good comeback year for Terrero who had 28 wins in the meet, cracking the top 10 in the standings, after having only 15 wins in all of 2012.
Trainer of the meet: Although Jerry Hollendorfer again won the training title with 82 wins, he started 158 horses more than any other trainer. With that being said, John Martin will get the edge with his 33% win mark on 47 wins in 143 starts. Ellen Jackson ended the meet with 17 wins, 16 of which came in 2013. Her best year to date was in 2009 when she won 19 races. The breakout trainer was Nick Sloan, who despite having a small barn of horses, had 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third in 15 starts (including his first stakes win).
Horse of the meet: Elizabeth A started 7 times during the meet, was handled by two different trainers and won 6 of those 7 races with her lone loss a second place finish. The old gal still had plenty of gitty up. Luscious Lonna also garnered some votes with her 2 wins and 2 seconds in 4 starts. Her charm was that she was a $6,250 claim in 2011 and won of her wins this year was the $50,000 Golden Poppy Stakes.
Race of the meet: I’m glad I didn’t write this until the last day because closing weekend produced my race of the meet in the $50,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes for 2-year-olds. A three horse blanket finish ended a stirring stretch duel by the trio with a Jeff Bonde first time starter Skydreamin getting the victory.
Apprentice Gets Big win
For the past 6 months, apprentice jockey Cesar Ordaz has wanted to come to California from his home of Mexico to, as he put it, “ride with top competition”. Although he suffered through visa issues, the 18 year old continued to ride in Mexico where he notched 61 wins in his year plus as a bug boy. With just one month left with the weight break, Ordaz finally made it to Golden Gate Fields and in just his fifth start, got his first US win when he guided Smoking G to a win (above) on closing weekend.
Ordaz developed a love for horses when he went to the track with his family at a young age. Since they have no jockey schools in Mexico, he had one way to learn.
“We learn from watching and having people help us” Ordaz said. “When I was 16 I started galloping horses and just started learning as I went on.”
Ordaz plans on staying in California even when his bug ends, to see what kind of career he can have.
Newcomers all around
The jockey colony continues to grow as the fairs begin. One familiar face and two new ones have arrived for next weeks opener.
Leslie Mawing, who has spent the last year at Parx in Philadelphia when he wasn’t battling injuries, has begun re-acquainting himself with trainers in preparation for the summer.
Also here are a pair of newcomers to northern California Eswan Flores and apprentice Ricardo Gonzalez.Flores left Santa Anita earlier this year for a stint at Lone Star Park in Texas where he won 9 of 73 races. Gonzalez, an apprentice, won 9 races at Turf Paradise in 154 starts. Both will be looking to get off to a hot start when racing begins on Thursday.