Ok racing fans, here’s a quiz. No asking your neighbor and no looking in a book.
Where is Golden Gate Fields located??
What was that? San Francisco? Ohh you are sooooo close.
Let me give you a hint. It borders a large body of water. I know you have heard “where the surf meets the turf“ but have you heard “where the bay comes to play” ?
Give up? Golden Gate Fields is in Albany. Yes there is an Albany in California too.
Nestled in the San Francisco bay area I can’t really blame you if you haven’t heard too much about it. After all, pretty much every racing fan has heard of the big three in California; Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar, but Golden Gate? Ehh not as much.
But you know, Golden Gate does have its own history.
Did you know that a 19-year-old Bill Shoemaker won his first career race on a horse name Shafter V in 1949 at Golden Gate Fields?
How about the series of races that Noor and Citation had in the late 1950’s right here. Steve Cauthen rode in the California Derby in 1977 and remember Robyn Smith? She was the first female to ride a race in Northern California and it all happened, yes, right here. In fact, the ever popular Silky Sullivan is buried in the infield at Golden Gate Fields.
We’ve had our great horses too. Remember Pike Place Dancer and Soviet Problem? ‘Dancer won the Kentucky Oaks in 1996 and ‘Problem was second in the Breeders Cup Sprint in 1994 losing by a head. Both were from Golden Gate Fields.
So now you know a little of our past history. But did you know we have current history going on right now?
Russell Baze has won 11,161 races in his career which is number one in the history of the sport. He passed Laffit Pincay Jr. in December of 2006 and at the age of 52, is still going strong and still adding to that total.
“I enjoy working horses in the morning and I enjoy riding races in the afternoon,” Baze said “I’m just a competitive guy. I don’t care if they were running for hamburgers. I’d want to win that hamburger.”
Already a member of the National Thoroughbred Hall of Fame, the Washington Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the Thoroughbred Breeders Association Hall of Fame, he is now set to be inducted into the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame, in nearby Oakland on February 25th. His induction class includes NBA great Rick Barry and NFL great Y.A. Tittle.
It’s yet another honor for a man that seems to turn back time.
“It’s always nice to be recognized for you’re accomplishments,” Baze said. “I’m going in with some great superstars.”
Baze’s accomplishments would take hours to list. In highlighting a few, he won 400 races in a year 13 times, he led the nation in wins 11 times and has won the Isaac Murphy Award (for highest win percentage of at least 500 mounts in a year) 15 times. He was also the first jockey in North America to win 10,000 races. (South American based Jorge Ricardo was the first).
He has won 39 riding titles and over 4,000 races at Golden Gate Fields.
At a time when most people are looking to set a retirement date, Baze will have none of that kind of thinking.
“I’m only 52, I’m not really thinking about it,” Baze said. “People ask me ‘how much longer are you going to ride,’ I’m like, it doesn’t even enter my mind. This is what I do. I’m healthy, I’m riding good horses. Why would I think of quitting.”
Despite all his success, he does still have that elusive goal, one every jockey has.
“It’s been my goal all along, to win the Derby or a Breeders Cup race,” he said. “With each new crop of two year-olds you’re looking for that good horse. You’re always on the lookout for a horse that’s going to take you to the big races with a chance to win.”
Long time Golden Gate publicist Sam Spear likened Baze to a champion in any sport saying “Russell is as determined to win a race as Pete Rose was to getting a hit,”
It’s that determination that brings him to the winners circle more than anyone else.