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Hollywood Backstretch Mourns Baze

A somber mood enveloped the Hollywood Park stable area Thursday morning as horsemen tried to come to grips with the death of jockey Michael Baze.


Baze, 24, was found dead in his SUV near the stable entrance gate at Churchill Downs Tuesday afternoon in Kentucky.


He won his first race at Hollywood Park eight years and eight days earlier, soon after taking out his license at 16. He went on to win the Hollywood Park Spring/Summer Meet title in 2007, his best year.


Jockey agent Ron Ebanks, who handled Baze’s book in Southern California for two years, was devastated by the news. “Heart-breaking,” said Ebanks. “And very surprising. He was such a beautiful kid. I never saw that in him when he was here. Depression can be a nasty thing. Twenty-four is so young when you don’t have a big brother to put his arm around you. He was so talented. I told him the best thing to do was to leave here and go to Chicago and win every day. He looked me in the eye and said that was what he wanted to do, win every day. He executed the plan perfectly and became a star. Through Chicago I thought that would lead him to New York or Kentucky in a couple of years. I don’t know how the plan got foiled.”


Jockey agent Brian Beach, who handled Baze’s book for a couple of months on this circuit, was also in a state of disbelief. “He was an A-1 perfect jockey when I had him,” said Beach. “He showed up at 5:30 every morning when he had workers and rode them perfectly in the afternoon. He was a good kid. I liked him a lot.”


Veteran jockey Octavio Vergara became close to Baze last year. “I knew him well when I rode with him in Chicago last year,” said Vergara. “I can’t believe it happened to that boy. He was such a good rider with such a bright future. I knew he had a little bit of a drinking problem but would never expect anything like this. You need a good companion to make the right moves.”


Jockey Martin Pedroza added, “Shocking…unbelievable.”


Trainer Vladimir Cerin said, “I just feel so bad because he was such a kind person and a good rider. He worked so hard. You don’t get to be leading rider at Hollywood Park unless you’re really good. It’s really a tragedy.”


Trainer Humberto Ascanio shook his head, knowing he has sons in Baze’s age range. “I was shocked,” said Ascanio. “He was a nice kid, 24 years old.”


Trainer Barry Abrams echoed the sentiment of the backside, saying “How can you not be shocked?”

 

 

 

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