Photo: Don August
Watching Russell Baze ride at Golden Gate Fields week after week, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers.
In the horse racing business it’s all about the wins. Baze, as most people know, has more wins than any other jockey in the history of racing in North America. His 11,842 wins trails only South American rider Jorge Ricardo for the most all time.
In fact, a Baze win means so much now, that Golden Gate Fields has a “Baze Watch” above the tote board, changing with every win counting up to his 12,000 victory.
Yep winning is what it’s all about. But in order to win, you have to ride and that is a stat that hasn’t been thought of much, until last week.
Last Friday, Baze rode his 50,000th thoroughbred horse. Yes you heard me right, 50,000. Can you even imagine what it must be like to ride 50,000 horses?
Horse racing’s official stat keepers, Equibase, said the distance of Baze’s races add up to more than 42,924 miles which would total 1.72 times around the world itself. They also say the elapsed time of those races add up to the equivalence of 48 days. I could go on with the symmetrical values but I think you get the idea. No matter how you compare it, that’s a lot of races.
So when the media filled the jocks room prior to the milestone race Friday, we all went in with an expectation. A little buzz that we were about to see something pretty special. However one person in particular wasn’t the least bit excited, Baze himself. To the hall of famer, it was just another race.
When asked by one reporter if we thought he would feel a little something in the post parade, Baze answered with a smile, “You know me better than that.”
In fact we do know him.
For a man that is in the spotlight every time he walks out of the jockeys room, Baze is one cool customer. To him, every race is the same and every horse has a chance. If he wins or loses, it’s not ofton his demeanor changes. Sure there have been a few times after a tough loss in a stakes race that Baze needs “a few minutes”, but for the most part, you can’t tell if he won or lost as he walks back to the room.
He almost always has a smile on his face and has rarely turned down a request for a picture or an autograph. At the age of 54, Baze seems to be enjoying his profession as much as he has at any time in his career. And by the sound of things, the career is not that close to coming to an end.
“I don’t think my physical skills have diminished much at all, “ Baze said. “I mean, I get that odd ache and pain here and there but its manageable. I love going out there and riding. It’s the competition aspect of it. I'm the kind of guy that likes playing games and winning. When I can do it against the younger guys it kind of adds a little extra thrill to it and there are some good young riders here. Competition is good for the sport.”
Another thing that is good for the sport, is Baze himself.
There isn’t a better ambassador for the sport than Russell Baze. Respected by his fellow jockeys on and off the track, Baze clearly knows his role. From talking to children that stand near the paddock to congratulating an apprentice rider after a win, Baze makes every effort to keep horse racing alive and well. I won’t say he always enjoys doing it, because there are times he would rather read his book than put up with our numerous requests for interviews, but he never turns us down and always makes us feel it was more his pleasure than ours. That is the sign of a true professional.
How long he will continue to ride is anybody’s guess. It’s the question most asked to him and the one he never has an answer for. However, in the press conference following ride number 50,000, he did, for the first time, give us an indication that retirement has crossed his mind.
“I figure in 2016 I will have 40 years in and that might be a good time” he said. “But I will cross that bridge when I get to it.”Until he gets to that bridge, we will continue to enjoy the ride with him. As a journalist, I don’t think I even realize what an iconic figure I talk to each week. He will surely go down as one of, if not the greatest of all time when he hangs up his tack. But for now I will continue to enjoy what Russell Baze brings to the track every day, and that is a love for the sport that may never again be matched and a professionalism that everyone learns from.