Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, North America's all-time leading rider, faces a stewards' disciplinary hearing at Bay Meadows after his horse broke down Aug. 23 in the first race nearing the wire as the jockey whipped him. The trainers of the horse, who was euthanized afterward, said they support Baze.
The California Horse Racing Board initiated the hearing, set for the morning of Aug. 25, steward Darrell McHargue said. Baze appeared briefly before stewards Aug. 24 and requested an expedited meeting.
McHargue did not specify the complaint against the 49-year-old jockey, but Baze is believed to be charged under CHRB rules pertaining to cruelty to animals, misuse of a whip, and actions detrimental to horse racing.
The 4-year-old gelding Imperial Eyes, running in an $8,000 claiming race as the 3-5 favorite, held a seven-length lead at the furlong pole of the one-mile event when he took a bad step, according to the Equibase racing chart of the race. After a brief hesitation, Imperial Eyes switched leads and resumed running. However, a few strides from the wire, the horse broke down. Witnesses said Baze urged the horse with his whip after the initial bad step.
Imperial Eyes was pulled up past the wire after finishing second. He suffered a fracture to his left front cannon bone, according to assistant trainer Steve Sherman, who saddled the gelding for his father, Art Sherman. After being transported by van back to the stable, Imperial Eyes was euthanized on the advice of a veterinarian, Steve Sherman said.
Baze, contacted the evening following the incident, said he thought Imperial Eyes went lame initially, but when the gelding started running again, he thought he had misjudged what happened.
"I was trying to hold him together to the finish," he said.
Baze acknowledged using his whip. "We were in the shadow of the wire, and I did keep riding him to get him across the finish line," he said.
The Shermans were outraged that Baze was facing possible disciplinary action.
Asked if he thought Baze should be penalized for his ride, Steve Sherman responded, "Absolutely, 100 percent, no way. This should never even be considered.
"The horse took a bad step, and Russell folded up on him for a few lengths. But when he started running again, they were only a few lengths before the wire," he added. "The thing that people are reacting to is that he broke down right there at the finish just as Russell hit him, and that looked bad. But he didn't do anything wrong.
"You can't just go by perception. Look at his actions from the 16th pole to the wire. The horse took a few bad steps, but then he started running again. Can you imagine how people would have reacted if he had pulled up a 3-5 favorite leading by that far so close to the wire if there was nothing wrong with the horse?"
Art Sherman, who watched the race on television, added, "They're trying to hang Russell for this thing, and I don't get it. I rode for 23 years. Things happen on a racetrack that horses react to -- a tire mark, a piece of paper; it could be anything. If a jockey pulled up a horse every time they took a bad step, we'd really have a mess. You have to ride to protect the public. I support him."
Baze had 9,819 lifetime wins through Aug. 23, and his mounts have earned nearly $150 million.