'Contrite' Baze Accepts 15-Day Whip Penalty, Fine
"I’m not going to try to defend what I did," said the Hall of Fame rider. "There is no way to defend it. I made a bad decision in the heat of the moment, and I am truly sorry. I made a bad decision, and I’ll take the punishment that was handed to me.
"Hopefully this will not be the defining moment of my career," added the 49-year-old Baze, North America's all-time leading rider who is closing in on 10,000 lifetime victories. "Hopefully, I’ll be judged on the right decisions I’ve made in the past and on the right decisions I’ll make in the future. In this day and age of athletes and public figures making public apologies, it can begin to ring hollow. I want people to know that I am truly sorry. Nobody knows how contrite I am in my heart."
The suspension runs Sept. 2-16, accounting for 11 racing days on the Bay Meadows racing calendar.
Baze whipped the 4-year-old gelding Imperial Eyes, who was breaking down in the shadow of the finish line during the first race at Bay Meadows Aug. 23. Imperial Eyes, a 4-5 favorite in the $8,000 maiden claiming event at one mile, was leading by seven lengths mid-stretch before taking a bad step near the sixteenth pole. The horse changed leads and resumed running for the wire, and Baze admitted trying to get Imperial Eyes to finish by using his whip. Imperial Eyes was later euthanized after suffering a condylar fracture of the cannon bone in his left front leg. He finished second in the race.
The action came after stewards reviewed films of the incident during a 2 1/2-hour meeting Aug. 25 with Baze and his attorney, Brian Pitnick, also a Northern California trainer. They also heard from investigators for the California Horse Racing Board, assistant trainer Steve Sherman, who saddled Imperial Eyes, and Dr. William Grantham, the veterinarian who treated the injured horse.
Stewards withdrew two other CHRB-initiated complaints against Baze arising from the incident -- for cruelty to an animal and actions detrimental to horse racing.
Pitnick said he felt the misuse of whip allegation "was overblown, especially after Dr. Grantham, the vet in the case, made it clear (the whip use) was not a causal factor" in Imperial Eyes' demise. He said he felt stewards were under "strong public pressure" to assign responsibility for the incident, which drew national attention.
However, he said there was little likelihood of making an appeal to the courts.
"Russell is a stand-up guy in every sense of the word," Pitnick said. "I think he just wants to take his medicine and put this behind him."
Baze, who rode two winners Aug. 26 at Bay Meadows, has 9,826 career victories.
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