Jockey Russell Baze, horse racing's ultimate blue collar warrior, reached new heights Aug. 14 with his unprecedented 11,000th career win. Appropriately, the victory came in the fourth race at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Baze, who turned 52 one week earlier, guided first-time starter Separate Forest, the 17-10 favorite in a field of eight maidens, to a romping victory in the fourth race at Santa Rosa to reach the milestone.
Baze scored in the $29,250 maiden special weight event aboard Diamond A Racing's 3-year-old homebred Forestry filly for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.
"It's a milestone, but it's not the final milestone," Baze said afterward. "In about three years I should be standing here again."
Separate Forest ($5.40) broke best in the 5 1/2-furlong dirt test but settled into second on the outside of Ocean Hawk. Separate Forest drew close to the leader on the turn, took over at the top of the lane, and cruised home under a hand ride by 11 lengths over Ocean Hawk. In his usual understated style, Baze rode the filly out without exulting over the milestone win. The final time was a swift 1:02.38.
The jockey doffed his cap to an appreciative crowd, which gave him a standing ovation as he guided Separate Forest toward the winner's circle.
Baze, a Vancouver, B.C. native, beat his big rival, longtime South American champion rider Jorge Ricardo, to the 11,000 mark. Ricardo reached 10,000 wins nearly a month before Baze in January 2008.
But Ricardo, who was treated for lymphoma and also was out of action due to an injury, missed 219 days in 2009 and Baze passed him to regain the lead in their personal duel in May of that year. Currently competing at San Isidro racetrack in Buenos Aires, Ricardo's career total stands at 10,867 through Aug. 13. He leads Baze in victories this year, 278-226.
Baze won his 10,000th race aboard Two Step Cat at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 1, 2008. He became North America's winningest jockey when he passed Laffit Pincay Jr.'s record of 9,530 winners in December 2006.
Elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1999, Baze has won 11 national riding titles for most victories. He is in a battle with Ramon Dominguez for the riding title this year. In spite of winning with 29% of his mounts, Baze led Dominguez by only one win through Aug. 13. Baze had 768 mounts compared to Dominguez's 897.
Remarkably free of serious injuries during a 36-year racing career, Baze's numbers have suffered a bit in the last couple of years due to the demolition of Bay Meadows and the state's horse shortage, which have cut into his number of starts.
He has has won 37 riding championships at Golden Gate Fields and 40 more at Bay Meadows. His mounts have totaled career earnings of nearly $170 million.
Baze has been criticized by some for his reluctance to compete regularly on the nation's big stages in Kentucky, New York, Florida, and even Southern California. But he says the criticism doesn't bother him, having built a happy home in the Bay Area community of Woodside with his wife Tami. They have three daughters, Trinity, Brandi, and Cassie, and one son, Gable. Trinity is married to ex-jockey Kyle Kaenel.
Baze has left the region for races all around the country often. He began his record week Aug. 11 at Del Mar, for example, where he guided odds-on choice Goggles McCoy to victory in the $100,000 Real Good Deal Stakes.
He began riding in 1974 at Yakima Meadows in Washington. Baze earned a special Eclipse Award in 1995 for winning more than 400 races four consecutive years. He has now won at least 400 races in a year in 13 of the past 18 years. No other jockey has won 400 in a year more than three times.
Baze's riding titles came in 2009 (with 415 wins), 2008 (403), 2007 (399), 2005 (375), 2002 (431), 2000 (412), 1996 (415), 1995 (448), 1994 (415), 1993 (408), and 1992 (435).
He was named the George Woolf Memorial Award winner by his riding peers in 2002. Santa Anita's Woolf Award honors riders whose careers and personal character reflect positively on themselves and the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
Baze will always be associated with 2005 Eclipse sprint champion Lost in the Fog, whose life was cut short by cancer in September 2006. Baze rode Lost in the Fog in all but one of his races, including victories in King's Bishop (gr. I), Riva Ridge (gr. II), Swale (gr. II) and Carry Back (gr. II) Stakes.
Baze twice won the Oak Tree Invitational (gr. IT), with Hawkster in 1999 and Both Ends Burning in 1984, as well as the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) with Devils Orchid in 1991.
Other major victories came in the Jim Beam (Event of the Year, 1998), Oak Leaf (Lite Light, 1990), Del Mar Debutante (Raipillan, 1989), Azalea Stakes (Indyanne, 2008), and San Francisco Mile (Bold Chieftain, 2010). He also won the El Camino Real Derby seven times and the Longacres Mile on three occasions.
Baze is the son of Joe Baze, who won riding championships at Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields, and Longacres.
Baze rode his first winner Oct. 28, 1974, at Yakima Meadows aboard Oregon Warrior, who was trained by his father.