BAZE'S WIN PARADE No one suggested Pete Rose was the greatest player in baseball history when he delivered his 4,192nd base hit, passing Ty Cobb to become the sport's all-time hit leader.
Rose made his niche as "Charlie Hustle," a switch-hitting singles hitter who, were it not for a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball because of gambling, would be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Similarly, no one will say Russell Baze is horse racing's greatest jockey if and when he catches this sport's all-time winningest rider, Laffit Pincay Jr., who retired in 2003 with 9,530 career victories. Baze, 46, scored his 9,000th victory at Golden Gate Fields June 2 and, barring injury, is on pace to catch Pincay late next year or in early 2007. Baze and Pincay are Hall of Fame riders and deservedly so. Both are a credit to the game. But Baze's chase of Pincay's record will not have the significance or interest of Pincay's 1999 quest to pass Bill Shoemaker, who retired with 8,833 victories. Pincay and Shoemaker were based in Southern California for most of their careers, competing against a roomful of Hall of Fame jockeys that included Eddie Delahoussaye, Sandy Hawley, Chris McCarron, and Gary Stevens, among others. They were money riders who thrived on grade I races and big purses.
Except for the occasional foray out of town, Baze is content to stay in the friendly confines of Northern California, where grade I races are nonexistent and publicity in the local and national media is even rarer. The native of Vancouver, British Columbia, has a total of three career grade I victories, the most recent coming in 1991 when Devil's Orchid won the Santa Monica Handicap at Santa Anita Park. He's won a total of 76 graded stakes over his 32-year riding career. By comparison, fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey racked up 99 graded stakes victories in 2002-03. It's difficult to say how Baze would have stacked up in a more competitive riding colony. Chances are he would have held his own, but it's a safe bet he would not be in hot pursuit of Pincay's all-time record.