Tyler Baze keeps amazing all as a journeyman rider

Mar 6, 2001 6:39 AM

When it comes to populous families, there are more Bazes than there are Gabors and Wallendas.

Most of the Bazes earn their living from horse racing. The latest to do so is 18-year-old riding sensation Tyler, who last year became the first Southern California-based jockey to win an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top apprentice in more than a quarter century.

Steve Valdez was the last, in 1973. He had ballooned to 207 pounds before making a comeback several years ago. Like Valdez, Baze could face a battle with the scales down the road, but for now, riding without the five-pound apprentice or "bug" allowance has not impeded his success.

Last year, Baze won 246 races and more than $14.1 million in purse money. He lost the "bug" three months ago, but he still rides with the eye of the tiger. In fact, he’s riding better than ever. He has 31 wins at Santa Anita to rank fifth in the standings.

"Since he lost the weight allowance, he’s been able to tack on about four or five more pounds, and that’s made him stronger," says trainer Eric Kruljac, who hooked up with Baze at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.

"I think I saw him ride once at Santa Anita before he went to Turf Paradise," Kruljac said. "I just had him work some horses at the beginning of Turfway when he got there. I used the bug rider over there periodically, but I rarely used it at Santa Anita before I started to use Tyler.

"He’s had so much advice and taken it so well from (John) Sadler and (Bob) Baffert the last three or four months that he’s just picked up where he left off as an apprentice. He’s twice the rider he was before he lost the bug. And almost every other rider goes the other way. When they lose the bug, they lose confidence and lose most of their live mounts, but this kid’s just picked it up.

"He’s been wonderful to deal with. Every time he comes out to get on a horse, there’s that electric enthusiasm that’s missing in a lot of sports — not just in our sport, but in a lot of sports these days. He’s a very level-headed kid. I think that goes back to his parents. Success hasn’t gone to his head — at least so far."

Sadler, too, says Baze is stronger since he lost the "bug" because he can be more lenient on his diet.

"He’s able to eat one meal a day now," said Sadler, a Baze booster from the get-go. "He still does very light (tacks 111 pounds) but he’s able to eat a little bit. I think he’s even stronger. Another thing you have to remember about a kid his age: at 18, he’s still a work in progress. He’s getting better by the day. The improvement curve is ongoing."

Baze has even earned praise from his peers.

"He’s very polished for as young as he is," says fellow rider Garrett Gomez. "He has a bright future. The fact that he comes from a racing family helped him. I grew up in racing and learned from people I was around. It helps to have that kind of background."

THE HOMESTRETCH: "I won’t run. We’ve heard that from some presidential candidates before. I won’t run." So spoke trainer Howard Zucker about the Kentucky Derby after Crafty C.T.’s front-running, four-length victory in the one-mile San Rafael Stakes on a speed-favoring track labeled "fast." The 52-year-old trainer seemed serious, but if the $240,000 son of rafty Prospector runs well in the Santa Anita Derby on April 7, Zucker could be stricken with Derby Fever. "It’s too much to ask of this colt, really," Zucker said about competing in the Run for the Roses on May 5. "If we get another race from him in the Santa Anita Derby, we’ll be real happy. If we don’t, and he needs a rest after this one, I’m just as happy. Horses that don’t start as 2-year-olds don’t win the Derby for a reason. You really like to have a couple or three races in a short campaign with a young horse and then be able to back off and then come back (in their 3-year-old season). That’s the classic way to get a horse to the Derby. I just don’t feel he’s going to have enough left to go on even with one more race. But you never know in this business. If he destroys the field in the Santa Anita Derby, maybe we will go." . . . Tiznow got what amounted to a $1 million workout in winning the Santa Anita Handicap by five lengths. The 2000 Horse of the Year will be given a break to rest his problem feet and then be pointed to The Californian at Hollywood Park on June 10 . . .

Santa Anita’s stewards are expected to render a decision this week on whether Patrick Valenzuela will be granted a license to ride again, but there’s little question the 38-year-old jockey has lost favor with trainers who’ve been supportive in the past. Valenzuela brought no conclusive evidence to a hearing with the stewards that he has been drug-tested and clean during the more than one year he has been suspended, since Feb. 11, 2000. If the stewards refuse to issue a license to Valenzuela, who hasn’t ridden since Feb. 3, 2000, he would have to take his case to the California Horse Racing Board…Yes, that was Pete Rose at Santa Anita recently. A source close to the former baseball great says he won six of eight races and "crushed," winning an amount well into five figures.