Young jockey Baze on top in ‘nick’ of time

Jun 19, 2007 4:20 AM

When Nick Cosato agreed to represent Michael Baze four months ago, it turned out to be smarter than a Cole Porter lyric.

Agent Cosato and rider Baze, as happens in their trade, were caught in a game of musical chairs. The turnover among jockeys and agents is as frequent as tasteless genitalia jokes in a Will Ferrell movie. One never knows when a jock will be doubled up by an unexpected kick in the groin from an agent, or vice versa.

Cosato was in brief hibernation before reeling in Baze. In a span of 120 days, Baze has catapulted into prominence in the Golden State, and at press time was the leading rider by double digits at Holly-wood Park. During a career of nearly 18 years, Cosato has booked mounts for Garrett Gomez, Patrick Valenzuela, Corey Nakatani, Victor Espinoza and Randy Romero, among others, never moving from his home base of California. But his rapid rise to the summit with Baze, whom he handled for a "cup of coffee" before their present catapult to the top, is dramatic.

"I had Michael for two or three weeks when I also represented Nakatani," said the 40-year-old Cosato, a native of San Gabriel. "But Michael went to New Jersey to gain more experience, and when he returned to California, he was with (agent) Brad Pegram for a time. When Michael got wind that I was letting go of (David) Cohen, he contacted me about working for him. I didn’t have anybody at the time and I always thought Michael was an up-and-comer. He’s young and there’s a lot of upside, so I told him OK and we’ve been together ever since."

Baze was such an unknown entity on the circuit a few months ago he hadn’t even settled on his current first name in the track program. He used the initials M.C., which evolved into Michael. But by any name, there is no confusion by horsemen and bettors in recognizing Baze’s ability. "Michael sounds more professional," Baze explained. "M.C. sounds like you’re a kid, but riding thoroughbreds isn’t a game for kids."

Baze, born in Renton, Wash., is one of many racing Bazes, which includes his father, former jockey Mike Baze, Hall of Fame second cousin Russell, and cousin, Tyler.

Michael has attained racing’s pinnacle faster than any of them. It’s not a reach to call him an overnight success.

"I’m surprised at how quickly he’s reached this plateau, absolutely," Cosato said. "I knew the potential was there, but if I told you it was going to happen as quickly as it has, I’d be lying. Politics and personalities play a big part in this business. The agent is important, but so is the jock. The more in demand a rider is and the more they’re winning, the easier it is for us as agents—most of the time, because you can’t keep everyone happy, but a scenario like this beats the heck out of not being wanted."

Baze was 20 on April 14, but barely looks old enough to shave. He obtained his license when he was 16 and has been riding less than five years. He jump-started his career in New Jersey, riding almost night and day.

Cosato, the established agent, and Baze, the neophyte rider, have fused their talents to bring a fresh look to the Southern California jockey colony. Gomez and his agent, Ron Anderson, are gone until September, currently ensconced on the East Coast with their sights set on another national money title and an Eclipse Award that mystifyingly eluded them last year.

Patrick Valenzuela hasn’t ridden since he was injured last Nov. 26 and has been further beneath the radar than a Stealth bomber. Not only could his three cracked ribs and bum knee have healed in seven months, in that time, he could have won three riding titles. Let’s face it: Hoffa’s body might be found before Valenzuela rides again.

Meanwhile, Cosato and Baze are No. 1 with a bullet. "Nick’s doing a great job," Michael said. "I work hard but he keeps me on live horses. If I don’t have good horses to work, it’s tough for me to work hard."

Added Cosato: "The comment I hear most from trainers is that Michael reminds them of Eddie Delahoussaye. He’s dangerous as hell on the lead, and always times his move well coming off the pace. He’s a super-nice kid, a hard worker, has great hands and is just a real delightful young man." And he still has his future in front of him, even though Cosato is in no hurry to thrust his protege into the national limelight.

"I’m not going to put the cart in front of the horse," he said. "We’ve made such great strides already that the better mounts are starting to come in California as we speak, but I don’t think you could ever be in too much demand. Even when (Jerry) Bailey was at his peak, he couldn’t say demand for his services was excessive

"We’d love to have some more stakes horses. That’s where the big money is, and as much success as I had with Patrick and Nakatani and Gomez, I never worked for them when they were 20, so I think the sky’s the limit for Michael Baze. You just don’t see many 20-year-olds doing what this kid’s doing."

The homestretch

”¡ One day after Justin Verlander pitched a no-hitter for Detroit on June 12, an unraced 2-year-old maiden named Verlander was shut out of the eighth race at Hollywood Park. The chestnut colt didn’t draw into the starting field.

”¡ Hollywood inter-track host Kurt Hoover revealed a Batman parlay that day: Wayne Manor (a son of Gotham City) in the first race, and Commissioner Gordon (also by Gotham City) in the eighth. Alas, Wayne Manor ran second. Commissioner Gordon won and paid $15.20. Blam! Kapow! Zowie!

”¡ Lookalikes: Cavaliers’ forward Anderson Varejao and the Simpsons’ Sideshow Mel.