Tyler Baze is a jockey whose star is on the rise.
At 21, baby-faced with an aw-shucks persona and still wearing braces, Baze is about to become a national presence. He’s only been at it for four years, but at Santa Anita these days, nobody’s riding better. Even with Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr. and Eddie Delahoussaye gone, that’s saying a mouthful, because there are still hombres to contend with like Alex Solis, Victor Espinoza, Mike Smith and Kent Desormeaux.
"The picture has changed considerably right now with the retirement of Laffit and Eddie D. and Gary (Stevens) not riding too many," said Baze, who has more riders in his family tree than Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart have lawyers. "It’s created an opening. Somebody needs to take their spots but it ain’t easy. I still have to be out here every morning working."
And work he does. Baze rarely misses a sunrise keeping his commitment to exercise horses, then rides as many races as he can in the afternoon. That doesn’t leave much time to live it up. Much of his spare time is spent on and at his new home near the track.
Tyler’s father, Earl, and his mother, Cammie, are former jockeys. Uncle Gary Baze is the all-time leading rider at Longacres. Russell Baze, a member of racing’s Hall of Fame, is Tyler’s second cousin who has more Bay Area riding crowns than the New York Yankees have World Championships.
Tyler, currently third with a bullet in the Santa Anita standings, began at Emerald Downs in Washington where he broke horses for his father and worked as a groom.
Oddly, he learned little from his accomplished second cousin, Russell, who has ridden more than 8,000 winners and is likely to one day surpass Pincay’s career record of 9,530 victories.
"I don’t have much contact with him," Tyler said of Russell. "I don’t know him very well. I don’t really have what you’d call a tutor in my family."
Baze did, however, learn the tricks of the trade from a fellow jockey. Tyler’s mentor was 34-year-old Utah native Chance Rollins, who abandoned the highly competitive Southern California jockey colony for the less-demanding Northern California circuit, where he ranks among the leaders, despite at times resembling Ichabod Crane on horse back, through no fault of his own.
"Chance taught me how to ride," Baze said. "People think he doesn’t look best on a horse but (bleep), he’s got a broken back in three or four spots. He taught me pretty much everything I know in Phoenix (Turf Paradise) when I first started riding. Then when I came to Southern California I got my riding polished up by Laffit and Chris and Eddie D. and Uncle Gary."
Despite his success, Baze has not drawn a bead on becoming leading rider. He is not obsessed about it. "If I get it, I get it," he said. "I just go out there every day and work hard, win races and try as hard as I can to do my best. That’s all you can do. You’ve got to have the stock to be leading rider. You’ve got to have the horse that can win every race."
Baze gives much credit for his success to his agent, Ivan Puhich, a grizzled ex-Marine who is nearly six decades older than Tyler. They are racing’s chronological version of Mutt and Jeff.
"Ivan works hard every day," Baze said. "He never stops working."
Nor does Baze. Hardly, anyway. And he does it because he likes it.
"I enjoy what I’m doing and if you don’t, there’s no reason being out here," Tyler said. "That’s what my dad told me: ”˜If you don’t like doing what you’re doing, don’t do it.’ My dad rode but he couldn’t handle it. He had too much of a weight problem. Thank God I’m small like my mom. I got lucky."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Tyler Baze and one of his principal employers, trainer Doug O’Neill, will sign autographs and answer questions for fans at the Gold Coast race book in Las Vegas on Monday, April 12 at 9 a.m.
. . . If Pleasantly Perfect looks anywhere near as good as he did before he won the San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31, he’ll win Saturday’s Santa Anita Handicap. But news: news: you’ll be lucky to get even-money.
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. . . And I see where Rosie O’Donnell uttered the vows of connubial bliss with her female partner. That had to break a few guys’ hearts, eh?