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Champ Baze brings Hollywood star to Del Mar

Jul 20, 2004 1:26 AM

Tyler Baze is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Trouble is, his agent probably won’t be around to see it.

Baze is a young pup of 21. His agent, an ex-Marine named Ivan Puhich, is approaching octogenarian status.

Puhich spent nearly a third of his career tending business for jockey Bill Mahorney, his best meal ticket, but Baze has risen to the top in a relatively short period of time. In fact, he just captured his first Southern California riding championship at the Hollywood Park meet, which ended Sunday. Puhich expects the good times to continue to roll at Del Mar, which begins its 43-day season on Wednesday.

"My business at Del Mar will be good," Puhich said when asked to assess who might be leading rider at the seaside track. "(Victor) Espinoza’s business will be good and (Corey) Nakatani will have a lot of business."

That doesn’t mean Puhich will have Baze on eight horses a day. "You ride bad horses for good clients," Puhich said. "I don’t look around for bad horses for bad clients."

But Baze rides for several good customers, among them Doug O’Neill, John Sadler, Rafael Becerra and Jeff Mullins. "When (Jon) Court came into town he probably took five or six winners from us (at Hollywood)," Puhich said. "But I picked up Mullins and rode seven or eight winners for him, and he likes Tyler. We’re working more horses for him now than anyone."

Baze has advanced rapidly in ability and status since he began riding five years ago.

"Tyler is a very strong rider, as strong as anybody in the room," Puhich said. "There’s only one jockey I’d put above him in ability and that’s Espinoza, but Tyler’s closing in fast on him."

In the observant and experienced eyes of Puhich, Baze also is gaining on Mahorney.

"I had Bill Mahorney for 24 years, so that occupied most of my career," Puhich said. "When Bill was getting ready to retire, he recommended I take Rafael Meza’s book. We went to Stockton where he won 26 races in 12 days. He was always the leading stakes rider at the fairs, but when his wife stuck her nose in our business, we busted up.

"Then I had Marco Castaneda who was the leading stakes rider in Northern California. Russell (Baze) always beat us in (number of) winners, but we won $1.8 million in purse money one meet at Golden Gate where we won the feature race 72 times in 113 days. Marco holds a record that probably never will be broken, winning 37 stakes races, around 1985.

"Mahorney was the best jockey I had. He had a terrible automobile accident and rode with an artificial knee for 19 years, but Tyler’s closing in on him. Tyler’s got a world of ability. He’s a Hall of Fame jockey, believe me, but I won’t be around to see him get there, because I’m almost 80 years old."

True enough. But Tyler is sure to acknowledge you in his acceptance speech.

The homestretch

Racing at Del Mar is not cheap, even for a winning barn. Just ask Bill Spawr, who shared the seaside training title in 1990 with 14 victories.

"It’s very expensive," said the 64-year-old California native who is based at Santa Anita. "Figuring that I make 10 percent from purse money, I’ve got to win between $150,000 and $200,000 in purses to break even. I’ve been able to do that in the past. It’s not easy though. In addition to the horses, you’ve got to move families, tack and personnel. It’s a big job. When you add up all your expenses, including phone bills, I’d say it costs me $16,000 to make the transition."

Bob Baffert is yet another trainer with concerns about the heavy use Del Mar’s main track receives during training hours.

Future Book information you can bet on: Julio Canani is pointing Bayamo to the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap at 11/8 miles on turf next Sunday but, after that, would consider cutting back in distance to the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30.

"I"ve discussed it with (jockey) David Flores and he thinks the horse can do it," said Canani, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile twice, with Silic in 1999 and Val Royal in 2001. The Irish-bred Bayamo won the American Handicap at Hollywood Park at 11/8 miles on July 4.

Agent Tony Matos predicts a great Del Mar meet for his two jockeys, Victor Espinoza and Javier Santiago. "I have a lot of business for both of them," Matos said.

Bob Hess Jr. currently has no horses for Pete Rose, who a few months ago was part owner of a winner named Fort Point trained by Hess. The trainer expects the greatest baseball player not in the Hall of Fame to be a horse owner again when the right opportunity comes along.

A California Superior Court judge has denied a stay of Patrick Valenzuela’s latest suspension by Hollywood stewards for failing to submit hair follicles for drug testing. The 41-year-old jockey now won’t be allowed to ride until he appears at a hearing before Del Mar’s stewards. Valenzuela, who has more suspensions than the Golden Gate Bridge, reportedly shaved all his bodily hairs and did not have enough to provide for a test.

Sounds like a simple case of "hair today, gone tomorrow."