Baze spent much of his career in competition with Jorge Ricardo
PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
By Nicholas Godfrey 10:32AM 14 JUN 2016
USA: It is the end of an era in North American racing following news that Russell Baze, the all-time world record holder in career victories, has called time on his 42-year riding career.
Although the veteran jockey is due to make an official announcement on Tuesday, US news outlets and media officials at west-coast tracks confirmed that Baze, 57, has retired.
The Canadian-born rider retires with a total of 12,842 victories to his name. Although he rode on the Sunday card at Golden Gate, Baze’s final success came on the Tim McCanna-trained Vow To Be Tops in the tenth race at Golden Gate Fields on Saturday. A legend on the northern California circuit, Baze has ridden 5,765 winners at the San Francisco Bay Area venue.
American website the Paulick Report quoted Baze’s agent Ray Harris about the jockey’s decision to hang up his boots. “I was surprised but I was happy,” said Harris. “He’s my friend, and I wanted him to be sound for his retirement.”
Baze’s career statistics are nothing short of startling. According to Equibase, his 12,842 victories have come from 53,578 rides, earning prize-money of $ 199.3 million.
The word ‘prolific’ could have been coined for the remarkable Baze. Though he was born in Vancouver in Canada, he is an American, from a racing family dominant on the Pacific North-West seaboard circuit.
Having started riding at 15, Baze rode his first winner at 16 in October 1974 on Oregon Warrior, a horse trained by his father Joe, at Yakima Meadows racetrack in Washington State. It was the first winner of a career set to become synonymous with quiet dedication, humility, a solid work ethic – and winners.
Baze has won nearly 100 riding titles at the Bay Area tracks, in the process leading the nation 13 times in terms of races won. He has ridden more than 400 winners in a season 13 times, with his personal best coming in 1995 with 448 victories.
He became the winningmost rider of all-time on December 1, 2006, when he partnered the 9,531st winner of his career to surpass the mark established seven years earlier by Pincay. Having received a special Eclipse award in 1995, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.
For all that, Baze, has never been a household name, rarely leaving his mark on even a national level as far as America’s major races are concerned. He has ridden only twice in the Kentucky Derby on a pair of virtual no-hopers, and boasts only six mounts in total in the 31-year history of the Breeders’ Cup, never doing better than third with Smiling Tiger at Churchill Downs in 2010.
His best regular mount was the ill-fated sprint star Lost In The Fog, though he is a work-rider for top-class Shared Belief.
The vast majority of Baze’s career has been spent away from the bright lights on the Northern California circuit at tracks like Golden Gate Fields and now definct Bay Meadows. Baze, essentially, was a big fish in a small pond.
Battle with Ricardo
For at least a decade, Baze and his arch rival, Brazilian legend Jorge Ricardo, 54, have been engaged in a ding-dong battle for the world record in career wins, an accolade that has changed hands several times in the last few years since Baze surpassed Pincay’s mark.
At the turn of the year, when Baze’s total stood at 12,276, ‘Ricardinho’ had 12,595 to his name. He is still riding on the Buenos Aires circuit.
The record-breaking pair, who have ridden more than 25,000 winner between them, have met twice: at the Shergar Cup at Ascot in 2008, where neither rode a winner, and at a special jockey’s challenge at the Hipodromo do Cristal in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in September 2014.
Baze’s retirement was confirmed by Golden Gate Fields – like Santa Anita, owned by the Stronach Group. On their behalf, Joe Morris, senior vice president of west-coast operations, said: “All of us at The Stronach Group would like to congratulate Russell Baze on his stellar career and offer our best wishes as he begins his retirement.
“For decades Russell dominated the jockey standings at Golden Gate Fields and other Northern California tracks. His 12,842 wins in North America is a record that may never well be broken.
“Russell should also be commended for having always conducted his business with the highest level of class. His retirement will leave a large void not just in Northern California, but in all of horse racing.”