The consumate professional
by Kate Barton
ust like Mt. Rainier, whose regal presence
has stood in the backdrop of both Longacres and Emerald Downs, Gary Baze has
been a solid, reliable and often spectacular part of the Washington racing
scene for more than 30 years.
The winningest rider
in state history, Baze was an obvious choice to become one of the inaugural
jockeys voted into the Washington Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. Not only because
hes won more than 3,200 races, including 200 stakes and purses totaling
over $25 million. Or because he captured a record five Longacres Miles and was
the regular pilot for Hall of Fame stars Trooper Seven and Captain Condo. Nor
was it solely due to the numerous honors he has earned locally and nationally.
As much as anything, Baze is respected throughout the industry for his honesty,
courtesy, sportsmanship and work ethic.
Racing Form columnist Dennis Dodge offers high praise.
Gary is the consummate professional, with
horsemen, colleagues, the fans and the press. Hes always had a knack for
getting up for the big race, and is always at his best when the moneys on
the line. Hes always been an exceptional judge of pace and a strong
Ironically, Baze cant even
remember the fist time he got up on a horse.
Im sure it was before I could even retain
memories, he laughs. I have pictures of my folks lifting me up on
horses as a baby, but I dont really remember it.
A scion of one of the first families of Washington
racing, Baze does remember a childhood surrounded by horses and horsemen. His
father Carl was a long-time Washington trainer, as were his uncles Kenny and
Earl. Uncle Joe Baze was a top rider in Washington and northern California and
earned the nickname Sunday Joe for his numerous stakes wins at
Longacres during the 1960s.
Carl and his wife
Alice owned and worked a 40-acre farm in Sunnyside, the small community near
Yakima where Baze was born.
The pastures were
filled with alfalfa, hay, horses and kids. Baze, who will turn 49 on October
25, is the oldest of six siblings, most of who have been involved in racing for
all or part of their lives. Carl used the farms 3/8ths of a mile training
track to prep horses for campaigns at Yakima Meadows, Playfair and Longacres.
He also fit in the time to teach Gary and his other kids to ride.
My dad would put horses on a gyp ring.
Thats how I started learning. I was probably nine-years-old the first
time I exercised a racehorse.
becoming a jockey werent part of those early riding lessons, however.
We always thought Id be too heavy to
ride, he admits.
But at age 16 he approached
his father with a proposition.
stayed small enough. I told my dad I wanted to at least try riding before I got
too heavy. I promised Id work to keep my weight down, and he said
Baze started his apprenticeship at
Spokanes Playfair racetrack in 1972, weighing in at 109 pounds. His uncle
Kenny gave him the riding assignment on his maiden breaker Prince Magic.
When he didnt have a mount, Baze would go out to
the starting gate at Playfair and watch Jerry Taketa, the tracks leading
rider at the time. I learned a lot from Jerry, said Baze. He
and my uncle Earl helped me learn the basics of horsemanship.
Talent, confidence and discipline made it easy for him
to make the move from eastern to western Washington. While still an apprentice,
he took the 1973 Longacres riding title with 120 wins, the most ever for
a bug boy at that time. He followed that with crowns in 1974 (117) and 1975
(99), making him the first rider in Longacres history to win the
championship three years in a row. When the Renton oval was dark, Baze
campaigned in northern California, capturing one title at Golden Gate Fields
and finishing high school at San Mateo High School while riding at Bay Meadows.
After firmly establishing himself on the west
coast he spent one year riding on the Chicago circuit at Arlington Park,
Hawthorne and Sportsmans Park. He took his tack as far as Atlantic City
one summer, before returning to Longacres.
the 1970s and 80s, railbirds regarded Baze as the Shoemaker of the
northwest. The winning ways of Gary Baze was a phrase frequently
bantered throughout the grandstand and in the mutuel lines.
By the time Longacres closed in 1992, Baze owned a
record six jockey champion- ships. (1980 102 victories; 1982 a
then record 154; and 1985 150.) He also finished in the top five in the
riding standings 12 different seasons.
his record 100 Longacres stakes wins, were four Longacres Mile victories,
another unequalled feat for a jockey. He pushed that mark to five with his
victory aboard Adventuresome Love at the Emerald/Yakima 1993 meeting.
I guess Id have to count the Mile victories
as the highlights of my career, he says with characteristic modesty.
The richest one mile race in the country during
Longacres golden years, the Mile traditionally attracted highweighted
shippers and top jockeys from California. When Baze tallied his initial triumph
with Eugene Zerens home-bred Trooper Seven in 1980, it was the first time
in nine years that the trophy had stayed in Washington.
In 1981, California invaders ridden by Bill Shoemaker,
Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Sandy Hawley challenged Baze and the defending champ.
But the hometown favorites were determined to secure a place in history. Their
length triumph was the first ever back-to-back Mile win. The day remains
unchallenged as the most exciting afternoon in the tracks history. A
crowd of 25,031 was on hand, second only to the 26,095 who bid farewell to
Longacres when the track closed 21 years later.
It was electrifying. The crowd, the horses,
everything. Ill never forget it.
Bazes special talent for bringing a horse from
off the pace was evident when he coached Chum Salmon home in the 1985 Mile.
After trailing the nine-horse field by more than 15 lengths, Baze calmly moved
the eight-to-one outsider into high gear at the half-mile pole. Chum Salmon
continued his startling, powerful move until the wire, where he was a
half-length in front of Dear Rick and favored M. Double M.
Chum was certainly one of the most exciting
horses I was ever on, said Baze.
Post-Intellingencer handicapper Al Smallman describes the ride on Chum
Salmon as quintessential Gary Baze.
gets on a horse that comes from behind, one that you can slingshot
like that, he can do it better than anyone else on the track, said
His versatility was apparent two years
later when Baze won with the front-running Judge Angelucci for Hall of Fame
trainer Charlie Whittingham.
basically went to the front and stayed there, said Baze, who frequently
got riding calls from Whittingham. Later that fall, Baze and Judge Angelucci
went wire-to-wire in the $300,000-added Californian Stakes-G1 at Hollywood
Park. Preakness Stakes-G1 winner Snow Chief finished third, and the victory
stands as the richest of Bazes career.
with the fame and riches, there were naturally less glamorous and more grueling
chapters in his career. He has dealt with a relentless and sometimes exhausting
battle to make weight, as well as the ever-present threat and all too
often reality of injuries that challenge all riders.
At 5 6 tall, he still can tack 118 pounds.
But even in his early 20s, he was pushing 116 with very little indulgence. The
sweat box and a 500 calorie a day diet during the racing season have been
familiar, if not constant, companions.
injuries, Bazes count of broken bones is 22 to date, the worst being a
compound fracture of his lower right leg near the beginning of the 1992
Longacres meeting. Baze was battling for the lead aboard That Cardwell Look
when the horse shattered a leg and threw him to the ground. His leg was
momentarily pinned against a rail support, which caused the compound fracture.
It took two surgeries to repair the damage.
That was undoubtedly the most painful thing
Ive ever gone through, and it took me the longest to recover from. I was
off six months after that injury.
frightening occurred in a two-horse spill over a frozen track at Portland
Meadows in 1985, when he suffered a severed artery from one of his kidneys.
That was probably my most serious,
life-threatening injury. I lost a lot of blood. But they were able to patch me
up from that one too. Indeed, he was back riding at Longacres later that
In his mind, his overall fitness has
helped Baze return from what could have been career-ending spills.
Every time Ive been injured, I was totally
fit, and I recuperated fairly fast, he explains. Knock on wood, but
Ive never come across the injury that would make me think about
In fact, he did quit once in
earnest. In 1996 he traded his racing silks for a suit and tie to become the
western regional manager for The Jockeys Guild, a position he held
I had been thinking about
quitting, he admits. When that job opened up, I knew it would only
be available once. I thought it looked like something I could do if I was going
The job was a complete
college education in a different direction. For four years he did
everything from represent riders at commission meetings to testify in front of
state legislatures for better safety standards, such as the installation of
mandatory safety rails and helmet laws for riders.
I enjoyed the job, and I feel like we
accomplished some good things. Portland Meadows put in a safety rail, and a lot
of other tracks are trying to get them approved.
But I didnt enjoy the traveling. And in the
end, I just missed riding too much.
to get back in shape, Baze dropped 30 pounds (I did it slow, by eating
mostly salads.) and logged in lots of time on an Equisizer, the exercise
machine that simulates riding a horse. Jockeys commonly use it to regain
strength after a long layoff.
His comeback began
on opening day of the 2000 Emerald meeting with a win aboard Obeah Man in the
eighth race. It was the first of 80, including five stakes, which put him
fourth in the final standings.
He finished second
overall in earnings in 2003, after leading all riders in stakes wins with nine,
including five with horse of the meeting Youcanttakeme. In the fall of
2003 he was recognized nationally as one of five nominees for the George Woolf
Memorial Award, a prestigious national honor that is given every year at Santa
At Emerald Downs he was voted the 2000
recipient of the Lindy, which honors a jockey for outstanding
contributions to the racing industry, as well as the community. He had won on
two previous occasions at Longacres, when it was known as the
Having just completed his
fifth Emerald meeting which included a four-win afternoon on Labor Day
Baze will spend the off season in Phoenix with wife Vicky, a respected
and accomplished jockey who won the Longacres riding titles in 1986 and
1988. His parents, along with his sister and other family members, live in the
area. To stay fit for the 2005 Emerald session, he plans to gallop horses at
If outward demeanor is any
indication, Baze has arrived at a place of balance and peace.
Im happy with my career, he reflects.
Everybody has crossroads in their life where
they wish they would have done something different, or gone somewhere else, but
Im happy with what Ive done. From the time that I was a kid, I just
wanted to do the best I could for the job I had to do that day.
After Baze won the 1974 riding crown at Longacres, John
Fletcher wrote these words in The Washington Horse:
Gary is not only a fine jockey, but is modest,
unassuming, hardworking and industrious as well. We can all be proud of him, as
he is a real credit to racing.
Rainier, some things just dont change.
What Baze Says About His Equine Hall of Fame Colleagues
Trooper Seven . . . I guess if I had to pick my all
time favorite horse, it would be Trooper. He was like a Cadillac. He was just
push button. Hed do whatever you wanted him to do. He didnt need
too many cues. He just automatically knew what to do.
Captain Condo . . . Condo was an absolute rogue. He
didnt want to run, he didnt want to win. He used to savage other
horses. In one word, he was rotten. You had to treat him and ride him like a
stepchild. But you couldnt keep using your whip because he would get mad
and sulk. You had to think of other things to do, like bounce around on his
back, flop a rein on him, act like you were falling off. Do anything to keep
his mind on racing. He had such raw talent and natural ability. Vaden (trainer
Ashby) knew exactly what to do to get him psyched enough to win.
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.