A somber mood enveloped the Hollywood Park stable area Thursday morning as horsemen tried to come to grips with the death of jockey Michael Baze.
Baze, 24, was found dead in his SUV near the stable entrance gate at Churchill Downs Tuesday afternoon in Kentucky.
He won his first race at Hollywood Park eight years and eight days earlier, soon after taking out his license at 16. He went on to win the Hollywood Park Spring/Summer Meet title in 2007, his best year.
Jockey agent Ron Ebanks, who handled Baze’s book in Southern California for two years, was devastated by the news. “Heart-breaking,” said Ebanks. “And very surprising. He was such a beautiful kid. I never saw that in him when he was here. Depression can be a nasty thing. Twenty-four is so young when you don’t have a big brother to put his arm around you. He was so talented. I told him the best thing to do was to leave here and go to Chicago and win every day. He looked me in the eye and said that was what he wanted to do, win every day. He executed the plan perfectly and became a star. Through Chicago I thought that would lead him to New York or Kentucky in a couple of years. I don’t know how the plan got foiled.”
Jockey agent Brian Beach, who handled Baze’s book for a couple of months on this circuit, was also in a state of disbelief. “He was an A-1 perfect jockey when I had him,” said Beach. “He showed up at 5:30 every morning when he had workers and rode them perfectly in the afternoon. He was a good kid. I liked him a lot.”
Veteran jockey Octavio Vergara became close to Baze last year. “I knew him well when I rode with him in Chicago last year,” said Vergara. “I can’t believe it happened to that boy. He was such a good rider with such a bright future. I knew he had a little bit of a drinking problem but would never expect anything like this. You need a good companion to make the right moves.”
Jockey Martin Pedroza added, “Shocking…unbelievable.”
Trainer Vladimir Cerin said, “I just feel so bad because he was such a kind person and a good rider. He worked so hard. You don’t get to be leading rider at Hollywood Park unless you’re really good. It’s really a tragedy.”
Trainer Humberto Ascanio shook his head, knowing he has sons in Baze’s age range. “I was shocked,” said Ascanio. “He was a nice kid, 24 years old.”
Trainer Barry Abrams echoed the sentiment of the backside, saying “How can you not be shocked?”
All Saint got a bath from Joe Olguin, assistant to trainer Louis Bradvica, outside Barn 65 North Thursday morning, as he readied to hose off the competition in the $150,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap Saturday.
“He likes the lead like his father, Skimming,” said Olguin of the 5-year-old California-bred horse who has won his last four starts wire to wire at Turf Paradise. “In all the races he didn’t run well, he tried to come from behind.”
Blacksmith Eddie Gamez, son of owner Pascual Gamez, said the gray/roan horse is at the top of his game. “He got a little more confidence when he started winning in Arizona,” said Gamez. “We expect him to show speed, and we got Patrick (Valenzuela) to ride him and get him to relax.”
The Grade II Jim Murray at 1 ½ miles on turf should have an honest pace since defending champion Acclamation, another California-bred 5-year-old horse, also prefers to run on the pace.
Buenos Dias, another Jim Murray entrant, blew out three furlongs in 39.60 seconds on the turf for trainer Ron McAnally.
Trainer Paddy Gallagher said that he decided to skip the Jim Murray with Soul Candy and instead worked him five furlongs on grass in a bullet 1:01.60. “A mile and a half may be a bit too long for him,” explained Gallagher. “He may run in a stake at a mile and an eighth or so instead.”
Trainer Bob Baffert has been making a shambles of 3-year-old colt races here during the past week, finishing one-two with Awesome Patriot and Uncle Sam in the Alydar Stakes Sunday following a decisive one-two romp by Coil and Smash in an allowance race Friday.
Baffert will show off some more talent in that division Sunday when he sends out Flightofalifetime and Sinai in the $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes, a Grade III test for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.
“Sinai has got to be out there on the lead, and Flightofalifetime will be a stalker,” said Baffert Thursday. “But this is a tough race. Runflatout is probably the horse to beat.”
Baffert said that a couple of the colts in his deep arsenal would probably return June 11 in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap, the final prep for the $150,000 Swaps Stakes July 9.
Trainer John Shirreffs said Thursday that a work here Friday by Mr. Commons would determine whether the third-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby would be entered in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21.
Victor Espinoza will work the 3-year-old colt, who would be flown to Baltimore Tuesday if the drill is satisfactory.
“He was stuck down inside in the Santa Anita Derby, got some dirt in his face and made a little noise,” said Shirreffs of a minor incident that cleared up quickly. “He’s been training very well.”
Other locally-based jockeys with Preakness calls include Martin Garcia on Midnight Interlude for Bob Baffert, Mike Smith on Astrology for Steve Asmussen, Corey Nakatani on Nehro for Asmussen and Garrett Gomez on Sway Away for Jeff Bonde.
FINISH LINES—Jockeys Joel Rosario and Chantal Sutherland will be at Pimlico on May 20, Rosario to ride Love Theway Youare for Myung Kwon Cho in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Sutherland in a female jockey all-star competition…Proudinsky worked a half mile on turf in 50.40 for trainer Humberto Ascanio, who said both the 8-year-old veteran and Fluke are being pointed to the Grade I Shoemaker Mile on July 2…Beverly D. winner Éclair de Lune worked six furlongs on turf in 1:15.80 for trainer Ron McAnally for the Grade I Gamely Stakes May 30…Trainer Mike Puype worked Hollywood Starlet winner Turbulent Descent four furlongs in :49.40 breezing for her next probable start in the Grade I Acorn Stakes at Belmont June 11…Trainer John Shirreffs said that Senorita Stakes winner Star Billing should return in the Grade II Honeymoon Handicap here on June 11…Birthday wishes to trainers Carla Gaines, 59 today; Sam Scolamieri, 60 Friday; and Sal Gonzalez, 62 Saturday.
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