Bred for Success:
Right from the start, Tyler Baze, he of the impeccable bloodlines for riding Thoroughbreds, looked like a can't-miss kid. Now in his fifth full year riding, the 2000 Eclipse Award winner as North America's top apprentice leaves little doubt that he's on his way to fulfilling all those glowing prophesies. Part of the well-known Baze clan of horsemen from America's Northwest, the 21-year-old continues to strive for the improvement needed for him to remain among the top jockeys in California.
Help Along the Way:
And then there are the horses he rides and the people who give him the leg up on those horses. "You gotta have the horses to win races," says Baze, who remains a bit of a "gee whiz" kind of guy when asked to talk about himself. "Regardless of what people say, if you don't have good stock under you, you can't do any good. It's nice when trainers give that to you." Among those trainers who have kept him aboard good horses: Doug O'Neill, Jeff Mullins and John Sadler.
The trainers who have championed his cause since the beginning are eager to speak up about his skills and how he has progressed through his first five years as a professional. Says O'Neill: "He's always been an extremely hard worker and a real classy kid. To me, he's always been a tremendous gate rider and a rider that tries hard all the time. But now he's getting very confident and he's winning with all kinds of horses, not just speed horses. And he's winning on the grass, too."
Jeff Mullins said, "He communicates good with a horse, but he also communicates good with us. A lot of riders, you can tell them things and it'll go in one ear and out the other, but the thing about Tyler is he'll listen and do what you ask of him." As to how the rider has progressed, Mullins said, "He's matured and turned into a good rider. He used to be really good on speed horses, but he's gotten now so he can get a horse to come off the pace. He's getting a good clock in his head."
Sadler, who has been the longest and most ardent of Baze's supporters, says this about him: "Tyler started very young (17), and people seem to forget just how young he still is. When you start that young and you stay around for a while, they think you're older than you really are. He's very young and still improving. He's stronger, more consistent, and he makes good choices all the time at the races. He's the whole package. He looks like the future of the California jockeys' colony."
Hanging Out at the Barns:
Baze seldom hangs out at the racing office on the backstretch like so many of his compatriots, preferring to be near the horses at the barns. Besides, he generally works at least five to six horses every day, sometimes as many as eight. He spends a lot of time at the Sadler barn because "he's been pushing me since I first started. It's nice to have somebody like that. I spend a lot of time at Jeff's [Mullins] barn. His assistant, Ral Ayers, is my roommate and we're best friends."
As for Baze, himself, he believes his biggest improvement in the past year is "finishing stronger; being a stronger rider at the end. I've worked out and got stronger. I keep working hard and do the best I can. I know I'm a stronger rider than I used to be." Among those Baze considers his mentors are jockey Chance Rollins and his agent Ivan Puhich. "I've watched and learned and listened. Ivan told me not to get a big head, keep my head on my shoulders, listen up and learn. That's what I did."
Riding Against Family:
Baze occasionally gets to ride against his second cousin, Hall of Famer Russell Baze, and his uncle, Gary Baze. He remembers, particularly, riding against his uncle in the Pomona Derby three years ago. "When I went past him," Tyler Baze said, "I yelled out, 'Hey, Gary, see you later.' When we got to the [jockeys'] room, he acted like he was mad, and said, 'The next time you go by me that fast, I want you to call me Uncle Gary'."
Winning the Hollywood Park Title:
Typical of his self-effacing manner was this response to a question of whether the Hollywood Park title means he has arrived: "It was exciting. A good accomplishment, I guess. But I don't feel any different. I try to do my best, and that's all I can do."
He is currently in the hunt to win the 2004 riding title at Del Mar.