When Russell Baze was asked what sports record or accomplishment he most admired, the legendary jockey didn’t hesitate before mentioning former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played.
A natural answer for a man whose durability and competitive nature have lifted the 5-foot-4, 115-pound Baze to the summit of his profession.
In the fourth race Friday at Bay Meadows Racecourse in San Mateo, Baze won his 9,531st race as a professional atop Butterfly Belle to pass Laffit Pincay Jr. as the winningest jockey in horse racing history. It was a fitting venue for the 48-year-old native of Washington state to assume the throne, as for much of his 32-year professional career Baze has owned the stretch run at the two Bay Area tracks — Bay Meadows and Albany’s Golden Gate Fields.
“I did spend three years in Southern California and had success while I was down there — I don’t think I was ever out of the top 10 in standings,” Baze said. “But I just felt I could do better in Northern California and my family is happy to be here.”
Baze and his wife, Tami, live with daughters Trinity, Brandi and Cassie and son Gable in Woodside, where he is never far from the track. He works with horses in the morning six days a week and spends five days a week racing.
But Baze has never allowed the constant pressure of making weight to interfere with his enjoyment of some of the finer things in life, like pizza and the occasional Payday candy bar.
“On Sundays, we often have pizza and I don’t deny myself,” Baze said. “I’ll eat two or three pieces or even a fourth, if it’s small.”
And he is still happy on the mount. Even before breaking Pincay’s mark, Baze was talking about the possibility of riding into his 50s and reaching 10,000 wins, putting the record at a Ripkenesque level.
“When I started out, I was just happy to be doing what I was doing and was tickled to death that someone was actually paying me do it,” Baze said. “I always wanted to do the best that I could in each race as it came up and just hoped that success would breed success.”