The 56-year-old jockey, who holds the world record for the most victories, was invited to South America to face the world’s No. 2 record-holder, Jorge Ricardo, for an international showdown. Baze agreed to the financial and racing terms, and enjoyed the perks and his celebrity status along the way.
“A first-class ticket and a free trip to South America?” said Baze, with a smile. “I’m a competitive guy, and there’s very little about horse racing I don’t enjoy. I just like being around the animals.”
Baze and Ricardo competed head-to-head in five races with Baze claiming two wins. However, Baze finished second to Ricardo, who’d won once, in the overall point standings after he was assigned a “horse that was lame” in the final race. Baze was able to trade the horse in for another option, but he still lost the race.
Baze returned to America on Tuesday in time to participate in racing at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds. He was originally scheduled to leave Saturday, but his agent acquired five races for Sunday after jockey Ricardo Gonzalez was injured in Saturday’s sixth race.
Baze finished in first place Sunday in three of his five races, increasing his career wins number to 12,367. He also broke his own mark of 51,810 career starts, finishing first at a whopping rate of 24 percent. Not including Sunday’s wins, the U.S. Horse Racing Hall of Fame member has $191,677,646 worth of mounts earned.
He recalled his early days of riding in Stockton, noting how there used to be hundreds of jackrabbits in the infield dirt. He said racing conditions today are much better — and safer — than they used to be.
“During my first year (1980) I went down 12 times,” Baze said. “It’s something that happens to you if you ride long enough. Most of the time you’re able to just jump up and walk away from it. Sometimes you jump up and look away from it.”
He was referring to the two-day tragedy at the track in which three race horses had to be euthanized after sustaining broken legs. He felt bad for injured jockeys Joe Crispin, Juan Sanchez and Gonzalez, and recalled the first time he broke a bone.
“It didn’t happen until about eight years ago,” he said. “I had a compression fracture in my back.”
Still, he said he returns to the sport he’s been riding since 1974 as a youngster in Yakima, Wash., every day that he can.
“I hope I’m remembered as someone who never got beat because I didn’t try hard enough,” he said.