A multimedia story about a life dedicated to horse racing. Russell Baze, 55, is the winningest jockey in North American history. But few know his name—he stayed close to home in Northern California, where the purses are smaller and there are fewer opportunities to get into the big races:
“Very few great horses come out of Northern California, and that has meant Baze rarely has been in America’s biggest races. ‘Every jockey’s dream is to win the Kentucky Derby,’ he said, describing the thrill of being at the center of so mammoth a crowd. But he has ridden in the event only twice, both times on long shots. Semoran finished 14th in 1996; Cause to Believe was 13th in 2005.
“A third horse, Event of the Year, was a Derby favorite in 1998. ‘I had the big one,’ Baze said, recalling the momentous opportunity, a chance to be the jockey among jockeys in the race of all races. But the horse — the best he had ever ridden — fractured a knee a week before the race.
“Because Baze has primarily worked in the Bay Area, some horseplayers put a mental asterisk beside his name, likening his record for wins to a baseball home run king given credit for round-trippers in Class AAA.
“That is a reasonable observation, as Baze would acknowledge. ‘I’m not the greatest jockey, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that,’ he said.”