Twenty-five-year-old Tyler Baze seemed destined for greatness as a jockey, hailing from the Washington state Baze family of riders. Both of his parents rode races. Cousin Michael Baze won the riding titles for the 2007 Hollywood Spring/Summer and Del Mar meets and is a regular competitor with him. Second cousin Russell Baze, based in northern California, is North America’s all-time leader for career wins.
Baze gained success riding at the southern California tracks and Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Arizona. His crowning moment came when he was voted the 2000 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey.
However, from the stress inherent with a job in horse racing and his struggle to maintain a low weight, Baze developed a drinking problem and bulimic eating disorder. He was riding fewer and fewer horses and losing his passion for riding. Trainers were not putting as much confidence in him in light of his personal problems. On the advice of his agent Ivan Puhich and others, he completely stepped away from racing during the 2007 Spring/Summer Hollywood Park meet.
Baze enlisted the aid of nutritionist Mike Rossi, who was at his side through a diet change, personal counseling and workouts. He grew apart from his former agent Puhich and hired a new one – Ron Ebanks. Upon his return, he first gained steam during the Del Mar meet, with 19 victories out of 152 mounts.
Step two was Fairplex Park. While many jockeys may take the two-plus weeks off for vacation, Baze had to continue gaining back confidence that he had lost before his break. Known for his tireless work ethic, Baze had to work even harder to get back to where he left off. “It’s not easy, believe me. You’ve got to bust your butt and you’ve got to prove to everybody again who you are. Every morning I work probably ten horses, every six mornings, and I ride a bunch everyday...I work pretty much seven days a week, 364 days a year.” Baze worked hard, and trainers noticed. Leading California trainers and Fairplex Park regulars Doug O’Neill, Mike Mitchell and Jeff Mullins were among those that gave mounts to Baze upon his return.
Baze says that riding at Fairplex Park “definitely got all [his] business really rolling.” He finished a close second in the final jockey standings, with 31 wins to Martin Pedroza’s 35. “It’s great that all the trainers put that confidence in me again from how it was last year.”
Fairplex Park offers a refreshing change of pace for Baze. “When I’m there and ride four, five races a day, it’s exciting, it’s fun...It’s away from all the stressfulness of [other tracks] and it’s a little easier to have all the business. Pomona’s a lot of work, though. It’s 18 straight days, pretty much.” That hard work pays off, though, with enough money to pay his taxes for the year.
For Baze, the main difference between Fairplex and other southern California tracks is the dirt surface and tighter turns. Concerning the turns, he says, “You have to really keep your head up and know what’s going on there, and really pay attention.”
He enjoys being able to read how the track may play by watching the first few races - whether or not it will be speed-favoring. Synthetic tracks have not been consistent, but dirt is more predictable. He also likes the dirt because it is more conducive to front-running horses. He says, “I’m kind of a speed rider. On the synthetic tracks it’s hard to win. I like the lead, I like fast horses. You can get away and get a breather on the backside, and as soon as you get that little breather on the backside, it’s time to go, and you have to take advantage for the speed horses, I think.” But, he stresses, “You gotta have the horse to win the race.”
Baze feels that as one of the top riders in southern California he gets many of the best horses at Fairplex, but that many of them also go to the “King of the Bullring,” Martin Pedroza. Pedroza has the most career wins at Fairplex among jockeys, and is destined to be a member of its Hall of Fame. “Me and Martin, we’ll battle it out again,” Baze predicts.
Baze parlayed his success at the 2007 Del Mar and Fairplex Park meets into the riding title at Oak Tree at Santa Anita. Now among the top 20 jockeys nationally in 2008 earnings and always near the top at the California tracks, Baze has never looked back.