JC / Railbird

Russell Baze

Baze Retires

Russell Baze, the winningest rider of all time, retired without much fanfare on Sunday. After Wahine Warrior finished in a dead heat for second in the 10th race on the last day of the Golden Gate Fields spring meet, the jockey told his agent that his 42-year career was over.

There are a few things that I would have liked to accomplish that I couldn’t do, but I’ve had a great run,” Baze said, discussing his decision on Tuesday. “I’ve accomplished more than anybody could expect.”

It’s impossible not to dwell on his phenomenal record: From his first winner in 1974, Baze racked up 12,842 wins from 53,578 mounts, for earnings of $199.3 million (three years ago, he was profiled as racing’s $186 million man). He’s won more than 100 riding titles, ridden more than 400 winners in a year 13 times. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He was the subject of an award-winning multimedia profile in the New York Times.

He was also the regular rider of 2005 sprint champion Lost in the Fog, one of the most exciting horses of the early aughts, and one of the best to emerge from Northern California. He and Baze won the 2005 King’s Bishop:

It’s like being a roadie for a rock star. Everybody knows Lost in the Fog,” Baze said after the colt, who was then 9-for-9, won his first Grade 1.

The 2005 Swale Stakes was Lost in the Fog’s first graded win, and he looked so good, scoring by five lengths after a stalking trip, that trainer Greg Gilchrist considered trying him around two turns in the Florida Derby:

Baze’s record number of wins will likely stand. Other jockeys may not even get the chance to build the sort of remarkable journeyman career he had:

So with North American race dates shrinking, the number of annual races in a freefall, and entire circuits dropping off the grid entirely, will jockeys in the future be able to choose to remain in one place to build decades-long portfolios of accomplishments? Will the next generation of riders like Gall (who rode primarily at Fairmount Park near St. Louis), Ouzts (who currently rides the mid-level tracks in Ohio and Kentucky), and Carl Gambardella (a retired stalwart of the defunct but gritty New England circuit) be able to achieve top-20 lifetime rankings while competing close to home?

Best wishes to Baze. He won’t be forgotten any time soon.

6/25/16 Addendum: Take the time to read Jon White’s recap of Baze’s career (first win, all the big horses, Shoemaker and Pincay).