The struggles of the horse racing industry in Southern California have not only caused trainers to ship their horses to other tracks around the country, but now some of the leading riders are making the move as well.
Michael Baze has been a fixture in Southern California for the past five years, but he will be moving his tack to Arlington Park in Chicago starting next month.
"Racing is a little slow here right now for me and the whole California industry, so it’s a good opportunity," said Baze, who turns 23 on April 14th. "I’m going there to ride for Wayne Catalano (who runs a) big barn so I had to take the chance when I got it.”
Catalano was the leading trainer at Arlington in 2009, as his 51 wins were 17 more than anyone else. He was also second in earnings with just over $1,000,000.
Baze came to Southern California in 2006 and found immediate success, winning riding titles at both Hollywood Park and Del Mar in 2007. However, at the current Santa Anita meet his 14 wins rank him just 12th in the jockey standings.
"I am a little bit (frustrated), but it happens in the horse racing industry. And, I got hurt shortly after (winning the riding title at Del Mar), so that didn’t help," said Baze. "A couple big jocks came here so that just made things a little bit tougher.”
News of some other top jockeys also leaving town, namely Garrett Gomez and Chantal Sutherland, hasn't dissuaded Baze and his decision to move to Arlington.
"I had my mind made on going to Arlington," said Baze. "There’s a couple big jocks leaving, but there’s still the leading rider, Bejarano, staying and Rosario. They're good riders, so I think it’s just a good opportunity for my career to go there.”
A native of Renton, Washington, Baze comes from a family of jockeys. His cousin Russell Baze is in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame as the all-time leader in wins, and another cousin, Tyler Baze, rides in Southern California as well.
“I’m going to take it one meet at a time and see how it goes," said Baze. "It’s a six-month meet there and I’ll see how it goes during that time and I might stay over there a couple of years.”
Today's card is a perfect example of the reason why Baze is leaving town. With a number of short fields on tap, he only has one mount.
He rides first-time starter Royal Jewels for trainer Anthony Saavedra in a maiden special weight race for fillies and mares three years old and upward going one mile on the turf. Since coming in from Turf Paradise in January, the filly has not missed a beat in the mornings, accentuated by two sharp six furlong works leading up to today's race.
“I’ve been on the horse in the morning. She’s been doing pretty good, but it’s kind of a tough race," said Baze, whose filly is listed at 12-to-1 on the morning line. "(She's) going to have to run a good race to get there, but (the) horse has been going good enough to do it."
Not only is winning at first asking a tough chore, especially going long on the lawn, but drawing the outside post No. 8 didn't do Baze any favors.
"It’s pretty tough," said Baze, who will have the benefit of carrying only 114 pounds since his three-year-old filly is facing elders. "You just gotta hope you have speed to get over or you can take back and tuck in and save ground."