Russell Baze (Vassar Photography)
By Matthew Lomon – Woodbine Communications
TORONTO— Russell Baze, who recorded 12,842 career wins, 270 of them stakes, has been named the 2023 recipient of the Avelino Gomez Memorial Award.
The treasured Gomez Award is given to the person, Canadian-born, Canadian-raised or regular rider in the country for more than five years, who has made significant contributions to Thoroughbred racing.
It is named in memory of one of the sport’s most successful and revered performers. The Cuban-born Gomez died of complications after a three-horse accident in the 1980 Canadian Oaks.
To commemorate his lasting contributions to the sport, a life-size statue of Gomez, who called Toronto home and raised a family there, keeps watch over Woodbine’s walking ring. A replica is presented to each year’s recipient.
“It’s always nice to be recognized by people in the industry that you’re involved in,” said Baze. “This is the kind of award that everybody should be very honoured to receive.”
Baze, who retired in 2016, is no doubt deserving of such distinction, having enjoyed phenomenal success over a career that got out of the gates at the age of 16.
A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, Baze was a prominent name on the North American racing circuit for 42 years, finishing as the all-time leader for wins by a jockey.
His winning ways began on October 28, 1974, at Yakima Meadows, aboard a horse trained by his father, Joe, a former jockey.
It was just the beginning for the younger Baze, who would put together head-turning numbers season after season.
Baze paced all North American jockeys in wins a remarkable 13 times.
His run of striking success at Golden Gate Fields continued into the late 2000’s. On February 1, 2008, Baze became the first North American rider to win 10,000 career races. The decorated horseman would go on to record 54 riding titles at Golden Gate and 5,765 total victories at the track.
Baze’s brilliance at Golden Gate was not to be outdone by his unrivaled stretch of dominance at Bay Meadows in San Mateo, California. There, he won 40 riding titles, including every meet from 1981 until the track closed in 2008.
His résumé also features a strong collection of Grade 1 victories, such as the Ancient Title, King’s Bishop, Santa Monica Handicap, and Oak Tree Invitational. Overall, he earned 97 graded stakes triumphs.
Led by Eclipse Award winners Lost in the Fog and Shared Belief, Baze teamed up with several stars over the course of his storied career. Other notable names included Hawkster, Summer Hill, Smiling Tiger, Lexicon, Cause to Believe, Tricky Trevor, Bold Chieftain, Chocolate Candy, Lite Light, and Both Ends Burning.
No stranger to the history books, Baze surpassed Hall of Fame rider, Laffit Pincay Jr., to become the winningest jockey in the history of North American racing when he rode his 9,531st winner, Butterfly Belle, at Bay Meadows on December 1, 2006.
In 1994, he was presented with a Special Eclipse Award for having won 400 or more races in four consecutive years. Altogether, Baze won 400 or more races 13 different times, headlined by a career-high of 448 in 1995.
In 1999, he was inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. In 2002, Baze earned the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award for his contributions to the sport, both on and off the track, as voted on by his peers.
Ten years later, he became a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
“When I started out, I was just a kid who enjoyed riding, and I wasn’t very good at it either, but as I went along and became a more competent rider, all the accolades that have come my way were something I never even dreamed of.
“All I wanted to do was go out there and win as many races as I could and do the best job I could, not only for the owners and trainers, but also the fans.”
The Avelino Gomez Memorial Award ceremony will take place on July 23 at Woodbine, on Woodbine Oaks day.
Although he won’t be present for the ceremony, Baze extended his gratitude to those who will be trackside to take part in the festivities and to those who selected him as this year’s Gomez recipient.
Baze also recognized the enduring legacy of the rider known as “El Perfecto.”
“Avelino set a legacy of excellence. His win percentage was excellent, he won all the big races. What else can you say? He was just a great all-around rider.”
Baze joins Ron Turcotte, Johnny Longden, Sandy Hawley, Don MacBeth, Chris Rogers, Jeff Fell, Lloyd Duffy, Hugo Dittfach, Robin Platts, Larry Attard, Don Seymour, David Gall, Richard Grubb, Irwin Driedger, David Clark, Jim McKnight, Chris Loseth, Richard Dos Ramos, Robert Landry, Francine Villeneuve, Sam Krasner, John LeBlanc Sr., George Ho Sang, Jack Lauzon, Robert King Jr., Stewart Elliott, Emile Ramsammy, Steve Bahen, Mickey Walls, Patrick Husbands, Quincy Welch, Gary Stahlbaum, Gary Boulanger, Emma-Jayne Wilson, Frank Barroby, Eurico Rosa da Silva and Slade Callaghan as Gomez recipients.