Published May 11, 2011
Jockey Michael Baze, found dead in his vehicle Tuesday in the Churchill Downs stable area, was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Thursday on a cocaine charge.
According to court records, the 24-year-old from Glendora, Calif., was scheduled for a preliminary hearing after being charged with first-degree possession of cocaine in November. Baze was listed to ride a horse in the eighth race at Churchill Downs on Thursday on the overnight entries.
Louisville police arrested him Nov. 18 in a parking lot near downtown after he gave a detective consent to search his 2010 Dodge, according to the arrest warrant. The warrant said the detective found a small baggie of suspected cocaine in Baze's pants pocket.
There has been no report filed on Baze's death as Louisville police say they are waiting for autopsy results from the Jefferson County coroner.
Three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Gary Stevens is Baze's uncle by marriage. Stevens and his former wife, Toni Baze, were married for thirteen years and have four children. He learned of the news Tuesday while golfing with their oldest son.
Stevens said racing has lost one of its rising stars.
"To me, he was one of the premier riders in the country as far as me watching every day. And there's no bias there; the kid could just flat ride," Stevens said. "I think he was just starting to get the notoriety and the respect from the horseman."
Stevens said he last saw young Baze on March 26 at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
"I saw him at the Louisiana Derby when he came into ride Nehro. We talked briefly but he seemed a little distant, like he had a lot of things on his mind," Stevens said. "It was a Derby day and stuff, so I understand that.
"He had a great future ahead of him. You never know what's going on in somebody's head or with their personal life."
Some of those closest to Baze say they are shocked by his death.
Peter Artieda, a fellow jockey and best man in Baze's wedding, was planning to see Baze Monday but said Baze canceled their plans after oversleeping.
"We were supposed to actually hang out Monday during the day. He was supposed to ride at Indiana (Downs) Monday night. He had texted me, actually, Monday afternoon saying that he fell asleep and that he was sorry that he didn't get back to me."
Artieda said he saw Baze last week in the Churchill Downs jockey's room and felt nothing was out of the ordinary with his friend.
"I couldn't sense anything," he said. "Honestly, to me, he never said or showed any stresses."
Jon Schuster, general manager of Indiana Downs in Shelbyville, Ind., said Baze was listed in the program to ride Monday evening's sixth race.
Baze seemed to destined to ride as he comes from a racing family.
His cousin is thoroughbred racing's all-time leading rider, Russell Baze, and he is the son of retired jockey Mike Baze. Another cousin, Tyler Baze, is a prominent rider in California and his uncle, Gary Baze, was also a jockey.
The Courier-Journal reports that Baze was considered a rising star on the Southern California circuit when at age 20 he became the youngest rider since Bill Shoemaker in 1950 to win a riding title at Hollywood Park. Baze also won the title at Del Mar’s meet in 2007, according to the newspaper.
A fractured bone in his neck following a spill in June 2008 slowed his career. He chose to relocate to Chicago last year, winning the meet title at Arlington Park.
Artieda said Baze didn't rely on the family name to succeed on the track.
"He did it on his own. He struggled. A lot of people thought it was handed to him, but no, he paid his dues."
Stevens said the news of Baze's death was "just shocking."
"It's such a huge loss. He's a good kid and he's just a baby, you know."
Stevens, an analyst for NBC Sports, was still in Louisville following the network's coverage of the Kentucky Derby. He came to the Churchill Downs backside Wednesday morning to collect his thoughts and be among friends.
"It's really hard on everyone. I don't really know what to say. I had a long night last night and I needed to get out of the house," Stevens said. "I wanted to come down here and I'm glad that I was still in town. His dad is going to need some support."
Stevens said Mike Baze was flying to Louisville Wednesday afternoon to view his son's body and prepare arrangements.
Baze finished second by a neck in the Louisiana Derby after guiding Nehro to his only win on Feb. 21. Jockey Corey Nakatani has ridden Nehro in the two races following the Louisiana Derby, finishing second in both the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbies. Baze never rode in the Kentucky Derby.
Baze had 238 mounts this year with 34 wins, 41 seconds and 38 third places, and his mounts earned nearly $1.2 million, Asher said. He had 6,969 career starts with 918 wins with mounts earning $32 million.
Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher called Baze's death "a tremendous and unthinkable loss."
"He had so much potential down the road," Asher said. "It doesn't make sense to any of us right now."
The Associated Press contributed to this report