Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Russell Baze: Horse Racing's $186 million man

By Piers Edwards, CNN
updated 7:07 AM EDT, Fri September 13, 2013
The race is on to become the 'world's winningest jockey'....... The race is on to become the 'world's winningest jockey'.......
The $186 million man
Miracle Man
'Baze Meadows'
Vintage stuff
Outstanding service
Record Rivals
  • American Russell Baze is only jockey in the world to have ridden over 50,000 races
  • During his four decades of racing, the 55-year-old has amassed over 12,000 winners
  • The prize money he has won for his owners totals nearly $200m

(CNN) -- Heavyweight champions share a variety of qualities -- but one that often exposes their true nature is the desire for more success as soon as it is achieved.

Take former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, whose satisfaction of winning the Premier League would last as long as the very next morning, whereupon he started planning his title defense.

Or Serena Williams, say, who revealed her mindset after she won her 17th grand slam on Sunday, so matching the tally boasted by the legendary Roger Federer in the men's game.

"I think I'm a little crazy, like something must not be right, because I don't even relish the moment enough," the American said after her success. "I just automatically think: 'What's next?'"

The same approach is adopted by American jockey Russell Baze, a veteran of his sport with a sizable collection of wins to his name.

Nothing too unusual there until you realize that Baze is 55 and that his career wins have eclipsed the 12,000 mark.

The rise of German race horses
In search of the perfect horse
Jockey brings Panama flavor to Germany

"You don't look back, you always look forward," the Hall of Famer told CNN, before giving further insight into his single-mindedness.

"Every year when the babies come out, you are always looking to the good two or three-year-olds."

What makes Baze remarkable is that he has ridden in over 50,000 competitive races.

Firm statistics are not out there to prove it but Baze is likely to be the sportsman with the highest number of competitive appearances that the world has ever seen. Certainly, no other jockey has ever ridden so many races.

Nonetheless, so fixated is Baze upon the buzz of being competitive in every race that he is still checking out credible rides for the future -- even as he approaches his 40th year in the sport.

"There's just no more exciting thing to do -- especially when getting paid for it -- than being a jockey. It's very exhilarating," he says.

"I just really enjoy the competition and matching my skills against the other guys. I still really love winning the races."

Read: All the Queen's horses

Now based just south of San Francisco, Baze started riding competitively in Washington state as soon as he was allowed to -- when turning 16 in 1974 -- having been born into a family which had racing as part of its stock.

His first win came a few months later, on a horse trained by his father, a former jockey himself, and the total prize money that Baze has since accumulated stands at a staggering US$186 million.

His career has spawned seasons in the highest echelons of American racing, in Southern California, and participations in the Kentucky Derby and various Grade I races, but it's in the lower end spectrum of racing in North California that Baze is best known (or not, given his relative obscurity outside of racing circles).

At Golden Gate Fields, the diminutive jockey -- who stands just 5'4" (1.63 meters) -- is a giant of the track, fully able to satiate his fierce competitive instincts and, equally as importantly, be given rides that have every chance of crossing the line.

"I am very competitive. No matter what I put my hand to, I try to win it," he says.

"Even tennis against your wife?" I jovially ask, following up on some small talk earlier in our interview.

The Hannon family's racing dynasty
Are you fit enough to be a jockey?
Horse racing's 'speed gene' test

"Yes," came the succinct reply long on steel and short on humor.

The response elicited a degree of sympathy for wife Tami, who he married aged 20 and with whom he has four children, but in reality, Baze credits her with providing the bedrock for his phenomenal career.

Breeding the next generation of champions

"She is definitely a big part of my success," he says. "If a guy doesn't have stability or foundation, then I think he is going to wander off the path -- and not be able to physically do it. It's a big part of it."


For nearly four decades, Baze has not just followed the restrictive diet of a jockey but also led the way in meaty statistics. Of his 50,000 races, a milestone he achieved in January, 'Russell the Muscle' has finished in the money -- the top three places -- over 28,000 times.

He has ridden so successfully that the family home is in Woodside, an area of California often described as one of the 'wealthiest communities in the United States.'

Yet there have been setbacks.

In 1979, well before the likes of Lionel Messi, Roger Federer and Usain Bolt were born, Baze was tearing a disc in his lower back -- one of the few injuries that has continually bothered him in a career where he has broken a litany of bones.

Then then was the horse called 'Event of the Year,' which could have turned into the 'Event of his Career' in 1998. The best ride Baze had ever been given in the Kentucky Derby, the horse went lame just a week before the prestigious race.

"That was a low point, but these things happen," he concedes. "Given the choice, I would have won the Kentucky Derby a couple of times. But I am not going to cry about any of this stuff, because I've had a fantastic career."

Read: he world's longest horse race

Just before he turned 30, he chose to try his luck in Southern California where some of the country's best race tracks are located: Santa Anita and Del Mar among them.

Almost always finishing in the top 10 of the jockey standings during his three years there, he just did not ride enough winners -- by his own admission -- to make it financially worthwhile, so elected to return home to his happy hunting ground.

Queen joyous at Royal Ascot win
Fashion and glamor at Royal Ascot
Frankel: Super freak to super stud?

A better rider following the higher level of competition, he duly set about establishing his undisputed dominance -- finishing as the country's top jockey in terms of wins on 12 different occasions.

"His work ethic is amazing and he's never changed that," says long-term agent Ray Harris when asked about the secrets of Baze's success. "He's one of the greatest gentlemen and emissaries for the game in the history of the sport."

So much so that in 1999 he was inducted into American racing's Hall of Fame.

"Being in the Hall of Fame never even crossed my mind until I was nominated," says Baze, who oozes humility and understatement.

"I never started riding to win fame or accolades -- I just love riding. The fact I've got all these awards is great but that isn't the reason I'm doing it."

Or why he is still doing it -- for the recurring question is, of course, when Baze will finally hang up his stirrups? Some, including Harris himself, wonder if it may come next year, 40 years after it all began.

"Guys are always asking me when I will quit, but I don't have a date in mind," says the man himself. "I really can't think what I would do if I quit. I am healthy, in great nick and I love my job."

Which means he will have plenty of time to add to his win tally -- with Baze having been involved in a lengthy battle with Brazil's Jorge Ricardo for the title of 'world's winningest jockey'.'

Ricardo, 51, had 12,072 winners in July 2012 according to a website that tracks the rivals' battle, while Baze is -- at the time of writing -- on 12,043.

"I don't pay close attention to the statistics as it would be like writing an autobiography before you've actually finished," says Baze. "The number now is not going to be the number when I'm done."

The line is delivered in typically matter-of-fact fashion, a trait that prompted him to declare at one point during our interview: "I'm not the greatest interviewee, am I?"

To be fair, he didn't really seem to want to be. But then, when you've achieved as much as Russell Baze has, your actions shout so loud you don't need to say anything at all.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
He's won six Olympic medals on two legs, but Bode Miller's future will ride on four -- can he replicate his skiing success in the "Sport of Kings"?
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
As a jockey, Philip Blacker lived for the thrills and spills of horse racing. As a sculptor, his work captures the horror of World War I.
updated 11:12 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ever thought zebras couldn't be tamed? Think again. Gary Witheford has a remarkable way with wild animals -- which he proved after a pub boast.
updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu October 9, 2014
The internet went wild for so-called "horse yoga" -- but there was something deeper going on that reconnects humans with the animal world.
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
The going is always soft and the only permanent building is a toilet block. It's the antithesis to the pomp of Royal Ascot ... welcome to Irish beach racing.
updated 7:07 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Each August, over a thousand tents and hundreds of horses converge on Little Big Horn River in Montana for the Crow Fair and Rodeo.
updated 5:57 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Show me the money! Hollywood star Tom Cruise was a big hit when he visited the Glorious Goodwood festival.
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Little-known outside the tribes of the Rocky Mountains in the American northwest, Indian Relay is a "magical" horse-racing relay.
updated 9:25 AM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Now in his 50s, one of the world's most successful jockeys explains why he gave up acting to return to the sport that nearly crippled him.
Winning Post's Francesca Cumani is impressed by the all-round multitasking skills of Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien.
updated 4:53 AM EDT, Sat June 7, 2014
 An infrared camera was used to create this image.) A horse and exercise rider head to the main track for morning training at Belmont Park on June 4, 2014 in Elmont, New York.
More people have walked on the moon than have won the fabled Triple Crown of U.S. horse racing. California Chrome is seeking to square that score.
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
A long history of controversy made him the "enfant terrible" of horse racing, but veteran jockey Kieren Fallon is looking for redemption.