Thursday, January 8, 2009

Signs of the Times



Russell Baze won the second race at Golden Gate Fields today. Just another one for the world's winningest jockey? Perhaps, but the guy is remarkable. He rides the cheap claiming horses just as hard as the stakes winners. And, if you know Russell, he wants to win the low level races just as bad.
That was certainly the case when I saw him 24 hours earlier in my neck of the woods in a rare appearance at Portland Meadows.
Baze, along with a group of other Bay Area riders was in town to compete in a brief Portland Meadows vs. Golden Gate Fields jockey challenge. Mostly a media creation, the day did give locals an opportunity to get an autograph from a living legend. If you can think of a jockey, any jockey, Bill Shoemaker, Lafitte Pincay, Pat day, Eddie Arcaro, Lester Piggott, anyone...Baze has more wins.
Before he assumed his position signing promo pictures, Russell Baze was standing by the paddock visiting with some old friends he hadn't seen in years. I glided up to him and re-introduced myself. I knew my face would be familiar so I reminded him that I was indeed the guy that wrote his Hall of Fame article for The Bloodhorse magazine eight years ago.
"Oh Yeah," he replied. The guy is a genuinely nice guy. "I'm up here now and I just wanted to say hello," I said.
"Whatja get banished?" he shot back. We both laughed.
" No, I retired and I like to fish. How about something different?" I asked. "Why don't you sign my Racing Form." Before I finished the sentence, his large slanted signature adorned the front page of my form. It was right next to word PORTLAND (Meadows)
I figured this might be worth more someday. If nothing else, it's documented proof that the great "Russell Muscle" indeed rode a few horses in Stumptown. After all, his first winner was named Oregon Warrior.
II
Farewell to a young turf writer named Claire Novak. She recently lost her job as the Bloodhorse laid off about 10% of their staff. The thoroughbred business, as most others, has been hard hit by the economic recession/depression. As if the financial crisis isn't hard enough, the revolution in technology, the loss of newspapers, the way we get our news, opinions, even ideas is changing daily. Careers are ending before they can fully develop, fully mature.
I refuse to offer up all that drivel about landing on your feet, something good will come from this, keep on keepin' on. Claire is hurting and will be forced to fend for herself quite possibly away from the world of horses she so loves. The opportunities are fading, but the horses aren't. I hope both the young turf writer and the sport can reinvent themselves and survive. I hope.

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