Brazilian passes Baze to take record -- for now

Jorge Ricardo is the world's new all-time winningest jockey. The 45-year-old Brazilian scored the 9,591st victory of his career at the Hipodromo Argentino in Palermo, Buenos Aires, on Monday evening to move one ahead of Russell Baze, who was sidelined after cracking a rib at Golden Gate Fields last week.

Ricardo, 25 times the champion jockey in his native Brazil, has been riding in Argentina since the fall. On Monday he guided the Sergio Scabone-trained Minimal to a half-length victory in the Premio Yanca, a 5 1/2-furlong allowance for winners of three races. It was one of 10 rides on the 13-race Palermo card for Ricardo, who had signaled his readiness to take the all-time lead last Wednesday when he had ridden six consecutive winners at San Isidro to move within six of Baze, who had passed Laffit Pincay Jr. for the all-time lead only on Dec. 1.

A win at La Plata on Thursday, two at Palermo on Friday, two more on Saturday at San Isidro - including a stakes score on Sarapia in the Group 2 Clasico Juan Shaw - and another at La Plata on Sunday enabled Ricardo to draw even with Baze.

On Monday, before a sparse crowd at Palermo, a dirt track just north of downtown Buenos Aires, Ricardo's single victory gave him a one-race lead that will surely be challenged again and again when the Canadian-born Baze returns to riding, possibly as early as Thursday. In fact, there would appear to be no end to the Ricardo vs. Baze duel until one or the other decides to hang up his tack.

On the face of it, Ricardo would appear to have two advantages over his North American rival. At 45, he is three years younger than Baze. More important, in riding in Buenos Aires, he has at his disposal three racetracks - San Isidro, Palermo, and La Plata - one or another of which is open every day of the week throughout the year with full cards of between 12 and 14 races per day. Baze, on the other hand, is based in northern California, where Golden Gate and Bay Meadows generally run eight- to 10-race cards five days a week, 10 months of the year, before breaking for the northern California fair circuit each summer.

Born in Rio on Sept. 30, 1961, Jorge Ricardo hails from a family of jockeys. His father Antonio, also known as "Banana," and two uncles rode the Brazilian circuit in the 1960's and 1970's. Jorge took out his apprentice license on Nov. 11, 1976, and rode his first winner six weeks later at Gavea in Rio aboard Taim, who just happened to be trained by his father. A fast learner, Ricardo earned journeyman stripes just seven months later on June 19, 1977.

Since then, the man affectionately known to Brazilian racing fans as "Ricardinho" has been crowned Brazil's champion rider every year from 1982 through 2006. His best season came in 1992-93 when he made 477 visits to the winner's circle, but he has won at least 400 races in a single year five times.

Ricardo made something of an international splash in 1994, when he rode Much Better to a 14th-place finish in a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe won by Carnegie. By common consent, Much Better is the best horse Ricardo has ever ridden. A son of Baynoun, he was the highest-rated Thoroughbred in South America in both 1994 and 1995. He won four Group 1's with Ricardo in the saddle, among them the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini, the South American equivalent of the Arc, at San Isidro in 1994.

Until moving his tack to Buenos Aires, Ricardo did almost all of his riding in Brazil. Before last year, he had ridden just 151 winners outside of his native land, but his success in Argentina - where he is competing against a deep jockey colony that includes Pablo Falero, Juan Noriega, and Jorge Valdivieso - suggests that Jorge Ricardo is still very much at the peak of his considerable powers.