There may be closer relationships in sports than jockey and agent, but you'd have to look hard.
That's why the end of the business relationshipof Tyler Baze and Vic Stauffer is a story worth telling. While it lasted, it had the elements of an ongoing honeymoon. When the recent divorce came, it was sad and logical and understandable and accepted in the horse racing community as one of those things that happens frequently.
Which it is.
Neither Stauffer, 51, nor Baze, 28, is a household name, even in some racing households.
Besides filling jockeys' books, Stauffer is a race-caller. That is his first love, and he has found prominence for about a decade at Hollywood Park, after drifting for years from microphone to microphone at places such as Livonia, Mich.; Sallislaw, Okla., and Yakima, Wash.
Many of his former tracks are closed now, and Stauffer, a man with wit and self-effacing humor, says, "I probably had a hand in some of those."
Tyler Baze comes from the state of Washington, where the Baze families raised jockeys. Tyler's father and mother were jockeys. Michael Baze, another prominent rider, is Tyler's second cousin. Michael's father rode at Longacre and Portland Meadows. Another riding Baze, Gary, is Tyler's uncle. Hall of Famer Russell Baze is Tyler's second cousin.
As a jockey, Tyler Baze has boomed and been a bust. He has won riding titles at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita and has been among the top money-winning jockeys nationally. He has also battled bulimia and alcohol and once went 62 races without a victory at Del Mar.
When racing at Del Mar began last summer, the working union of Stauffer and Baze was comfortably intact. Baze was riding well and Stauffer was hustling to get him horses. He says he was a smarter agent then. Five months earlier, he had been handling the books of Joel Rosario and Martin Garcia. That didn't end well. After Garcia won the Santa Anita Big Cap aboard Bob Baffert's Misremembered, Rosario fired Stauffer.
"Why would I think it would be OK to have those two guys at the same time?" Stauffer says now. "Why did I think I would be able to juggle two guys in the top 10 in the nation?"
Leading up to the first weekend of racing at Del Mar, Stauffer had a promise from trainer Peter Miller on a horse named Night Justice in the fifth race July 24. Miller also had Corey Nakatani penciled in to ride the horse, and when he shifted Baze to another entry that didn't make the race, Stauffer went to work, insisting to Miller that Baze had been promised the first ride.
"It was a maiden claimer, a lot of first-time starters," Stauffer says. "But I made an annoyance of myself until Peter agreed and put Tyler on the horse."
Night Justice was skittish before the race, but there were no serious red flags. Then, being led to the gate, he jerked his head back and smashed Baze's face. Baze was thrown off and was unconscious for a minute or so, and there was blood everywhere. He had suffered a broken nose, had fractured the orbital bone around his eye in 10 places and had his teeth severely pushed back.
"In the hospital," Stauffer says, "He was talking about riding the next day."
Stauffer also says, "If I hadn't pushed to get him on that horse, he wouldn't have gotten hurt."
The hospital room was chaotic. Baze, who also had a concussion, was in pain and antsy. Then fellow jockey Rafael Bejarano arrived. Almost a year to the day previously, Bejarano had suffered similar injuries at Del Mar. According to Stauffer, Baze and Bejarano were working acquaintances, not go-out-to-dinner buddies.
"It was amazing what happened," Stauffer says. "Bejarano calmed him down, told him he had been through this and that he could get through it too.
"Then he sat with him and held his hand. Tyler's nose wouldn't stop bleeding, and every once in a while, Bejarano would reach up with his other hand and kind of squeegee the blood away with his finger. For one person to do that for another, well, it was like nothing I had seen before."
Baze eventually had surgery to repair the damage and began working horses again. The fractures were healed, he was fit, but something was wrong. Aboard a horse, his vision was fine to the right, left and down. But looking up over the horse's head, he had double vision. He'd work a horse, get off and throw up. It turns out that, after the surgery, his right eye couldn't quite reach the vision level of his left.
Baze had surgery again three weeks ago in an attempt to fix this. Now, he's talking about getting on horses in a couple of weeks. Doctors say more like six to eight weeks.
Last month, Stauffer, who had a slight stroke two years ago from which he completely recovered, told Baze he was getting out of the agent business. He says that his time away from it, forced by Baze's injury, has shown him the joy of not having a job that is seven days a week, 16 hours a day.
"I whistle now," he says. "I sleep well at night."
He calls Baze "just the best guy" and says he will be fine. "He is the product. He will kick butt again."
He says Baze wasn't happy with his decision, and has asked him to reconsider. Stauffer says he won't. The way he said it sounded like a definite maybe.
Relationships are like that.