Jockey Michael Baze, who won nearly 1,000 horse races in a nine-year career, died from an accidental overdose of cocaine and a prescription pain medication before his body was found at Churchill Downs last month, the coroner’s office said Friday.
The 24-year-old Baze was pronounced dead on May 10 in his vehicle near the stables at the famed Louisville track.
Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jim Wesley said the cause of death was multiple substance intoxication. Significant amounts of cocaine and the pain medication oxymorphone were found in Baze’s system, said Wesley, citing toxicology results.
Baze was facing a drug possession charge at the time of his death. The week he died, he was scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing on a charge of first-degree possession of cocaine. He also was supposed to ride a horse that day at Churchill Downs.
Baze was arrested last November in a parking lot near downtown Louisville after a detective found a small bag of suspected cocaine in Baze’s pants pocket, according to the arrest warrant.
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith mentored Baze when he began his riding career in California. Smith said he and Baze had discussed the younger rider’s difficulty falling asleep.
”Hopefully, something like that will pick up some of the younger riders’ heads and they know what can happen,” he said.
Baze amassed earnings of more than $32 million in a nine-year career that included nearly 7,000 starts and 918 first-place finishes.
Horse racing was in his bloodlines. He is the son of retired jockey Mike Baze. An uncle, Gary Baze, was also a jockey and one of his cousins is all-time leading rider Russell Baze. Another cousin, Tyler Baze, is a prominent rider in California.
Baze started riding on the California circuit, taking out his racing license at Hollywood Park on his 16th birthday in 2003.
In 2007, he won the spring-summer meet at Hollywood, becoming, at 20, the youngest to win a meet title there since Bill Shoemaker in 1950. He also won the meet title at Del Mar that year.
His career was slowed by a fractured bone in his neck following a spill in June 2008. He relocated to Chicago last year, winning the meet title at Arlington Park.