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INGLEWOOD – Michael Baze was battling depression at the time of his death, although the 24-year-old jockey was remembered for his kindness and warmth even in the competitive environment of the racetrack.Baze’s wife, Kelly, mentioned her late husband’s depression during a memorial on Thursday at Hollywood Park, where Baze won the riding title in 2007, becoming, at 20, the youngest to win a title at the track since Bill Shoemaker in 1950.Baze was found dead in his car near the stables at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on May 10. He was always the little man of the house because there was no father figure.” At the time of his death, Baze was facing a preliminary hearing after being charged with first-degree possession of cocaine last November in Louisville.His mother, Teri Gibson, said she was notified by the Jefferson County coroner of her son’s cause of death, but declined to provide details pending results of toxicology results expected to be announced Friday. Gibson said her son had battled depression for several years and had difficulty sleeping since he was a child.“From March on, he’s been really good,” she said, speaking in present tense about her late son.
Other riders included Joel Rosario, Baze’s cousin, Tyler, Patrick Valenzuela, Joe Talamo, Kayla Stra, Joe Steiner and Paul Atkinson. I just liked him right away,” said Pincay, who was already retired when Baze arrived on the scene.“I was shocked that something like that could happen to such a young man.He had so much potential to become a great rider.” After the memorial, Smith recalled Gibson had called him years earlier asking him to mentor her oldest son when he moved to California to ride. “He was just like a son, he’d take it all in so quick,” Smith said.“Before I knew it, he was kicking my butt out on the racetrack.
I was always so proud of him, kind of felt like I had a little piece of (his success).” Baze took out his jockey’s license at Hollywood Park on his 16th birthday.He won the riding title at Del Mar in 2007, and scored wins in several major stakes races.He finished second aboard Nehro in this year’s Louisiana Derby.After riding in California, he moved to New Jersey’s Monmouth Park, where in 2003 he met Kelly, who said she was attracted to Baze’s “crystal blue eyes.” “Today is very hard for me,” she said, her voice breaking as she spoke to about 125 people.