Louisville police are investigating the mysterious death of a troubled but promising young jockey found dead in his car at Churchill Downs, just days after the Kentucky Derby, where a horse he once rode to victory placed second.
Michael Baze, 24, was found dead Tuesday, in the back of his still idling SUV in the stable area of the track near Gate 5.
"There doesn't appear to be foul play," said Louisville Police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley. "But we are awaiting the coroner's report and autopsy. This is a death investigation as opposed to a homicide."
Baze was found by police late Tuesday afternoon, but witnesses said the jockey had parked in the lot around 2:30 a.m. that morning and his Cadillac SUV had been idling all day.
It is believed he was out drinking Monday night before arriving at the track.
Baze was to meet his new agent at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs, where the two men planned to meet with trainers to find the jockey a new mount.
"He sounded good the night before," said agent Bob Kelly. "He texted me at 9:38 p.m. the night before and I was supposed to meet him at 6 a.m."
Baze, who comes from a prominent jockey family, had 918 wins and career purse earnings of $32.4 million out of 6,968 mounts, according to Equibase. His last race was April 29.
Despite early success -- he was the youngest rider since Bill Shoemaker in 1950 to win a riding title at the Hollywood Park track -- Baze had fallen on tough times.
Baze had recently lost a mount after showing up drunk and registering a 1.8 on blood-alcohol test.
"He had history of drinking," Kelly said. "But he was a good rider. He planned to meet people and show that he wanted to be here, that he wanted to ride."
Kelly said he had called and texted Baze repeatedly Tuesday morning, but assumed the jockey had blown off the meeting to return to the West Coast.
"We were going walk around and shake some hands, but he never answered phone the next day. I kept calling and texting him," he said.
Baze was a cousin of Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze, the all-time leading rider in thoroughbred racing, and is the son of retired jockey Mike Baze.
He was not married.
On Feb. 21, Baze rode the horse Nehro to the horse's only victory at Oaklawn in the Louisiana Derby. Nehro, without Baze aboard, came in second on Saturday at the Kentucky Derby.