Kelly Baze still finds herself reaching for her phone to call her husband. He was always just a phone call away whenever she wanted to talk to him.
But since the , his 27-year-old wife struggles to remind herself that her husband of three years is gone.
The details of her husband’s death are still murky – he was found around 4:47 p.m. Eastern near the stable area of Churchill Downs in Kentucky, slumped over in the front seat of his car with the engine running. Apparently, the car had been parked and the engine running throughout the day.
Investigators immediately ruled out homicide, leading some to speculate that Michael Baze, who faced a court hearing on cocaine charges and had been reportedly depressed, had died of a drug overdose or committed suicide.
But a recent autopsy turned up inconclusive, although a toxicology report is pending.
Still, Kelly Baze says she knows her husband didn’t commit suicide.
“That wasn’t something he would have done,” said Kelly, who just returned home to Glendora from Washington where the Baze family held a service for Michael, the boyish young man they called M.C. “He cared about his family too much. Things were going really well for him. A drug charge was not something he would have killed himself over.”
Not long after reports of Michael Baze’s death swirled, many eulogized his passing as a great talent unfulfilled.
“It’s a sad day — he had a ton of talent,” his second cousin, Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze told the New York Times.
Michael began his career as a 16-year-old, carrying on the illustrious Baze name in the horseracing world. At 20, he was the youngest jockey since Bill Shoemaker in 1950 to win the Hollywood Park title. In 2007, he was the leading rider in Del Mar and he raked in $9.3 million in purse money.
He and his wife purchased a home in Glendora – a place they grew to love for its riding trails and its proximity to southern California stables and horse parks.
Other commentators used Michael Baze’s death as a sad example of just how rough a rider’s life can be. Former jockeys spoke of rampant drug and alcohol abuse, pressure to maintain the lean and light physique, and long periods away from home.
It was a hard truth Kelly Baze knew very well.
“Being a jockey…it’s difficult,” said Kelly. “One minute you’re on top, next minute things are moving real slow. It’s this constant roller coaster ride.”
Although he found immediate success in the California circuit, Michael’s luck began to dry up. Wins were far in between, he began losing out on riding the best horses and to make matter worse, he was arrested for a DUI. His drinking habits also began to interfere with his performance.
Soon after, Baze made the decision to move to the Midwest to pursue new racing opportunities while his wife stayed behind in Glendora.
A few who knew Michael suggested he was depressed because of his separation from his wife. While Kelly Baze said Michael was depressed, she doesn’t believe the separation was the main factor.
“There was a lot of things Michael kept inside,” said Kelly. “He hid things pretty well.”
But once Michael moved to the Midwest, he began posting better results. He won a jockey title and came in fourth at Oaklawn Park.
But In a sad twist of fate, Michael Baze’s young promising life was cut unexpectedly short. ,
One thing that has given his wife Kelly some comfort in her grief is the inspiration her husband gave horseracing fans around the world.
“I’m amazed at all the comments from people who said Michael touched their lives,” said Kelly. “He worked hard to achieve his dreams and he did. It’s just, who knows what else he would have accomplished?"
Aside from his achievements on the racetrack, the Michael Kelly Baze will always remember is the compassionate and caring young man she married.
"He was always willing to help anyone," said Kelly. "It didn't matter if it was a homeless person asking for change, a neighbor, or a friend in need, he was such a caring person... He was my best friend and biggest cheerleader. I will miss him so much."
Following her husband memorial service, Kelly Baze said she asked a local horse trainer if he could name one of his horses after Michael. The trainer agreed to the arrangement.
“What do you want to name the horse?” the trainer asked.
“M.C.’s Dream,” Kelly replied. “Somehow, M.C.’s legacy will continue to live on.”