A new hired gun from Washington State blew into Assiniboia Downs last week, and he's fast. Really fast.
Gary Baze rode a pair of opening-day winners Sunday, serving notice to the resident top gun Alan Cuthbertson that this town may not be big enough for both of them.
Cuthbertson, the Downs' leading jockey three years running and winner of more than 100 races a year for the last four seasons, had only one win and a third Sunday. Still, he isn't quaking in his boots. When asked about the new guy, the 62-year-old jockey simply smiled and said, "Competition is always good. It makes me try a little bit harder, and maybe that's what I need."
"You know, Alan is a great rider," Baze said Wednesday, while taking the day off due to the rain and high winds. "This is his course, and so what I have to do is be on a better horse, and hope I get lucky."
At 53, Baze doesn't take comfort from the fact that his major competition is nine years his senior. "He doesn't ride like an old man. He looks good on a horse, and he rides a smart race," said Baze. "This is his track, and right now he has a definite edge."
A member of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame, and closing in on 3,500 lifetime wins, Baze met up with local owner/trainer Charlie Gibson in California during the off-season, and Gibson asked him to consider racing here this summer.
"This is a part of the country I've never been to before, so I thought it would be interesting," Baze explained. "When I got up here, I made contact with some other trainers such as Jared Brown and Emile Corbel."
It's obvious he intends to stay, since his wife Vicky, who is one of the top female jockeys in North America, has joined him, and also plans to race but must wait to secure her licence.
"At present, due to the number of jockeys currently in the room, approval to ride here has not been granted by the Canadian Jockey's Guild for Vicky Baze," explained Darren Dunn, director of operations at Assiniboia Downs. "As a foreign citizen, permission from the guild is required. We would welcome her addition to the colony at the earliest opportunity. The situation is, and will remain, actively under review."
Vicky is also an outstanding jockey. "I'm a couple of wins shy of 2,000," she said, "but I am not sure of the exact number."
Whether she gets her licence or not, she is optimistic. "I look at the positives, the cup is half full. Either way I'll have an enjoyable summer here."
Baze and Vicky have been riding together since 1985, and have been married since 1999.
"You know, when we get in a race, we are aware of each other, but we both want to win," he said. "We're not going to put each other over the rail, but we're not going to give someone else a chance either. I respect her ability a lot. There are horses that will run for her that will not run for other riders, just because she's got that little special thing that horses respond to."
Vicky described that special thing as, "just getting along. I try to be a good passenger, be aware of my surroundings, and let them do their job. The real work is done in the barn with the trainers, and the people working around them every day. Those horses, by the time they get to the race, and we're on them, already know what they're out there for. There's nothing going to be accomplished by fighting with the horse. Good riders will adapt to the horse, rather than vice versa."
For his induction into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame, writer Kate Barton quoted Baze as saying. "Everybody has a crossroads in their life where they wish they would have done something different, or gone somewhere else, but I'm happy with what I've done. From the time that I was a kid, I just wanted to do the best I could for the job I had to do that day."
Perhaps that adequately describes the attitude, and work ethic, Baze will display at Assiniboia Downs this season.
The book on Baze
Born: Oct. 25, 1955 in Sunnyside, Wash.
Career wins: More than 3,300
Major honour: Inducted into Washington Racing Hall of Fame in 2003
Apprenticed: 1972 at Playfair Race Course, in Spokane, Wash.
Longacres Mile 1980, '81, '85, '87, '93
Canadian Derby, 1985
Malibou Stakes, 1985
Arlington Handicap, 1987
Las Cienegas Handicap, 1987
San Pasqual Handicap, 1987
San Simeon Handicap, 1987
California Stakes, 1987
British Columbia Derby, 2000
Washington Breeders' Cup Oaks, 2000, '01, '03