Don't let her classy demeanour and old-school manners fool you. Vicky Baze is a tigress in the saddle.
The sad part is we had to wait this long to see her ride. And the only reason we're seeing her at all right now is because her husband, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Baze, got hurt.
"That was a terrible way to get a chance to ride," said Vicky. "But Gary comes every day to see me ride. It's so nice to see his smiling face after every race. He says he's really enjoying watching me."
There are only so many spots in the Assiniboia Downs jockey colony allocated for non-Canadian riders every year and those spots were full -- until Gary got hurt. But don't kid yourself, there were a few in the jocks' room that did not want Vicky Baze riding here at all. Not because she's an American, but because they knew she would take money out of their pockets.
And it's the fans and bettors that benefit. Gary Baze might have been leading rider at the Downs if he had not been hurt. A consummate professional, he looked superb on a horse, but there was more to it than that. He would ride hard even to get third money and he surprised more than a few at the wire to steal a placing. That had the effect of waking up some of the passenger riders.
And the wake-up call only continued when Vicky Baze began riding here.
So how does she do it? She starts by reading the Daily Racing Form and planning her strategy before every race, listens to the trainer in the paddock, and most importantly, listens to the horse during the post parade.
"You can have muscles up the ying-yang but that doesn't mean a thing," she said. "It's finesse, thinking and communication with a horse that wins races. Even the best riders can only do so much. I try to get a feel for the horse in post parade. Some you have to be aggressive with and others you just have to leave alone."
Baze won her first race here on July 31 aboard 9-1 long shot Fusaichi Saint and hasn't looked back. She's now won 10 races, finished second nine times and third three times from only 43 mounts. Four more wins and she'll be in the top 10 in the standings -- after riding here for only seven race days.
More humble than you can possibly imagine, Baze commented on her success, "Horses have off days, just like people. You happen to get on them on a good day and they can run much better. I just happened to have a lot of good days lately."
An only child born on Christmas Day, the 44-year-old Baze spent much of her childhood travelling around Navy bases in Europe with her father George and her mother Winnie, who is originally from Scotland. She got her early education with horses in England and it stood her well when she began riding in the U.S.
As a 4-foot-10, 97-pound woman in a male-dominated industry it took her a while to get a break. "I was knee-high to a sheep," she said. "It was tough getting started." But once she did...
Baze won her first race on June 6, 1985 as Vicky Aragon. (She married Gary Baze in 1999.) She then went on to win 73 races in nine weeks at Longacres, a major track in Washington. A week after she lost her apprenticeship bug in 1986, she won six races from nine mounts on one day. She was also the first woman to win riding titles at a major racetrack, topping the standings at Longacres in 1986 and 1988. She also led the standings at Yakima racetrack twice.
The official Equibase stats show that Baze has won 1,787 races and purses of $11,812,875, putting her either close to or among the top five female jockeys of all time, but there are no officially tracked stats among women, according to Equibase.
Injuries have forced Baze into semi-retirement on a number of occasions, and she has spent some of that time developing a small Web business, Bon Chance Horseshoes (www.bonchancehorseshoes.com), where she creates and sells beautiful decorative horseshoe gifts.
But really, how good was she?
Sports Illustrated ran a feature story on her 1987 entitled Battling For Her Place, in which Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens was quoted regarding a stretch duel with her.
"It took everything I had to beat her."