Vicky Baze won't say riding Double Shuffle, a four-year-old bay gelding, is like going from an old beater to a Jaguar. That just isn't her way of speaking.
She did say, however, "He's an absolute pleasure to ride, and it's a blessing to ride an intelligent horse."
Last Saturday, Baze rode Double Shuffle to a convincing come-from-behind, one-length victory in the mile-and-three-eighths $75,000 Speed to Spare Stakes at Edmonton's Northlands Park.
It was their third stakes win this season. They teamed up for the first time on July 9, to win the one-mile, $30,000 Wheat City Stakes, and stepped up to a mile and one-sixteenth July 31, to win the $30,000 R.J. Speers Stakes, both at Assiniboia Downs.
"I think I was just fortunate enough to get on a horse that was absolutely becoming a monster in his own right," said Baze. "He is steady, intelligent, and nothing ruffles his feathers."
Shortly after the Speers Stakes win, his Edmonton-based trainer Robertino Diodoro decided to place him among faster company, by entering him in the Speed to Spare last weekend, where he left the gate at seven-to-one odds.
Claimed last summer for a $17,500 tag for owners Don Mazepa and Darryl Paranica, Diodoro said he saw the horse's potential, but at the time, he figured him for, "a solid $25,000 claimer. I just didn't think he'd get this good."
When he brought the horse from Phoenix to Edmonton, he didn't really want to run him. "I had entered him a couple of times in shorter races, but the mile races just weren't filling. I knew he liked the route of ground, and going into the race he was training like a monster. It's the biggest race of the year for older horses."
Jodi Rintul, who handles Double Shuffle for Diodoro, also sees the potential in the horse.
"In my 30 years of training here at the Downs, this is the best horse I have ever worked with. Shuffle is the kind of horse that he's in the gate, and away he goes. He knows exactly what to do, and when to do it, making my job very easy. I'm just the caretaker for him, and he does the rest.
"Robertino (who has six horses at Assiniboia Downs) is looking to expand a little bit," said Rintul. "He sent him over here, figuring it was a little bit easier here, but he found out it was very easy for Shuffle, so he opted to try him in Edmonton on the bull ring (Northlands Park has a smaller track circumference and tighter turns), and he showed he can handle both. I watched him on TV, and he was sitting six wide for most of the race, so in essence he ran a mile and a half. He has such a great air and determination about himself, and he handles it with such ease."
Actually when that gate opened in Edmonton, it was only him and Baze all the way to the wire. "The key to being a good rider, I think, is to be a good passenger, and to interfere as little as possible with the horse," Baze said. "I'm the one who is fortunate enough to be able to ride him, and the best part of riding him is just being on his back and letting him do his job. I don't have to do anything on that horse, he's all pro."
Double Shuffle's next big race will be here, Sept. 18, when he goes after the $72,500, mile-and-one-eighth Gold Breeders' Cup Stakes.
In the meantime, there's racing as usual tonight and Saturday. Today's card includes the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society $40,000 Stakes and the $50,000 Distaff Stakes. Saturday, the Jack Hardy $30,000 Stakes is featured on the eight-race program. Post time both days is 7 p.m.