A short time ago, Vicky Baze discovered Crock-Pots, instantly changing her life for the better.
She wouldn't go so far as to say the discovery was an epiphany, launching her into an all-new spiritual direction. What she did say, however, was that it sure makes life a lot easier for her and her husband Gary, both of whom are jockeys at Assiniboia Downs and share the confined space of a motorhome.
"After 20 years, I cannot believe I've just discovered a Crock-Pot," she laughed. "We just take a roast like it's a football, fling it across the room and it lands in the Crock-Pot. When we come home after the races, dinner is ready. It's like having a private cook."
Regarding the close quarters of their motorhome, "it hasn't really been that difficult," Baze said. "Gary and I are great companions and the motorhome has everything we need. The beauty of it all is less housekeeping, and for girls, that's a big deal."
Baze, along with Janine Stianson, Alyssa Harder and the new kid on the paddock, Janine Smith, are the women jockeys of Assiniboia Downs. Heading into tonight's races, and with only six meets remaining, Baze and Stianson find themselves locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the leading jockey title. In addition, either one would make Downs history as the first woman to win the title if she is sitting on top of the standings when the last race of the season is done on Sept. 26. Standing in a solid position to thwart both women is last year's leading jockey, Larren Delorme, who isn't about to roll over and give up.
Following Wednesday's card, Baze led with 63 wins. Stianson, who rode the first two months of this season with an asterisk beside her name while finishing off her apprenticeship, is second with 62 and Delorme is third with 60.
Baze, 46, is a veteran and handles the limelight well. She has already carved out her niche as one of the top women jockeys in North America. She plays down the leading-rider angle, but make no mistake: Every time the gate opens, Baze has one thing on her mind, and that is winning.
On the other hand, Stianson, 28, finds herself in a dilemma of sorts. She would prefer to fly under the media radar, as she considers her private life off limits. "The more I have to do with the horses and the less I have to do with the social end of it, the happier I am," she said. However, this Yorkton dynamo, who cut her teeth racing quarter-horses in Alberta, has created a star persona for herself that isn't going away any time soon.
After all, when you win the first four races on opening day of the Downs' 50th anniversary in 2008, leave midway through the season due to fines for whipping infractions and finish the year by winning the Sovereign Award as the nation's top apprentice jockey, people tend to take notice.
Add to that the fact that she has seven stakes victories this year (two on quarter-horses), and it's getting even harder for her to keep a low profile.
Harder and Smith are both apprentice riders. Harder, however, is five months pregnant with her second child. She left midway through the season so she and her 21/2-year-old son Amar could live with her parents in Stephenfield. "I'll be back first thing in May next year," she insists. When she pulled up stakes, she had four wins.
British Columbia rider Smith got her first three rides here on Aug. 11 and broke her maiden on Aug. 13 while riding chestnut gelding R. Fast Favourite. "The horse ran great," she recalled. "I was really happy to win for Tom (trainer Gardipy), since he was the one who encouraged me to come out here." Heading into today's race card, Smith's record stood at three wins.
Before coming here in mid-August, Smith spent three-and-a-half years galloping in Edmonton, Saskatoon and Lethbridge, as well as in the United States. Though not a religious person, she knows the risks involved in horse racing and wears a St. Christopher charm around her neck just the same. "A lot of the riders have one attached to the back of their helmets, and Tom (Gardipy) puts one on all of his horses' bridles. We all have somebody watching us out here, and I do believe there is something bigger than all of this, right? There's got to be."
"It's very easy to get infatuated in the world of horse racing," said Baze, who does live a faith-based life. "Yes, we want to win -- it's our livelihoods. But there are a lot of things going on outside of our world, so I try not to be so dominated and narrow-minded about myself. The biggest outlet for me is my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is what keeps me grounded."
Being a jockey is not your 9-to-5 job. "When we're racing," said Baze, "we go to the track (around 5:30 a.m.), have coffee, gallop horses, come home around noon, take a shower and a nap, and then we go back to the track. Sometimes by the time the last race runs, we get home, make dinner and unwind, gosh, it's 2 a.m. by the time I get to bed."
There are only six days of live racing left, including the $300,000 Super Stakes weekend tonight and Saturday.
Stianson and Baze have some serious riding to do as they turn into the stretch.