The Breeders’ Cup Forum: Chantal Sutherland

by | 02.02.2012 | 6:34am
"I do have unfinished business," Sutherland tells The Guardian

Chantal Sutherland is a two-time Sovereign Award-winning apprentice in her native Canada in 2001-02 who is holding her own in the highly competitive Southern California jockeys colony. Sutherland, represented by agent Brian Beach, is winning at a 13% clip and finishing in the top three 46% of the time.

As the regular rider of Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude for trainer Bob Baffert, Sutherland nearly pulled off a 14-1 upset in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, losing in the final strides to Drosselmeyer and her ex-fiance, Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. She'll be back aboard the son of Awesome Again this Sunday in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap.

Sutherland, who has done extensive modeling, including a photo shoot with the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz for Vogue magazine, has been featured on People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People list, was a star of the Animal Planet reality series Jockeys and has a role on the new HBO series, LUCK.  She recently announced her engagement to Dan Kruse, an executive with his family's Southern California meat-manufacturing company.

Has your career met or exceeded expectations you set for yourself when you first made up your mind to become a jockey?
I did just about everything I set out to do when I started. I really didn't think I would ever achieve those things.

Have you set new career goals as a rider?
Yes, I've got 90 some wins to get to 1,000, and I'd like to do that this year. It was easier to win races in Canada – the fields in California are not as big, and it is so competitive. I also really want to hold on to Game On Dude, and it's a dream to ride in the Dubai World Cup. If he runs well in the San Antonio, that's the direction he's going.

I'm hoping to ride more every day, and win consistently. I'm not going to say I can make the top three or the top five. It really is hard out here. But I do want to ride more and have the opportunity to win more races.

What do you think your strengths are as a rider?
I'm a smart, heady rider and can read a race pretty well. I'm proud of myself for that. I read other riders well, too. I'm also good at getting horses to calm down – it's something I work on. Of course, some horses will make liars out of you and they will act up. I'm also good at saving ground and being aggressive,

Do you have areas where you think you can improve?

I rode a horse Sunday (Utopian, finished fourth in Santa Anita's sixth race Jan. 29, after getting shuffled back on the inside). I read the race, I knew Martin Garcia was on speed horse, and it was a big field, I knew someone would come off the rail, and wanted to save ground, stay on the rail. But I had to wait, and there's a fine line between pushing your way out and getting in trouble. You can always say woulda coulda shoulda.

Sometimes I think I may hit too hard left-handed. My best races are when I don't use the whip that much. That goes back to making the horse run for you. Sometimes I may be guilty of using the whip too hard or too much.  I'm always looking for ways to improve.

Growing up, you played field hockey, trying out for a Canadian junior World Cup team. Did you compete against young men in any other sports like you're doing now?
When I played field hockey in Canada, when I was about 18, we practiced against the guys  who were on the under 16 team. We tried against guys our own age, but they were too big and too fast.

I've always been very competitive, though as I've gotten older, I've learned there are times not to be so competitive. You have to learn to relax.

Female jockeys seem to have greater opportunities at Woodbine than they might elsewhere. Do you think that's true, and what might be the reason for that?
I think it depends on what girl and how good a rider she is. Emma Jayne Wilson (third-leading rider at Woodbine in 2011, the same rank that Sutherland achieved there in 2010) is one of the best female riders I've seen, along with Rosemary Homeister and Rosie Napravnik. I'm not saying anything negative about anyone else, but those three really impress me. They all do well in their circuit. In Canada, there's seven other girls who never get a mount. I think Emma Jayne is just that good.

In some ways, 2011 was a breakthrough year for you, especially with Game On Dude, but you had fewer opportunities than you'd had previously. Is that something you hope to change?
It's tough in California. I love winning races and making money, but it is kind of humbling. I've got to be honest – some days are really tough. Coming here was a lot like being an apprentice, you've got to work your way up the ladder. Some things in life you have to accept.  That's not going to stop me. I'm going to continue to work hard.

You've done a lot of work in front of the camera. How different was it playing the role in LUCK vs the Jockeys show on Animal Planet or anything else you've done?
The reality series was time consuming. LUCK is totally different and it's something I have really enjoyed. You've got to know your lines. When they say 'action,' you want to do the very best you can. If you can do a scene in one take, you know you've done your job well, even though there's no one there to say 'great job.' That's what they expect There's so many good actors in LUCK, real professionals. It's something I'd love to do a lot more.

What career goals do you have off the racetrack?
I want to stay healthy, keep myself happy. I really enjoy being in front of the camera.  I am trying to market myself. When I'm done riding, I want to do more work in front of the camera, whether it's acting, doing something on the news, or working in racing.

But I'm not done yet. I'm 35 years old, and as long as I'm happy and enjoying myself, I'll keep riding.

There were rumors you declined an opportunity to appear in Playboy. Any regrets in passing that up?

They did ask me and I decided not to do it.  I have no regrets at all. I'm happy about the decision. I'm not knocking Playboy at all, but a lot of young girls look up to me, and that's not the image I want to portray.

What has Game On Dude meant to your career?

He's a lifeline. He means so much to me.

Looking back on the Breeders' Cup Classic, is there anything you would have done differently?

Not at all. I think I gave him 120% effort, and got the most out of him. I could almost touch the wire…it was so close.  I was so proud of that horse. We fought hard, and we were so close. My heart just sank when I looked over and saw Drosselmeyer.

But as I was pulling up, I came to my senses. I got beat by an amazing rider, a great trainer and a great horse. You have to be grateful and happy. Of course I wanted to be the first woman to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, that would have meant so much, but if the horse gives you everything he has, you've got to be happy.

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