Last week was a big one for jockey Chantal Sutherland. She won her first top-tier race in a controversial ride on Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap. Hours upon hours of debate were spent discussing whether her skill was the reason for the win or whether she caused a near tragic accident with an ill-timed left-handed use of the whip. Days later, she launched www.chantalsutherlandjockey.com , a combination of news about the jockey's career and her aim to become a well-known actress and model buttressed by her appearances on Jockeys and the upcoming HBO original series Luck.
It is clear from her website that she recognizes her assets do not just include a strong winning percentage at Woodbine. If the image under her “fitness” section is any indication, Chantal understands she has something that Garrett Gomez, John Velazquez and other top jockeys will never have: the ability to draw men to the sport for reasons beyond gambling.
And our sport would be foolish not to promote her for this.
Let's look at another female sports star who's made a few nickels on her sex appeal. Despite winning her sport's Rookie of the Year in 2005, she has only won once in her career and yet is the most famous athlete in her division. She's been featured in Super Bowl ads and both men's and women's mainstream magazines. Her relationship with GoDaddy.com has helped make a household name out of the web hosting company. In fact, she is so famous, you know her by her first name only.
If marketed correctly, Chantal Sutherland could be to horse racing what Danica Patrick is to IndyCar Racing. And on top of being easy on the eyes, there's no doubt that Chantal is better at her discipline than Danica.
“So shouldn't she try to find fame through her talents as a rider and not whether she looks good in form-fitting clothes?” you might ask yourself. Wouldn't it also be nice if we could ask the Middle East to just tone it down a bit? But that's not the way the world works. Sex sells and whether you are a willing participant or not isn't the important question to ask. In fact, there's only one relevant question in this conversation: Do we want to become part of the mainstream culture?
If talent was all that it took to transcend sports, then jockeys of greater skill and opportunity would be household names. But Chantal, just like Danica, is an above average performer in her sport with a little something extra to bring in new viewers. Do you know who's number one in IndyCar Racing right now? Anyone who guessed Dario Franchitti, please send me your hat so I can eat it. I have a feeling I won't be receiving much in the mail from our readers. Dario is probably every bit as talented as Joel Rosario and Ramon Dominguez and he's also probably on SportsCenter every bit as much as they are too.
It's not chauvinistic to recognize the way things work in our country, much less the rest of the civilized world. If I thought putting Ray in a pair of Prada pumps and a mini-skirt would help draw more readers, you'd see a properly quaffed Mr. Paulick tomorrow. And there's no doubt Ms. Sutherland would be a capable spokeswoman and ambassador for horse racing.
Relevancy is what racing needs more than anything else to give it a strong foundation for the future. We need our own one-name star. We could do far worse than Chantal.
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