03/06/2011 5:52PM

Chantal Sutherland's historic Santa Anita Handicap win unspoiled by boos

Email
Benoit & Associates
Chantal Sutherland, after winning the Santa Anita Handicap earlier this month, will not return to Woodbine this spring as she has done in the past.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Between a television appearance and riding workouts, jockey Chantal Sutherland was on the move at Santa Anita all morning on Sunday, a day after her milestone, and controversial, win in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on the longshot Game On Dude.

“I’m having such a good time,” she said, zooming through Clocker’s Corner, the patio adjacent to the racetrack that is a morning hangout for horsemen and racing fans.

Sutherland, 35, became the first woman jockey to win the Santa Anita Handicap, but only kept the win after a 12-minute inquiry regarding a bumping incident in early stretch among 14-1 Game On Dude, 25-1 Setsuko, and Twirling Candy, the 1-2 favorite.

Stewards Scott Chaney, Kim Sawyer, and Tom Ward voted 2-1 to not to change the order of finish, ruling that Twirling Candy initiated contact that led to bumping among the horses. The stewards ruled that Twirling Candy drifted to the inside, struck Game On Dude and caused the winner to tip to the outside, resulting in a chain reaction of bumping among Game on Dude, Twirling Candy, and Setsuko, who raced farthest wide of the three.

Chaney and Ward voted to make no change, while Sawyer thought the incident merited a disqualification.

“I thought [Chantal’s horse] stepped out when Twirling Candy stepped in,” Sawyer said on Sunday afternoon. “[Game On Dude] was part of the initial infraction that bumped Setsuko and should have been DQ’d. I watched it over and over again and saw it the same way.”

 The stewards’ decision was met with a chorus of boos from an ontrack crowd of 23,304.

“The last time I heard that much booing was when Arnold Schwarzenegger was at Hollywood Park,“ said winning trainer Bob Baffert, referring to the former California governor’s trip to the races in November 2009.

Sutherland insisted that the crowd reaction did not diminish the excitement of the win, the first Grade 1 win of her career, which began in her native Canada in 2000. Following the crowd’s reaction, track officials took no chances regarding Sutherland’s well-being after the race. She was accompanied from the racetrack to the jockeys’ room by several security guards, although security guards are always present when riders walk through the public from the racetrack to the jockeys’ room.

“With all the security guards, I thought I was a rock star,” she said.

The win on Game On Dude was her fourth victory of the meeting with her 60th mount. She picked up the ride on Friday after John Velazquez, who was originally named to ride Game On Dude, did not travel to California. He rode at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Saturday, Sutherland said that Twirling Candy was behind her when the initial contact occurred.

“All I know is that in the race, it felt like I got bumped from behind,” she said. “My horse went off balance, and I hadn’t drifted in or anything.”

After the bumping incident, Game On Dude caught Setsuko in the final furlong to win by a nose. Quindici Man, a 69-1 shot, finished third, while Twirling Candy faded to finish fifth.

The first two finishes emerged in diverse condition.

Baffert said that Game On Dude was in good shape on Sunday morning.

 “This horse is not a fluke,” Baffert said. “He’s a true mile and a quarter horse. I’ll just wait a couple of weeks and decide what to do.”

Baffert trains Game On Dude for Terry Lanni, Mercedes Stable, and Bernie Schiappa. Game On Dude, a 4-year-old gelding by Awesome Again, has won 4 of 8 starts and $852,658.

Setsuko emerged with inflammation in his leg and was being closely monitored, trainer Richard Mandella said.

 “He’s got a swollen left front leg and we’re hoping it’s just bruised,” he said.

Mandella did not comment after Saturday’s race, and was still visibly frustrated on Sunday.

Jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode runner-up Setsuko, was much more opinionated about the stewards’ decision. After the race, he told track publicity, “It’s the wrong decision. I don’t mind running a legitimate second but when you knock the air out of my horse and you get beat by a head, that’s insane.”

During the inquiry, the stewards spoke with Sutherland and Espinoza twice, and briefly to Baffert, who was not permitted to provide testimony regarding the bumping incident, Ward said. Trainers do not typically call stewards during an inquiry, and Baffert was asked to the stewards’ office on Sunday morning to discuss his actions.

 “It might have been a five-second phone call,” Ward said. “I said, ‘Bob I’d love to talk to you but we’ve got to sort this out.’ If I’d have known it was Baffert, I wouldn’t have taken the call. I told Chantal and Victor, when they called the second time, the same thing.”