09/11/2013 3:06PM

Harness Racing: Sutherland-Kruse has a harness racing background

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Chantal Sutherland-Kruse will compete in a race under saddle at The Meadows.

When Chantal Sutherland-Kruse comes to The Meadows on September 23, her attempt to break the North American under saddle record for trotters will last less than two minutes. However, the event, sponsored by the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, has truly been a lifetime in the making.

While the actress and model is best known for her achievements as a thoroughbred jockey, her early years were spent on a small farm in Ontario, and Standardbreds played a major role in her life.

Hugh Sutherland, Chantal’s father, is a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, but his career as an entrepreneur eventually landed him in the Toronto, Ontario area, where he raised his family on a small farm.

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Chantal, one of three children, took an early interest in horses, and like many kids, wanted a pony. According to Hugh, “I bought a pony and my older daughter, Dominique, rode it. Chantal did the harnessing, the leading, the tack, and as they got a little older, we bought a ‘real’ pony I guess you would call it, just under the horse level. We went to a lot of horse shows and won every one of them. We won the Royal Winter Fair which is a huge thing in Toronto.

“Then my older daughter, who was the better rider at the time, was asked to be on the Junior Canadian Team. But I’d have to buy a horse I said, and they were talking substantial money.”

Hugh decided to take a slightly less expensive route, purchasing a two-year-old thoroughbred, but it wasn’t what the girls had in mind. “They said ‘no, it’s got to be about 10 years old!’ so we sent him to the track and he raced for a couple of years.”

The Sutherlands eventually brought the horse home and he became a Three-Day Event competitor.

As the family interest in horses progressed, Hugh eventually found his way into the Standardbred business, and met Ohio-based trainer Garry Martin.

“I was racing in the North America Cup with a horse named Set The Trap,” recalled Martin. “He didn’t race well in the elimination but still qualified for the final. I had a local vet check him over that week, and the vet happened to be neighbors with Hugh, so he introduced us. Hugh had a few horses at the time and started sending them to me to race at The Meadows.”

Sutherland said, “I bought some cheap horses, $2500 claimers. I’d send some to Garry, then I’d buy one and train it on the farm myself with the kids, and we went to the tracks up here.”

It was then that Chantal gained valuable experience with Standardbreds. “She was small, so it was all she could do to get the horses checked up,” said Hugh. “Then we would throw her on the back of the bike and go. She liked that. She didn’t want to do all of the other work, but she enjoyed jogging.”

While the better horses would end up at The Meadows with Martin, the Sutherlands raced around the smaller tracks in Ontario with the lesser stock. “I don’t think we raced for 600 bucks,” said Hugh, “but it was a ball.”

Since he had room at his farm, Sutherland decided to branch out, and bought a Standardbred broodmare named Sure Schatzie. It turned out to be his best decision in the sport. “We bought her right after a race at Batavia Downs, brought her right home, and bred her to Cam Fella.”

Her first foal, Sure Cam, brought Chantal and Dominique back to Martin’s door. “Chantal and her sister dropped off Sure Cam,” said Martin. “I said to them that the horse looked like a little doe. I had to call their dad and say ‘Hugh, what is this thing.’ ”

But the little family horse turned out to be something special. “He never got very big, only wore a 52” hopple, but he chased Life Sign and some others around the track and the family did well with him,” noted Martin.

Sure Cam took a mark of 1:53f and earned more than $300,000.

Hugh, who still owns four Standardbreds, continued his success in harness racing with other foals of Sure Schatzie, including Sure Mac (1:50 4/5, $435,270), Sure Vivor (1:53 2/5s, $164,867) and Sure Fold (1:53 4/5, $162,419). 

Chantal’s career, however, took a different turn. She went to York University in Toronto after being recruited there from Canada’s junior field hockey team.  Upon graduating, she surprised everyone with an announcement. “I remember sitting in her father’s living room when she came in and told him she was going to be a jockey,” said Martin. 

Hugh Sutherland picked up the story. “I said, ‘You’re not going to the track.’ Well, she went, and she won the apprentice award the next two years at Woodbine. From there, she’s dragged me all over the world, to Dubai, to Santa Anita, to the Kentucky Derby to Breeders Cups.”

But while Chantal Sutherland-Kruse has become a star in thoroughbred racing, she hasn’t forgotten her background with Standardbreds. On September 23, she will attempt to set a new North American record for trotters under saddle on a 5/8 mile track. DW’s NY Yank, a winner in 1:52 at Pocono Downs on September 7 for trainer Ron Burke, will join her for the time trial. The goal is to beat 1:59 2/5.

It will mark the first time in years that Chantal Sutherland-Kruse has ridden a horse competitively that is not a thoroughbred – but it’s not a first, according to her father. “Years ago we had a pacer in to qualify at Orangeville. I think I blew a tire so I told her just to go out there and ride him.  She did, but the judges didn’t know what to do with it.  They had never had that happen before. So they made me requalify the horse.”

Given that harness racing under saddle experience – not to mention her thoroughbred work – Hugh Sutherland is quite confident his daughter will make the record happen. “I know one thing, if this horse can trot, she will get the most out of him.”

“She’s an athlete,” added Martin. “She’s very, very smart and very athletic. I think this event is great for both sports.”

Both Hugh Sutherland and Martin plan to be there for the record attempt, and both men have advice for Sutherland-Kruse. “I hope she warms the horse up herself before the mile,” said her father. “She needs to know what his gait is like.” 

Added Martin lightheartedly, “She’s used to thoroughbred racing on a mile track. I think I’ll have to remind her it’s a 5/8 mile track. ‘Chantal, it’s THREE turns.’ ”

Post time for The Meadows’ card on Monday, September 23 is 12:55 p.m.

By Jeff Zidek for the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association