10/24/2012 4:35PM

Hovdey: Dettori and Sutherland move on to the next phase

Andrew Watkins
Frankie Dettori celebrates a victory with his trademark dismount.

On the wall of the women’s restroom in the National Museum of Horseracing in Newmarket, England, there is a life-sized poster of Frankie Dettori, posed barechested, clutching a whip, and staring off into the distance as if regally focused on worlds yet to conquer.

Please understand that I know this because it was brought to my attention by someone who demanded I take a look, and that during those brief moments in no-man’s land I had both an escort and a guard at the door, although I did pause long enough to notice the chintz curtains, Laura Ashley wallpaper, deep-pile carpet, buckets of potpouri, and piped-in Mozart. And women want equal pay for equal work.

As for the Dettori image, it was encouraging to see that someone other than Chantal Sutherland was willing to shed their shirt in a good cause – that cause being, at its most noble, the promotion of horse racing through the exposure of the sport’s most familiar names to the widest possible audience. Nothing says mainstream marketing like a little skin. And yes, I said exposure.

At no point is such silliness bad for business. Ultimately, owners and trainers employ jockeys like Dettori and Sutherland based upon their ability to get a horse from start to finish faster and more efficiently than the competition. What they do in their spare time is their affair as long as it does nothing more than tickle at the edges of scandal or sensation. Racing somehow has managed to survive the foul publicity of Buddy Jacobson, Tony Ciulla, Mark Gerard, and a Breeders’ Cup pick six computer scam of dizzying proportions. What the players wear, or don’t, should hardly raise the pulse.

Over the past weekend, Dettori and Sutherland both made headlines with farewell messages that spoke directly to the nature of their profession, and how long the fires of passion burn.

Sutherland, who advertises herself as “jockey/actress/model” on her website, is 36. She rode professionally for about 13 years and won 931 races. (An aside: Unless there are extenuating circumstances, usually of the tragic variety, a modern-day jockey who ends a career with fewer than 1,000 wins has not made much of an impact. The 2012 American Racing Manual lists 358 riders who have won at least 1,900 races.)

To her credit – and beyond the faux and semi-nude horseback shots that made her a pinup – Sutherland aspired to follow in the footsteps of such women riders as Cooksey, Homemeister, and Krone. She certainly had the Canadian stats for a good start and the awards to prove it. Eventually, though, Sutherland moved to Los Angeles and became one of those people who were famous for being famous. She was smart enough to attach herself to the reality program “Jockeys,” then leveraged that notoriety to a kind of offtrack recognition not seen in the sport since the days of Robyn Smith, whose high cheekbones and Twiggy contours – not to mention her May-December associations with patron Alfred Vanderbilt and husband Fred Astaire – made her racing’s go-to gamin of the early 1970’s.

In her teary-eyed goodbye at Woodbine last weekend, Sutherland cited a familiar litany of reasons for hanging up her tack, and who could argue with any of them. The fact that she is escaping without a serious injury after more than 7,500 rides is miracle enough in this game. She has a foothold on a second career in the commercial world if she wants it, and good enough memories – especially with her Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude – to last through many winters.

“I can honestly say that I’ve had enough,” Sutherland said.

Frankie Dettori might say the same thing someday, although it’s hard to imagine when. He is 41. He has been a fixture in the game since he was 14. He even served a happy internship in Southern California, where, in early 1990, Bill Shoemaker rode Dettori’s young shoulders at Santa Anita in a crowd of jockeys on the day of that legend’s final ride.

Dettori’s 18-year association with the Godolphin Stable of Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai was one of racing’s greatest partnerships, nothing less than a global version of the records established by Eddie Arcaro and Calumet Farm (including two Triple Crown winners) or of Shoemaker himself and the best runners trained by Charlie Whittingham, among them Horses of the Year Ack Ack and Ferdinand.

Along the way, Dettori has been champion British jockey three times, won 500 group races, opened two Italian restaurants, launched a men’s fragrance, and spread his unbridled enthusiasm for his craft to the farthest corners of the racing world. He was most recently seen on the grand stage winning the Pattison Canadian International aboard Joshua Tree, taking the field on a wire-to-wire wild goose chase. Pulling up after the race, Dettori took the microphone from the mounted TV reporter and conducted his own interview.

Since all good things must end, Dettori and Godolphin have parted ways. Younger riders were finding favor where Frankie was once the king, and rumors of retirement began to grow. No one would have begrudged Dettori walking away to enjoy his wealth, his wife and five children, his two Italian restaurants, his men’s fragrance, and the residuals of a career rivaled in Europe only by those of Lester Piggott and Yves Saint-Martin.

Instead, Dettori said he is intent on new challenges. Whether or not he signs with another major stable, or becomes the most sought-after independent agent in the game remains to be seen. This is a man who once walked away from a plane crash. Never count him out.

Had one thing happened or another, instead of losing the mount in the wake of their loss in the Pacific Classic last summer, Chantal Sutherland would have been riding Breeders’ Cup Classic favorite Game On Dude on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. Instead, she will be a spectator.

Frankie Dettori, on the other hand, will be front and center at the Breeders’ Cup with what looks like four live mounts, including Nahrain in the Filly and Mare Turf and Artigiano, for Godolphin no less, in the Juvenile Turf. Go ahead – bet against him.

kram hslew More than 1 year ago
Chantell was taken off "Dude" to be fair to the horse. Watching her efforts on "Dude" and comparing them to Bejarano is day and night. This isn't about being sexist it's about the Truth and "Dude" deserves the best. My 1st post was taken down, fine. I'm sorry, she's a lovely lady and my apologies to her.
D More than 1 year ago
I wish you all success; in fact, so much success that your lives are scrutinized under a microscope. It’s heartwarming to read the many positive comments. It’s also disheartening to read the negative ones. Chantal has strived to make a living for herself and also give back to the sport in which she loves. I don’t understand the negativity; it’s very surprising to me. I also can’t believe that Jay Hovdey would be so negative towards Chantal. I would have thought that the women in this sport would stick together and help advance women (being married to Julie Krone).
Brigitte de Saint Phalle More than 1 year ago
Chantal Sutherland deserves better. When you retire how would you like to be dismissed by having your career compared to that of a great sportswriter, with a bunch of personal comments added?
Justine More than 1 year ago
I expected a little more professionalism in this article. Imagine my disappointment when you joked about "women wanting equal pay for equal work" and made jabs at Sutherland's decision to model in the nude while riding horses. Was that really necessary? And how nice, a lot of sexist comments attached to the article. Really feeling the love in this sport. Thanks for making me feel unwelcome as a female fan. Good day.
Chantal Smithless More than 1 year ago
Whatever the reason for her retirement, it's a shame it had to come shy of 1,000 wins. She may not have been the greatest female jockey ever but she was very, very good and also had the added benefit of similarly doing what Zenyatta did -- bringing new fans to racing which is what it desperately needed and STILL needs. She must REALLY be in love to not only marry a man who is allergic to horses but also one that she has given up a career that she worked so hard at and was a natural for. I wish them decades of happiness! Frankie Dettori...........he is ANYTHING but finished!! Godolphin's loss might be someone else's pot of gold. See you at the Breeder's Cup, Frankie!
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Julie was the best. I'm still mad she got taken down at Laurel on Mr. Baggins so many years ago. Cordero claimed foul against her - a specious claim if there ever was one - and the Maryland stews agreed. Mr. Baggins was a hard knocking horse trained by Chico Green. Julie was just getting started when that happened. Glad it didn't deter her. Great jock.
GOODWIN More than 1 year ago
Gee Morris, you certainly denegrate all thsoe male jockeys that Rosie has beaten in many jockey titles recently. Does this mean she's gonna kill her husband? Colonial Affair, and if you can win the Belmont, you are NOT 'second rate".
Memo Viento More than 1 year ago
Another outstanding piece of writing, Mr Hovdey! And we can all read between the lines about Sutherland. Good call!!
himmelle More than 1 year ago
I wish they'd name Dettori on California Flag
Morris More than 1 year ago
way to go hoovey, stir them up. there is hardly a comparesom between chantal& frankie, except they are both jockeys. but your articule does a job of it. chantal is beautiful, smart & went a long way to promote racing. she is a talented model & is going to make an actress. but she did the right thing by retiring as a jockey. chantal just doesnt have enough of the "killer instinct" that being a jockey requires. as most females dont. with the exception of julie krones ride when she won the belmont, on a 2nd rate horse. (i dont remember the horses name ,but i remember the ride julie put on him). women just dont tend to win as many races as men jockeys. and talking about women jockeys with "killer instinct". i never saw but 1 woman who i thought had enough of it to be a jockey. but alais, she is in the prison, for . you guessed it. killing her husband. good luck chantal. you are plenty sexy. frankie, dont quit now. not as long as you can make that "victory leap" & it doesnt hurt you too much. good racing luck to all. i remain "an ole railbird".
John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
Colonial Affair.