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.