05/12/2017 11:46AM

Hovdey: For Sutherland, career win No. 1,000 especially sweet

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Benoit & Associates
Jockey Chantal Sutherland with Giro Candito, her 1,000th winner.

There’s always a cake. A cake and a sign, upon which is displayed a four-digit number to be celebrated when a jockey reaches a particular milestone.

The sign is no problem. It can be prepared well in advance and stored in a clean, dry place for display at the right moment. The cake, though, is another deal.

“Every race I rode, they’d bring out the cake,” Chantal Sutherland said on a quiet off day this week. “When I didn’t win, they’d roll it back in. Roll the cake out, roll it back in. After a while, I’m thinking, ‘That cake’s got to be getting kind of stale.’ ”

Then again, winning 1,000 races never gets old. When Sutherland hit the mark last Saturday at Santa Anita Park, out came the cake, and the sign, and a group of riders to pose for a photo that included Felipe Martinez, the veteran she had just beaten by half a length on a muddy track in a maiden claimer going 6 1/2 furlongs.

“I took a little taste,” Sutherland said. “It was very sweet.”

News happening anywhere other than Churchill Downs that day tended to get buried beneath the Kentucky Derby avalanche. Still, the Sutherland win managed to elbow its way through the clutter, a testament to the impact of her brand on a sport that treats successful women as exceptions to the rule.

Sutherland, 41, has ridden the winners of more than $50 million in purses. Her landmark achievements include Sovereign Awards as the leading Canadian apprentice spanning two separate seasons and victories aboard future Hall of Famer Game On Dude in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Santa Anita Handicap.

She hopes someday to be remembered as much for her record on horseback as for her image plastered across billboards and the pages of glossy magazines. She even got her SAG card.

“It was good money, and it was something I could do on the days we didn’t race,” Sutherland said. “I suppose there were some people who didn’t take me as seriously as a jockey because of it. I was getting criticism that I wasn’t focused.

“So, I stopped all of it, thinking it would help,” she said. “But it didn’t make any difference, so I’ve reached out to consider opportunities again.”

Makes sense. A thousand of anything has a certain ring, even though winning 1,000 races in a land rife with opportunities is not historically significant. Hundreds of riders have reached that plateau. And yet, since women are not afforded the same number of chances as men – for whatever sociological reasons – Sutherland considers reaching the 1,000-win mark a proud moment.

There are more than two dozen women who have won at least 1,000 races in North America. Most fans can rattle off the jocks at the top of the list with ease since Julie Krone (the lady of this house), Rosemary Homeister, Vicky Aragon Baze, and Patricia “P.J.” Cooksey all racked up more than 2,000 wins and earned the publicity to go with them.

Many of the other names are just as familiar, including Rosie Napravnik (1,877), Tammi Piermarini (1,911), Emma-Jayne Wilson (1,378), Diane Nelson (1,095), Donna Barton Brothers (1,130), and Sandi Gann (1,214).

The list does not stop there. Cindy Noll Murphy, known as the “first lady of Prairie Meadows,” won 1,942 races before retiring in 2006 with a dangerous bone spur in a cervical vertebra.

Cancer survivor Vicky Warhol-Essman, whose 1,689 wins included five in one day at Assiniboia Downs, retired from racing but not riding. For her trouble, she sustained several broken ribs and a collapsed lung in a morning accident at Arapahoe Park last year.

Lillian “Mitch” Kuykendall counted a West Virginia Breeders’ Classic among her 1,419 wins. Lori Wydick, who ran up a string of titles at River Downs, won 1,501 races, while Nena Matz, a star at Remington Park, won 1,131. Dodie Duys retired with 1,797, Mary Elizabeth Doser had 1,550, and Patti Barton, Donna’s mother, won 1,202.

Jerri Nichols, who went by J.E., was rolling along with 1,466 wins when she was killed in a 2006 car crash in Louisiana at age 35. Later that year, Jill Jellison, who took a riding title at Rockingham Park and won 1,913 races, lost her battle with breast cancer. She was 51.

Cindy Medina, a former champ at Waterford Park, won 1,116 races. Charles Town stalwart Elaina Sheridan won 1,026. Nancy Summers (1,235), Helen Vanek (1,007), and Canada’s Francine Villeneuve (1,000), the “queen of Fort Erie,” all retired to become trainers. Jane Magrell, on the other hand, is 53 and still trying to add to her total of 1,035. She was scheduled to ride at Thistledown on Saturday.

Sutherland’s No. 1,000 came aboard Giro Candito, a Don Valpredo homebred named for his sire, Twirling Candy. Jeff Mullins is the trainer, which can’t hurt. Sutherland needs the backing of live stables to reignite a career that has hit the pause button a couple of times in the past four years, during which she was married and divorced and bounced back and forth between her native Canada and California.

“Unlike other places, it can be tougher for a girl riding in California,” Sutherland said. “Of course, it’s tough no matter who you are. I know I could ride at other tracks, but I love living here. It’s my home now, and I’m willing to work hard so I can stay.”