08/24/2012 5:00PM

Hovdey: For Sutherland, a constant battle over style and substance


It was bad enough the stewards at Great Britain’s Ascot Race Course required Chantal Sutherland to count, out loud, the nine whip strokes that got her in dutch during a race in the Shergar Cup competition Aug. 11. Then, piling on, she was informed her four-day suspension for the whip violation would commence “in a fortnight.”

Don’t they even speak English over there?

“By then I was a little stressed,” Sutherland recalled. “I remembered my Shakespeare, ‘Julius Caesar’ and old English. But at that point I said, ‘Just tell me what that is.’ When they said two weeks I knew immediately it would fall on the Pacific Classic and Game On Dude.”

As it turned out, the British are as liberal in accommodating jockeys and their suspensions as most American officials. Sutherland got a routine OK to reschedule one of her suspension days, allowing her to keep her date with favored Game On Dude in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday. Happy ending.

Not surprisingly, the British press swarmed when Sutherland showed up for the Shergar Cup.

“They kept calling me Miss California, Racing Princess of the USA, asking about the picture – things like that,” Sutherland said. “I thought it was pretty funny, but it was also kind of neat. I liked being called an ‘American girl.’ ”

Sutherland, who is from Canada, can’t go outdoors these days without someone wondering, “I know her, don’t I?” Horse racing has had its cover girls in the past – among them Robyn Smith, Diane Nelson, and Mary Bacon – famous for being glamorous as well as talented. Now, in an age of social media and accelerated familiarity, the Sutherland brand has transcended the sport to wander among the masses.

“The picture” was part of a feature with Sutherland in a recent issue of “Vanity Fair,” designed and photographed by Bo Derek, Sutherland’s friend and fellow horsewoman. Shot in the Turf Club at Santa Anita with a real, live, tranquilized horse, the image left just enough to the imagination to maintain Sutherland’s reputation as racing’s mainstream pin-up girl.

She got the predictable grief, given the hidebound stuffiness of horse racing’s culture. Julie Krone (this writer’s wife) recalled the reaction of New York stewards to a published photograph of her bare, well-muscled back, which also appeared on a Jockeys’ Guild trading card.

“They did not approve,” Krone said. “They said it was not what they expected from me. This was also after my friend Richie Migliore turned the card around, wondering what might be on the other side.”

Sutherland is tapping into the commerce of real athletes as sexual fantasies that began in earnest with professional golfer Jan Stephenson in the late 1970’s. Stephenson adorned any number of magazine spreads with a golf club as a prop. She was blonde, so she did the obligatory Marilyn Monroe oops-the-wind-blew-up-my-skirt photo. And for posterity, Stephenson posed in a large washtub filled with golf balls and little else.

By the time Gabriela Sabatini hit the tennis scene in the late 1980’s, the sports world was getting the hang of its stars doubling as sex symbols. Sabatini, from Argentina, was a classic beauty from all angles, moving with grace between her tennis career and the pages of fashion magazines. She continued to be in demand well after her retirement, in 1996.

The torch was quickly passed to Anna Kournikova, the Russian tennis player who soon became breathless grist for an international array of men’s magazines, not to mention the advertising model for a sports bra with the tag line, “Only the ball should bounce.” So true.

The fact that Kournikova never won a WTA singles tournament bothered some more than others. She did win the doubles title at the Australian Open twice. Sabatini won the singles title at Wimbledon and was ranked as high as No. 3 at season’s end three times, behind only Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, and Martina Navratilova. As for Stephenson, between photo shoots she somehow managed to win 16 LPGA tournaments and three majors.

The sports figure with whom Sutherland most identifies is race car driver Danica Patrick, the only woman to hit the board in the Indy 500. Patrick has a prolific endorsement career and a portfolio of cheesecake shots that could put Christina Aguilera to shame. She has also won exactly one race, a 2008 Indy car event in Japan.

Sutherland is determined to be known for more than her off-track image. She turned 36 in February and has won 930 races, none more important than the five major stakes she has taken aboard the Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude. To that end, Game On Dude has become her racing life.

“As his races get closer I start to think of him all the time,” Sutherland said. “When I go to the gym I push it harder.”

Other than the 2012 Dubai World Cup, a complete throwout of a race, their most disappointing collaboration came in the 2011 Pacific Classic, in which they finished fourth, without much of a fight, behind Acclamation and Twirling Candy. The rap was Game On Dude didn’t like the synthetic Del Mar track, preferring the version at Hollywood Park, or the dirt at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs.

“I don’t think he was as good then as he is now,” Sutherland said. “He even looks bigger. He’s really into his routine. I was blown away with his Gold Cup. The track was really tiring that day, and with three-eighths to go I was worried it might be getting to him.”

Game On Dude is a free-running, 5-year-old son of Awesome Again who won the San Antonio and Californian this year wire to wire. If he’s not in front early on Sunday, he won’t be far behind.

“With his kind of cruising speed I’ve got to make sure I’m in tune with him,” Sutherland said. “That also means not going too slow. And he is becoming more versatile. Bob has been training him lately to work behind horses. That gives me a lot of options.”

In the meantime, Sutherland, newly married, continues to juggle her off-track choices. Among other opportunities, she spent the summer with her face splashed all over Southern California as the face of Del Mar.

“How could I say no?” she said. “Del Mar has always been my dream place to ride. I want people to see I’m doing it because I genuinely love the sport. Look what Danica’s meant to car racing.

“But as far as the Vanity Fair kind of stuff, I think that’s over for me,” Sutherland added. “ My father’s real proud of me, but he wasn’t too happy about that. I just wanted to show how strong we are, how much we work at it, and how beautiful horses and horse racing can be.”

With just six wins at the Del Mar meet, Sutherland is well down in the standings. She concedes it can be frustrating.

“It’s a hustle all the time, like begging, which I’m not very good at,” she said. “I love action, and I loved riding 10 a day in Canada. Right now the days can get pretty long in this room. But you can’t just walk into California and have things handed to you.”

On Sunday, Sutherland’s first ride of the day comes in the ninth race, a little after 5 p.m., aboard Game On Dude. Another long wait, but this one should be worth it.


HandicapperErni More than 1 year ago
Chantal sutherland is an example of juggling back and forth. When she first came onto the scene in so.cal she did well but had to make a descion at the time to either go to woodbine in canada or stay in so.cal. she chose to stay here. For a couple years she juggled woodbine and california until joining so.cal full time last year. It wouldve tooken her awhile to make it here if she had stood here full time in the first place. By now she wouldve probably been a top 5 rider. However since she has a modeling career going on right now and her business is slow right now. It appears the trainers she rides for dont really think she takes her riding career seriously. If she quits her modeling career and focuses on riding then she should have more success than what shes getting.
ron breton More than 1 year ago
you lose a 600,000 $ purse....dropped a rein as your excuse......are you kidding me
Entrepreneuring More than 1 year ago
I agree, are you kidding me????
redboy More than 1 year ago
This chick is all hype! Maybe she was a real good jockey @ some point,but @this point she looks to be on the long list of coulda,shoulda,woulda has been jockeys. What other Graded stakes horse is she trusted with? Once Game On is turned over to Bejarano its all but over,
Rick Lamond More than 1 year ago
As good as Game on Dude is, this is 2 years in a row that he was supposed to win the Pacific Classic. And he did not. While he is virtually unbeatable at Santa Anita, his record is not as good elsewhere, particularly on artificial surfaces. The well-documented dropping of a reign in the stretch may not have been as damaging to GOD's chances of winning so much as being bothered out of the gate and not getting the trip up front that he desires. Still, one could now see Baffert putting Bejerano up on GOD to prevent any type of mishap in the BC Classic. I for one would rather see him put Martin Garcia on GOD. Garcia is just about the best here on the west coast with a free-running speed horse. It could also be time for Chantal to return to Canada, where she rode for many of the top barns and literally won millions and millions of dollars in purses before relocating to SoCal full-time.
Entrepreneuring More than 1 year ago
No doubt that Chantal is a wonderful person and a very competitive jockey. But as with all competitive sports, the numbers are the best measures of ability (they're objective). According to DRF, Chantal is 32 for 275 as of Classic day, a 12% win rate and by contrast, a 88% non-win rate. In essence, she's looks great on paper, tv, and in other media formats. But as a race rider, she still has a long way to go to overcome her mediocre riding history. And to update, she's now at least 32 for 276 as she was once again outridden by Mr. Rosario as Dullahan edged the Dude to get the money.
GOODWIN More than 1 year ago
Nicholas, It certainly helps to have Hall of Famer, Mike Smith as a fiancee` when trying to break into the SoCal circuit. Wonder what she might have answered...yes, droped her reain, moved too early; typical Chantal...
James Madden More than 1 year ago
Guess you werent around when Shoemaker misjudged the finish line in the Derby!!!!!!
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Which wire were they using?
amfcf More than 1 year ago
You're comparing Shoemaker w/Sutherland? I'll take that match-up all day long! You're right -- I'm not that old. I do remember his ride on Ferdinand though :-)))))
Dale Tillotson More than 1 year ago
Around 20 years ago now I remember a day at the Spa when I saw a youngster approach Julie Krone for an autograph by saying so innocently excuse me sir could I have your autograph. Julie as always being so gracious said of course but I am a girl. Classic comments from the Spa.
amfcf More than 1 year ago
It didn't help her cause any when she couldn't manage to hold her reins and switch her stick during the stretch drive of the million dollar Pacific Classic. If I've employed a jock to ride in any race, much less a race of that magnitude, keeping hold of the reins and in contact with the horse is something I would expect at a minimum. Yes, I realize stuff happens, jocks lose their sticks, etc...but it's sure not a mistake you see other big money riders make.
Nicholas More than 1 year ago
Hi everyone, I was one of the English journalists who spoke to Chantal when she was over at Ascot for the Shergar Cup and I can say she certainly did not upset anybody! Unfortunately did get incur a whip ban from the stewards for breaking the rules on one of her rides, but she is by no means the first overseas rider to do that. However, nobody I spoke to thought she was too full of herself. I write most of the American stories for the Racing Post, which is our version of the Racing Form. As such, I did take pains to refer to her as NORTH American golden girl rather than just 'American' ! Chantal got off a flight and then had to attend a press conference with the other riders the next morning - I was the first interviewer in line and she was extremely obliging and personable. My only complaint would that it is hard to get an idea of somebody from 25 minutes as the first in a line of interviewees, so all I really got was the nice PR lines from Chantal. I would rather have had a bit longer to ask her more detailed questions about how hard it is to break into California etc and how she is struggling a little. But she had never met me before and I was the first one to speak to her, so it was hard to get beneath the surface on this brief occasion. She gave no hint of regret at the Vanity Fair pictures, for example, though I see from Jay's piece that she may well have finished with that sort of thing now. Anyway, I just wanted to correct the impression given by some of these comments that she "upset the English" -- quite the opposite. We were glad to see her (and Emma-Jayne Wilson, and Aaron Gryder) and she was a joy to have anything to do with. Cheers, Nick Godfrey (Racing Post)