Updated on 03/08/2011 6:15PM

Santa Anita Handicap a shot heard round the world


The earthquake in New Zealand that wrecked Addington Raceway in Christchurch and forced transfer of Australasia's $800,000 Interdominion championships to Alexandra Park in Auckland was more severe, but did not generate as many tremors here as the ones that shook Santa Anita last Saturday.

Chantal Sutherland, Canada's 35-year-old riding gift to Thoroughbred racing, shook up everything but the San Gabriel Mountains in Arcadia with her winning ride in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, one of the track's major attractions. It marked the first time in the storied Big Cap's history that a woman jock won.

By the time the shaking was over but before the ink had dried, everyone except the jockeys' valets and concession-stand servers had been jolted into racing to their laptops to appraise the damage and accuse or defend the lady, with some bizarre results.

This newspaper's columnist Jay Hovdey, and newsletter editor Ray Paulick went headlong into the fray. Jay brought his wife, the sport's best-known and most successful woman jockey, Julie Krone, into the discussion, citing her as an irrefutable expert witness.
In the furor that followed the race, it took the three stewards 12 minutes to make a decision, and then it was a split vote, 2-1, that Sutherland had not sinned.

During their deliberations, trainer Bob Baffert, who conditioned the ultimate winner, longshot Game On Dude, took the highly unusual step of calling the stewards, one of whom said later if he had known it was Baffert he would not have taken the call. Do unidentified callers get put through to stewards while they are deliberating inquiries?
The earth began shaking in the Big Cap, as everyone now knows, turning for home, something that Hovdey pointed out his wife had done thousands of times in her illustrious career. "I live with someone who glanced at the pan shot once and said, 'There's where it started,' " he wrote in his blog on drf.com, "pointing to Game On Dude being whipped twice left-handed, while trying to turn left."

In response to Paulick's take on the Big Cap, commenters abounded. "I would rather rely on the actual replay, and an explanation of it by an experienced journalist and a champion rider, not Sutherland's word for it," one wrote. Dozens of others who filled eight single-spaced pages in the Report with their irate letters, either indicting Sutherland or defending her, one calling her "a shameless liar" for her explanation.
That was triggered by her recollection of what happened: "All I know is that in the race, it felt that I got bumped from behind. My horse went off balance, and I hadn't drifted in or anything."

The disputants, who included other top writers and angry bettors who watched the favorite finish fourth, said the video patrol showed otherwise, but the shots as seen in the judges' stand did not convince two of the three deciders that was so.

It's all over now, and Sutherland has her unique honors. She told Steve Andersen of this paper she was having a wonderful time, having been interviewed on a Los Angeles television show and basking in the warm glow of her historic first.

Racing a go-go

Elsewhere, The Fair Grounds in New Orleans has been doing a bit of shaking itself, using go-go dancers dressed like jockeys -- but far more attractive -- to shake things up on what the track calls Starlight Racing. It says it is attracting a younger crowd, which it hopes will learn to bet as well as greet and meet and google the girls.

One New Orleans-area columnist, who gave rave notices to the introduction of sex with the daily double, wrote a highly complimentary piece with the headline, "In Which I Lose Money at the Track but Don't Care."

He also called the innovation "an entirely new form of decadent nighttime entertainment in a city that seemed to have already invented them all."
I think I'll take my racing straight. Attribute it to old age.