03/10/2011 2:32PM

Santa Anita Handicap win a launching point for Sutherland

Benoit & Associates
Chantal Sutherland in the Big Cap winner’s circle with trainer Bob Baffert’s wife, Jill, who played a role in getting Sutherland the mount aboard winner Game On Dude. Sutherland became the first female rider to win the Big Cap.

The notebook has a floral design on the cover and would look at home in the backpack of a schoolgirl. The contents are not filled with algebra, history, or biology, but with the names of horses, trainers, handicapping notes, and small charts filled with numbers.

This is jockey Chantal Sutherland’s method to prepare for and review races, a diary of every mount, win or lose. For March 5, the names of three horses appeared on a page with plenty of blank space around them. The text on the middle entry was updated after the race, completed with one word in all capital letters and an exclamation point.

Game On Dude, Bob Baffert
$750,000 Santa Anita Handicap

When those pages are exhausted, the notebook will be kept at home, the latest volume chronicling Sutherland’s 11-year career, one that reached a milestone with Game On Dude’s victory at Santa Anita last Saturday.

The Big Cap was Sutherland’s first Grade 1, and it was a day that will not soon be forgotten.
Sutherland guided Game On Dude to a nose victory over Setsuko and then survived a 12-minute inquiry regarding a bumping incident between those two and 1-2 favorite Twirling Candy in early stretch to keep the win. There were boos from a crowd of more than 23,000 after the race, but Sutherland insists that did not detract from the moment.

“It’s been pretty exciting,” she said. “I think people that know horse racing know what happened.”

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What is not clear is how the win will affect her career. In recent seasons, Sutherland, who turned 35 last month, has been a fixture at Woodbine Racecourse, outside of Toronto, one of the leading riders at Canada’s premier racetrack. Last year, she finished third in the jockey standings and won 18 stakes.

For the last four years, she has ridden at Santa Anita during the winter months. One of these years, she says, she will remain in California, but her success in her native Canada makes a return north a strong lure in coming weeks.

“At some point, I’ll have to make a decision,” she said last weekend at Santa Anita. “This year could be my best chance in Canada to be leading rider.”

Sutherland and her agent, Brian Beach, talked about the ramifications of the Big Cap on Sunday and how it could affect her business if she stayed in California.

“He said, ‘Let’s see if anyone opens their books,’ ” she said. “I don’t know what will happen. Some other people might like my performance.

“One of my goals that I made a long time ago was to go to Del Mar,” she said. “I need a full year in California before I go to Del Mar, but I don’t know when that will be.”

For Sutherland, the Big Cap win was much needed; it was her fourth victory from 63 mounts at Santa Anita this winter. Last year, she won 18 races from 177 mounts, riding from late December 2009 until early April before returning to Canada. This year, she did not start riding until mid-January, choosing to go on a monthlong vacation to Barbados after Woodbine ended in December and not riding workouts in California. She said she blames herself for the downturn in business.

“I’m usually here for three weeks before,” she said. “I came here in mid-January and hadn’t done anything. I needed a break from Canada.”

The ride on Game On Dude was secured the day before the race. Trainer Bob Baffert, who had four runners in the race, had named Eastern-based rider John Velazquez, but he was unable to travel from Gulfstream Park in Florida. Baffert heard from several jockey agents last Friday morning seeking the mount for their riders and heard from his wife, Jill, too, according to Sutherland.

“I was sitting up with Bob and Jill, and Jill said, ‘Come on Bob, put her on,’ ” Sutherland said, recalling a Friday morning conversation at the track. “I know I wasn’t the first choice. The weight was a factor.”

Game On Dude was assigned 115 pounds, a weight easy for the 5-foot-2-inch Sutherland to make.

“Game on Dude is one of the nicest horses I’ve ridden, athletic and determined,” she said. “When I wanted him to relax, he was like butter.”

Another of Sutherland’s favorite mounts is Inglorious, a 3-year-old filly who won two stakes at Woodbine last year – the Ontario Lassie and Fanfreluche – and was second in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds last month. Trained by Josie Carroll, Inglorious is a candidate for the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 26.

“She’s really good,” Sutherland said.

There may be a potential conflict for Sutherland between Game on Dude and Inglorious. By Tuesday, Game On Dude was being considered for the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26, and Sutherland could face a decision on which mount to follow.

This winter in California has not been just about riding. Sutherland, who has done some modeling work in the past, has been involved in the filming of the upcoming HBO series “Luck,” produced by prominent horse owner David Milch. She plays an exercise rider and has filmed scenes on non-racing days. The involvement has partially satisfied an interest in entertainment.

“I think it’s cool,” she said. “I always dreamed of being a talk-show host like Regis and Kelly, interviewing movie stars. I think working in movies would be fun.”

Two years ago, Sutherland was one of the featured riders on the Animal Planet series “Jockeys,” which followed several Santa Anita riders over the course of a few months. Her airtime featured as much interaction with then-boyfriend Mike Smith, the Hall of Fame jockey, as it did her race riding.
Sutherland and Smith are no longer seeing each other, and she said she recently began dating someone else.

“I have a friend,” she said. “It’s kind of new. Not a jockey. He’s tall.”

For now, Sutherland’s professional focus is trying to build on the Big Cap win and deciding how to make that success carry through the rest of 2011.