Dancing Her Way Into the Winners Circle

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 29, 2008 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

You wouldn’t notice it while she is riding in a horse race adorned in silks, a helmet and goggles, but Chantal Sutherland is a beautiful person.

Just ask People magazine, which in April included Sutherland in its annual listing of the world’s 100 most beautiful people. Or Vogue magazine, which featured her in a four-page photo spread. Or Mistura Beauty, a cosmetics firm for which she is the official spokeswoman.

On Friday at Golden Gate Fields, Sutherland looked pretty good to the fans who backed her horse, Unusual Suspect, in the $73,500 Silveyville Stakes.

She placed her mount in third place in the field of four California-breds in the 11/16-mile race as 11-to-10 favorite Bamaha Breeze and Cover Magic vied for the lead on a very slow pace.

“I knew they were crawling up there, but my horse has a tendency to pull himself up if he moves too early,” Sutherland said. “They were crawling, crawling so when we got to the second turn, I thought I probably had to get them to do something.”

Unusual Suspect accelerated toward the leaders midway on the turn, surged past them at the top of the stretch, and went on to a 1-length victory over Cover Magic, which was more decisive than the final margin.

Bamaha Breeze, making his first start past 6 furlongs, and coming back quickly after running second in a stakes-quality allowance event Sunday, finished another length back in third.

Pass the Heat, who would have been a heavy favorite, was scratched because of a hoof abscess. My Summer Slew, a Steve Miyadi-trained stablemate of Bamaha Breeze, also was scratched after finishing ninth in a 1-mile allowance event Saturday.

Sutherland, 32, was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in the Toronto area, where her father owns a horse farm.

“I always wanted to be a professional athlete,” she said. “I played field hockey and did downhill skiing, but I was too small to pursue them. Horses came naturally to me, and I love traveling all around.”

Sutherland had ridden horses in equestrian events, but after graduating from York University, she decided to try thoroughbred racing. She won her first race on Oct. 9, 2000 at Woodbine Racetrack near Toronto, and earned the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top apprentice in 2001.

She remained one of Canada’s winningest jockeys until 2005, when she began riding in New York and Florida. She returned to Canada for Woodbine’s 2008 season and finished fifth in the jockey standings, despite missing the final two months because of a move to Southern California.

Sutherland had two winners from 39 mounts at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita and got to ride in two Breeders’ Cup races, finishing sixth with 29-to-1 shot Van Lear Rose in the Juvenile Fillies and last with 23-to-1 shot Mine That Bird in the Juvenile.

She won with seven of 76 mounts at the recently-concluded Hollywood Park season and is now 1-for-1 at Golden Gate Fields. Her victory Friday came on a horse that hadn’t won in 12 starts, since a victory in the Grade 3 Hollywood Turf Express on Nov. 24, 2007.

Sutherland had ridden Unusual Suspect in five previous races, including four this summer, when trainer Barry Abrams sent him to Woodbine.

“I knew the horse, and that helped,” she said. “He was too far back in his races lately. Sometimes you have to change things up.”

Sutherland hopes to continue riding in Southern California, where Santa Anita opened its winter-spring season Friday.

The Los Angeles area also is a convenient venue for Sutherland’s off-track endeavors.

“I’ve got a PR person, and I spend my Mondays and Tuesdays (nonracing days) working on things,” she said. “I’m in a TV series about jockeys on Animal Planet (beginning Feb. 6th), we’re working on getting on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and I’ll be at the Golden Globe Awards (Mistura Beauty is a sponsor for the Jan. 11th event).  I want to do it all.”