The male-dominated sport of American horse racing has been challenged by Canadian Chantal Sutherland, a beautiful, successful jockey not afraid of embracing her femininity.
Since March 16th, Sutherland has won three races, including the O’ Brien Stakes on St. Patrick’s Day, and she also placed and showed within the past week at the time of publication.
This is Sutherland’s first season racing at Santa Anita, a definite change from her home track of Woodbine in Toronto, which is having the most amount of snow since 1939, said Sutherland. She loves the California weather but will return April 8th to race at Woodbine until December when Santa Anita’s next meet starts.
Sutherland’s older sister was in show jumping, and by age five Sutherland was riding and had two ponies.
It was not until her last year at York University where she majored in psychology and communication, however, that Sutherland knew she wanted to race as a career.
“I was watching ‘Oprah’ and she said ‘Do what you love,’” said Sutherland.
When she started racing, she looked up to some of the jockeys at Santa Anita.
“I remember thinking Alex Solis was a very, very pretty rider,” said Sutherland. “I thought Mike Smith was really good. There were just a lot of good riders, and I wondered if I’d ever meet them and here I am today.”
Smith, a hall of fame jockey, has been her boyfriend for two and a half years and Sutherland has been staying with him since the beginning of the Santa Anita meet in December.
Raised Catholic, Sutherland is open to other beliefs, and her philosophy echoes some tenets of the popular book “The Secret” and Joel Osteen and Dr. Wayne Dyer are also inspirations.
“I am spiritual and very into the belief that you ask the world for what you want, and I think that it comes to you, and I think that if you give off a good vibe of happiness and peacefulness… it’s magnetic, and I think that’s part of my success, and I’m just happy and grateful for everything I’ve been given,” said Sutherland.
To figure out what she wants, Sutherland looks at a horse’s gait (movement) and if it is attractive she asks for it in a little prayer and then takes action.
“Sometimes my agent and I will see a horse race and there’s something I like or that I thought I could have done different, then I’ll go after that horse with my agent,” said Sutherland. “I just keep repeating ‘I want that horse, I want that horse’ and I don’t know I’ve been lucky.”
Despite the fact that Sutherland is one of two female jockeys at Santa Anita as opposed to seven or eight at Woodbine, Sutherland said she hasn’t dealt much with people stereotyping her as inferior.
“It’s really good,” said Sutherland. “I think I get more attention and people are extremely nice. From the guys, I get treated like a sister [and] they look after me and are so nice, never out of line, professional, so I’m lucky.”
Sutherland has not tried to compensate for being a woman in a male-saturated sport by acting overly masculine either. Some of the things in her changing room at Santa Anita two Sundays ago—a pink tote, pink Crocs, and other items—showed a theme.
“Everything is pink: pink whips, pink saddle,” said Sutherland. “It never goes missing.”
“Most girls want to show that they’re strong and I admire how patient she is,” said jockey Alex Solis. “She’s a very nice person and very funny; she has my sense of humor.”
Indeed, after seeing a dancing horse on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Sutherland wants to go on the show and race Ellen on an Equicizer, a mechanical horse used for training.
“Horse racing is one of those unique sports,” said Sutherland, “where strength is important but the mind and delicacy with the hands is paramount. Women, I think, are exceptional with their patience and negotiating with animals, and I think it’s too bad there aren’t more girls that are really trying to do it.”