Chantal Sutherland is relishing the chance to enjoy the autumn of her career and insists she is “finally in a good place” as she prepares for the International Jockeys Challenge on the first day of the Saudi Cup meeting.
The Canadian-born rider had little time to celebrate turning 47 on Thursday, as she focussed on the four handicap races – worth $400,000 apiece, with a further $100,000 prize fund for the challenge itself – which form part of Friday’s card at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
Sutherland is now based in Florida, having decided to resurrect her career after retirement, a painful divorce, injury and an enforced Covid hiatus.
Model, TV personality, pilot and poster girl, she once plied her trade at the Southern California tracks.
Time may have moved on, but her talent still remains. Her riding remains as crisp, efficient and ruthless as ever. More importantly, she is enjoying life again.
Sutherland became the first woman to win the Santa Anita Handicap when Game On Dude struck in 2011 and she led down the stretch on the same colt in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, only to be pipped by Drosselmeyer, ridden by her former boyfriend Mike Smith.
Sutherland married businessman Dan Kruse in May 2012, but the marriage broke down in 2016.
“I was second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and I thought that was around the time to maybe have a child,” said Sutherland.
“I stopped racing and took about four years out and didn’t ever get to have a kid. The marriage didn’t work out either, so I went back to racing, got injured, then got back from the injury, then Covid happened.
“It has been stop-start, but now everything, with the flow, I feel there is an alignment in my life and everything is going well.”
Sutherland’s decision to return to the track was prompted by a move to the Sunshine State.
“I was going to ride just before Covid. I was going to ride Turfway (Park) and that was freezing,” she said.
“I’d frozen for I don’t know how long in my career – in Canada, at Aqueduct. I thought, ‘I’m going to Florida,’ and I just loved it. It felt like home.
“It is pretty close to California-style, if a little more humid. The Hispanic community down there has been outstanding, they have been super awesome. I’m trying to learn Spanish and I’m so grateful to them. I’ve done really well there and I love them. I love the track and Gulfstream Park has been amazing.
“When you are away from the sport for so long, you really find out how much you love it. No matter what happens in the future, I always want to be in racing. It is just an incredible sport and it brings so many people so much happiness.
“I’m very happy in Florida and very happy to be doing what I’m doing again.”
Sutherland will pit her talent against the likes of Frankie Dettori, Joao Moreira, Yuga Kawada and Joanna Mason in the jockeys challenge with the jockeys receiving 15 per cent of prize-money won in each of the four races.
“It has been an honour to be invited to be invited to Saudi. I love it here,” she added.
“It is my first time in Saudi Arabia and I’m actually blown away by the hospitality and the kindness people have shown.
“I’m really looking forward to the jockeys challenge. I’ve already worked out the races, watched all the replays and I’ve spoken to some key handicap people who have put the races together. I feel I am ready, physically, mentally and preparation-wise. I’ve done my homework. It’s going to be exciting.”