Dubai: When Chantal Sutherland climbs on board Game On Dude at next Saturday’s Dubai World Cup (G1), she can be assured of one thing — the cheers of every woman present at Meydan Racecourse as she bids to make racing history.
A Canadian-born model, television personality and professional jockey, Sutherland has already claimed a place in the record books as the first lady to ride in the world’s richest race. On March 31, she will attempt to go one step further by beating the boys and winning the $10 million (Dh36.7 million) contest.
The very prospect of that scenario had not been lost on several women work riders based in the UAE.
“It’s an amazing thought, just thinking of it,” said Melanie Vanlerberghe, a French rider who is based with the Jebel Ali Stables. “With all the best jockeys from around the world competing for the biggest prize of all, and for the first time to have a girl riding in the race, it’s simply amazing. It’s difficult to imagine what will it be like on the day, and what will eventually happen. But if she wins I think I’ll cry.”
Laragh De Burgh, an Irish work-rider based at the Zabeel Stables, also believes this year’s Dubai World Cup will be different — at least for women jockeys in the UAE and around the world.
“It’s a very exciting prospect,” she says. “Flat racing is always going to be a male dominated sport so it’s great to see a girl like myself, riding in the big race. So if she does win it will be a big boost for women riders. It will be a big motivator especially for the younger girls in the sport.
“The Dubai World Cup is at the pinnacle of the sport, and should a woman win it, it could change the way people view women jockeys. And that will be a big thing for us.”
Salima Al Taleei, who is based at the Liwa Stables in Abu Dhabi, is mindful of the impact Sutherland has already made in the sport. “She’s already made people sit up and take notice of her abilities,” the Omani jockey said. “She is an ambassador for women jockey all over the world, and in the UAE in particular.
“I am so excited that she will be riding in a big race like the Dubai World Cup. It’s a major accomplishment to even get to ride in a race of such a high stature. If she wins, or can even come close to will be fantastic, for it will show the world that women jockeys can achieve the same success that the men have, provided they are given the right opportunities.
“Having been a jockey for the past seven years, I know just how hard it is to survive. And believe me if it were not for the support I have received from Shaikh Rashid Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, I may have given up,” she added. “I’m not saying everything will change for women riders should Chantal win, but it may encourage people to look at women jockey a bit differently.”
Polish rider Joanna Patejuk agrees. “I hope that Chantal can beat all the men,” she said emphatically. “This will be a big test for both horse and rider considering that they will both be new to the track at Meydan. So I’m hoping that she will have a little luck in the race and can come out a winner.
“I think all of us girl riders in Dubai will be screaming out for her during the race. I hope she hears us and crosses the line first.”
Xaviere Cottereau, a French work rider, said Sutherland faced a tough task in Dubai. “It’s great for a girl to be riding in the World Cup,” she said. “But it’s a very difficult race to win with so much prize money at stake. It would be great not only for her, but for women jockeys in general if she can win it. Because, it’s be honest, it’s pretty hard for a woman in this sport.”