Chantal Sutherland: Racy Lady

A winning jockey, model, and aspiring actress, Chantal Sutherland is the new poster girl for the Del Mar Race Track, featured in ad campaigns throughout this racing season. But then, Sutherland is used to the spotlight. She posed bare back (and nearly bare) for a racy — but tasteful — photo in the June issue of Vanity Fair, shot by friend and mentor Bo Derek, who is also a horsewoman. Sutherland and Derek share something else in common: each was named among People magazine’s “Most Beautiful People.”

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Called horse racing’s hottest female jockey, Sutherland has far more than a pretty face. She’s closing in on 1,000 races and more than $45 million in earnings in a highly competitive, not to mention, dangerous, sport. At just five-feet-two and about 113 pounds, Sutherland rides thoroughbreds more than ten times her weight, galloping at speeds of roughly 40 miles an hour, definitely not for the faint of heart. Del Mar’s Joe Harper says Sutherland is the complete package. “It’s a great combination: talent, strength, looks, and intelligence.”

The Canadian-born Sutherland grew up riding on her family’s horse farm near Toronto and playing competitive field hockey before graduating from York University with degrees in mass communications and psychology. A dozen years ago, she decided to give racing a try, becoming a top rider in Canada before setting her sights on bigger races in the U.S.

The turning point in her career was the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap in March 2011, astride a gelding named Game on Dude, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. The horse, a 14-1 shot, finished first, and Sutherland became the first female jockey to win the historic race. It also was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. “I made this incredible relationship with this horse that I’m totally in love with, and I’d always dreamt of coming to California and riding for Bob Baffert,” Sutherland says. “A lot of things came true with that horse. A lot of my dreams came true.”

After finishing second by a nose in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, Game on Dude and Sutherland headed to Dubai in March to compete for racing’s richest prize, the $10 million World Cup. Although they finished near the back of the pack after a bad start, the race broke another barrier: Sutherland became the first female ever to compete.

“I love competition. I love being fit. And I love the horses,” she says. “More than anything, I love the experience of being in tune with the horse and winning.” Grateful for her career, she serves on the board of CARMA (California Retirement Management Account), a nonprofit that raises funds to find homes for horses after their racing days are over. “We owe it to them,” she says. “They give us everything we have.”

As for her life off the track, Sutherland was long linked with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, with whom she appeared on the Animal Planet’s reality show Jockeys. (She also had a role in Luck, a short-lived racetrack series on HBO.) After their split, the two raced against each other last summer at Del Mar in a highly promoted match dubbed the “Battle of the Exes.” The big winner was Del Mar, garnering almost as much publicity as Opening Day.

Sutherland would meet her match, not on the track, but on a blind date at L’Auberge Del Mar last August. Nine months later, she married businessman Dan Kruse, who runs his family’s meat processing company in Arcadia. The Huntington Beach couple share a love for speed (on the track for her; a ski boat for him). They also like to “putt about the harbor” in an electric boat. While Sutherland says her husband is “always up for a good time with friends,” he’s also a “homebody” who likes to go to bed early. That’s fine for Sutherland who says that by 9pm, during a grueling meet, “my pumpkin awaits.” Kruse, by the way, is more than a foot taller than Sutherland, and in a wonderful bit of irony, he’s also allergic to horses.   ANDREA NAVERSEN

Photography by Vincent Knakal, makeup by Flora Wade and hair by Jenn Tandarich and Amanda Lindberg for Detour Salon, photographed on location at Rancho Paseana

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