Chantal Sutherland knows all about the historical barriers she will shatter when trainer Bob Baffert gives her a leg up on Game On Dude in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I).
Just breaking from the starting gate will make the jockey the first woman to ride in the world’s richest race. If she should win it--and Game On Dude’s tactical speed will be a strong asset on Meydan Racecourse’s synthetic surface--she will achieve something that women in the Middle East (or most anywhere else) could not even have dreamed about just a few years ago.
But Sutherland, who already has been the subject of Dubai newspaper stories and has received offers for appearances and more interviews there, has decided to focus on her horse and her riding.
“I’d rather not talk about it; I’d be afraid that whatever I said would be misinterpreted,” she said softly, expressing a sensitive regard for the culture of the region in purposefully deciding to downplay the historical nature of her ride. “I know the attention is going to be around me and my horse, but I just want to lay low.”
Instead of talking, she is increasing her physical training regimen and researching the other potential World Cup starters. Her family will accompany her to Dubai and she plans to spend time with them when she is not pumping iron in her hotel gym.
But that doesn’t mean she’s not thrilled about her impending date with history.
“I’m excited and I am looking forward to this great opportunity. It’s going to be fantastic,” Sutherland said. “It would mean the world to me (to win). I would be so honored and grateful.
“And it would help me pay for my new house,” she added with a laugh.
The Dubai World Cup winning jockey earns $600,000 for the roughly two-minute ride over 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles) and also receives a gold whip. A victory by Game On Dude and Sutherland would be inspiration for women riders all over the world and perhaps help clear the way for more to compete in elite races.
For Sutherland, going to Dubai is something of a dream come true. She traveled to the UAE a dozen years ago, when both the landscape of the now bustling city and her own life were far different. At that time, she worked as an exercise rider for trainer Beau Greely’s multiple graded stakes winner Takarian, who finished eighth in the 2000 Dubai Duty Free, then a group III race.
“When I was there, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to come back here as a jockey,’” she recalled.
In four days, the 36-year-old Winnipeg, Canada, native who also has found fame as an actress and model will board a plane to fulfill that dream. She is eager to meet the international elite of racing who will be on the scene, including Princess Haya bint al Hussein, who rode a winner in an amateur race at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in 2004 prior to her marriage to Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed. But Sutherland's focus on the trip is all about Game On Dude.
“I know my horse and I try to stay in tune with him,” Sutherland said of the 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding she refers to by his initials, G.O.D., on Twitter. “He is so talented and has a high cruising speed.”
Game On Dude’s strongest attribute, she said, is “his heart,” his will to win.
She is going to leave race strategy to Baffert, who has praised the rider’s ability to get the most out of Game On Dude. Both of the gelding’s grade I victories to date were achieved with Sutherland in the irons and the pair just missed winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
“She fits the horse so well,” Baffert said.
Baffert already has won two World Cups, with Silver Charm in 1998 and Captain Steve in 2001, more than any other trainer in the 16-year history of the race except Godolphin’s Saeed bin Suroor, who has saddled five winners.
But this year, with Sutherland holding the reins, would be like nothing that has ever before been seen.