Skip to main content

Chantal Sutherland is home again.

After years south of the border, the veteran jockey will again ride full-time at Woodbine Racetrack, where its 2018 thoroughbred schedule begins Saturday. Sutherland, 42, was born in Winnipeg but grew up on a horse farm in Caledon, Ont., located roughly 40 kilometres north of Toronto.

She’s raced throughout the United States, and in Hong Kong and Dubai, but has always called Woodbine home and has even purchased a house in nearby Bolton, Ont.

“Woodbine is such a great place,” she said. “The surfaces are great, there’s a training track, main track, training turf course and main turf course.

“But what’s really cool is the people there are all my friends and have been for many years. They’ve all grown, people now have babies, it’s crazy. It’s so nice to come back and see them again. It’s home.”

The highlight of the 133-day meet will be the $1-million Queen’s Plate, North America’s oldest continuously-run stakes event and the first jewel in Canada’s Triple Crown. It will be held June 30. Woodbine will also host the final Triple Crown event, the $400,000 Breeders’ Stakes, on Aug. 18.

The other major races include the $800,000 Ricoh Woodbine Mile (Sept. 15), and the $800,000 Pattison Canadian International and $500,000 E.P. Taylor Stakes turf events (Oct. 13). The meet concludes Dec. 16.

Sutherland, Emma-Jayne Wilson and Francine Villeneuve are the only Canadian-born female jockeys to achieve 1,000 wins. Woodbine is where Sutherland earned the first of her 1,025 career victories Oct. 9, 2000.

The following year she captured the first of two straight Sovereign Awards as the country’s top apprentice jockey.

Sutherland remained in Canada through the 2004 campaign, riding that winter at Laurel Park Racecourse in Laurel, Md. After registering a career-best 159 wins in 2009, Sutherland claimed $8.7-million in purse earnings the following year. In 2011 she became the first woman to win the Santa Anita Handicap, a major California stakes race.

She also became the first female jockey to win the Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes and rode in the Dubai World Cup, a major event in the United Arab Emirates.

Sutherland was second in the 2009 Woodbine jockey standings with 139 wins from 981 mounts and earnings of $7,588,868. She was a finalist as Canada’s top rider that year.

Sutherland has also received acclaim away from the track. In 2006, People Magazine named her one of its 100 Most Beautiful People and she was involved in a photo shoot for Vanity Fair. Sutherland has appeared on Conan O’Brien as well as in reality shows, including Jockeys, which began in 2009 and ran for two seasons.

Sutherland has also overcome much adversity, both personally and professionally.

She has spent the off-season recovering from shoulder and knee injuries suffered in a racing spill at Louisiana in January. In 2016, Sutherland and U.S. businessman Dan Kruse divorced after four years of marriage.

Twice Sutherland has retired from racing, only to return to saddle shortly afterwards.

Physically, Sutherland said she feels stronger now than at any other time in her riding career. Despite her injuries, Sutherland has been able to run, do yoga and cycling classes and is confident her familiarity with Woodbine will result in a seamless transition once the season begins.

Sutherland is scheduled to ride four horses on Saturday.

“I’d like to be top-three [in rider standings], but I’m not going to set myself up to be upset if that doesn’t happen,” she said. “But I’m going hard core and that’s what I want.

“I also want to stay healthy, make great friendships in the room and continue making great alliances with my peers, have fun and just be really positive. I really want to spend time with family and just have a [good] year.”

Although she’s returning to a familiar setting, Sutherland doesn’t expect to be handed anything this year.

“It’s getting more competitive at Woodbine, there’s a lot of good jockeys,” she said. ’’I’ve learned a lot, I have a lot of experience now and I’m much stronger than I’ve ever been.

“I’m real excited to see how my riding year goes and I’m very excited to work because I haven’t been doing anything so they’re going to get a double-whammy from me. It’s on.”

Sutherland’s goals for 2018 include riding in as many stakes races as possible, including the Plate.

“I’ve been asking everybody, ’Who do you have for the Plate?” she said. “I’d love to be in it, I’d love to win it.

“I’d really like to be in as many stakes races as possible. My goal for all the trainers I ride for is, if I can’t win I’m still going to get second, third, fourth. My small goal is to improve every single horse I get to ride, that’s what I want to do.”

But she also has plans away from the track.

“I love kids . . . I don’t have any of my own but I’d like to take the opportunity to do more with kids,” she said. “I want to be part of Bolton now and get involved in the community here.”

Interact with The Globe