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Jul 7, 2012
This article was originally written for York University’s alumni news, and published on their web site on June 26, 2012 under the title, “York grad first woman to ride in Dubai World Cup“.

Chantal Sutherland. Photo courtesy of Dan Harmon Photography

Chantal Sutherland’s (BA ‘99) bio reads like adventure fiction. She’s a model and actress who’s starred in an HBO television series. She was selected as one of People magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful in 2008, and more recently Vanity Fair ran a profile of her; legendary actress Bo Derek took the accompanying photo. She has a pilot’s license and her own jewelry line. And for her day job, Sutherland is a competitive jockey who races thoroughbreds. Earlier this year she became the first female jockey to ride in the prestigious Dubai World Cup—a race with a $10M purse.

It’s a glamorous life a long way from the farms of Caledon, Ontario, the small township where Sutherland grew up. “My dad had horses,” Sutherland said, adding that he was into racing. “At the time my sister and I were show jumping. We were pretty competitive, a competitive family. I told my dad I wanted to be a jockey when I was 13, but then you do other jobs, you go to university.”

It was during an Occupational Psychology class in the last year of her Psychology/Mass Communications undergrad at York that Sutherland committed herself to being a jockey. “We were learning how to help other people choose their jobs, so they drew a diagram. It’s called the ‘occupational sweet spot’.”

Students were instructed to assess their career possibilities against passion, acumen, and financial viability. “I [started with] psychologist but I wasn’t passionate about it,” Sutherland said. “Then I put jockey and it was a hit. People were like, ‘You can’t be a jockey’ and I was like, ‘Hell no! I can do this.’”

Sutherland was 25 years old when she won her first race at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. “It seems so long ago and I’ve grown so much in that time. The racing hasn’t changed that much,” she mused. “I wish more people knew about how amazing the industry is.”

Disregard for younger fans and pay-per-view races do a disservice to the sport, according to Sutherland. “Our industry shoots ourselves in the foot by making people pay to see it. Let them see it! They’ll come. Our target market is young people and we’re not reaching them. The market we’re reaching is dying off.”

It may not be pro ball but there are plenty of opportunities for talented jockeys, and though she’s in the minority as a female athlete, Sutherland would like to see that change. “I hope more girls come out and be jockeys. It’s a great opportunity,” she said.

It’s no coincidence that thoroughbred racing is called “the sport of kings”. Historically, it was popular with the aristocracy and British royalty, and just as the horses themselves are rare and valuable (almost all thoroughbreds can be traced back to three founding sires), the winners’ purses can be in the millions of dollars.

It’s a big payday, but Sutherland more than earns it with her intense training schedule. “Every morning I go to the track for 6 or 7 in the morning,” she explained. “I work with the horses until about 10, then I go to the gym for 11 with a trainer and run.”

In addition to the daily workouts, Sutherland hikes and does strength training five to six times per week. She has to stay in top racing condition and keep her weight down.

“Jockeys have to weigh the same, between 110 and 116 pounds.” Any jockey that’s weighs in over has to “reduce”, which involves a regimen of sauna time and running. “It’s hard on your body and hard on your mind,” Sutherland conceded.

Still, the benefits far outweigh the hardships. In addition to earning a hefty pay cheque, Sutherland gets to spend her days doing a job she loves. But none of this means she’s slowing down—Sutherland hopes to add “talk show host” to her bio. “I love The Regis and Kelly Show,” she confessed. “I’d love to be on a show like that.”

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