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Sutherland To Drive Standardbreds

Published: March 3, 2017 10:46 am ET

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Iconic Canadian jockey Chantal Sutherland will be returning to her roots to drive Standardbreds in a jurisdiction that most would not immediately associate with harness racing.

Horses on the track at McGhees Mile

The Canadian-born and raised Sutherland, who now plies her trade as a jockey stateside, will be part of a series of exhibition races at McGhees' Mile in Aiken, South Carolina on Saturday, March 11. This will be Sutherland's first time driving Standardbreds publicly, but by no means her first time in a jog cart.

Sutherland's father Hugh is a longtime harness racing industry participant as a trainer and owner in Ontario. He helped introduce Chantal to horses and harness racing before she made the jump to the thoroughbred side. Her career skyrocketed from there, winning two Sovereign Awards and eventually becoming a top jockey in the U.S. Sutherland later proved her Standardbred skills in a time trial at The Meadows Racetrack on September 23, 2013 breaking the North American record with an open class trotter under saddle.

For years Chantal's father Hugh has been friends and business partners with Ohio-based trainer Garry Martin.

“I was racing in the North America Cup with a horse named Set The Trap,” recalled Martin on how he met Sutherland. “He didn’t race well in the elimination but still qualified for the final. I had a local vet check him over that week, and the vet happened to be neighbours with Hugh, so he introduced us. Hugh had a few horses at the time and started sending them to me to race at The Meadows.”

Martin is one of the trainers currently stabled at McGhees' Mile, and through his connection to the Sutherlands was able to procure Chantal for a special appearance. Sutherland is currently riding at Santa Anita and, according to Martin, will forego her Saturday mounts while riding on Friday (March 10) and Sunday (March 12) in California. She's approaching the 1,000 wins plateau going into this Friday's card with 995 lifetime victories along with more than $50 million in purse earnings.

"She's coming down to drive five horses," said Martin, who owns horses in partnership with Hugh as well as Ontario's Jim Walker (featured in the March issue of Trot Magazine). "I asked her if she'd be alright [with the schedule] and she said 'yeah, I'm a good sleeper on the plane'."

This year marks the third straight in which McGhees' Mile will be conducting a matinee card. With increased exposure and a larger horse population they will conduct eight races plus a race with miniature horses. Martin expects a crowd of around 5,000 will take in the non-sanctioned races as part of the day, but the exhibition status matters not to those in attendance.

"It's amazing how these people are horse-crazy down here...they're screaming and yelling [at the races]," said Martin.

Janis McGhee of McGhee's Mile notes that the location within Aiken as well as the rich history of horses and equitation mesh with the day out at the track organized at her training facility.

"Everybody is horse-oriented in Aiken," McGhee told Trot Insider. "You have the thoroughbred track (the Aiken Mile), you have the steeplechase track, you have a lot of polo, hunters and jumpers, so there are a lot of different horse disciplines right here."

"The Voice" Roger Huston prepares to call a race at McGhees Mile

The matinee card of exhibition races is set for Saturday, March 11. Gates open at 9:00 a.m. with a carriage parade at 11:00 a.m. and first race post time at 12:00 p.m. For the third straight year, Hall of Famer Roger Huston will be calling the races.

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