Female jockey set to make history

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Female jockey set to make history

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Chantal Sutherland will make history Saturday as the first woman jockey to ride in the world's richest horse race. She hopes many more will follow. Sutherland will ride Game On Dude in the 10 million Dubai World Cup, the latest breakthrough for the 36-year-old rider from Toronto. She is one of several dozen female jockeys racing in North America, and perhaps the most well known. "I don't feel pressure. I feel really honored and grateful," Sutherland said. "As soon as the gates open, I think I've made history. I hope I'm one of many to come in the Dubai World Cup and hope I see more women making it at this level. There are a lot of great female jockeys." Sutherland remains somewhat of an anomaly in the male-dominated, tradition-rich sport of horse racing where owners often hesitate to give females a chance and women lack the kind of role models and support network enjoyed by the male jockeys. But the 12-year veteran said things are gradually changing. More women are getting rides in big races like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic. Their numbers are slowly increasing in the U.S., Australia and Europe. The industry, too, is starting to recognize the benefits of female jockeys -- especially when it comes to attracting a new audience to a sport that is struggling to stay afloat financially. "Sometimes, it is a little bit of a boys' club. I think all women can agree with me," Sutherland said. "However, sometimes I get a lot of support because I am a woman," she added. "I've gotten a lot of media attention because I'm a woman. I've marketed myself and by marketing myself I've gotten more opportunities to get on other horses and other owners want to ride me because of that ... It kind of balances itself out." Hayley Turner, one of Britain's most prominent female jockeys, agreed that attitudes toward women in racing are changing. She, too, will make history as the first woman to ride in a thoroughbred race at the Dubai World Cup meeting. She is scheduled to ride Margot Did in the Al Quoz Sprint, a Group 1 race that precedes the World Cup. "It is a first, isn't it? People will make a big deal of it," said Turner, whose profile has skyrocketed after she won two Group 1 races last year. "There has to be a first for everything," she said. "Next year when there are a few more girls, it won't be a big deal. I think it's been part of my career having these breakthroughs. It has been nice to be able to do it. But then it's nice now that it's normal as well. People can accept you for a jockey, rather than as a girl riding well." Sutherland, who first contemplated becoming a jockey at 13 after seeing a female rider sporting a bandanna at her local track, admits the early days were a struggle. She was told by Hong Kong race organizers that they didn't see the benefits of using a woman jockey and then was almost pulled off a horse by an owner in California who didn't realize she was a woman until she was in the paddock. She won the race but the owner never used her again. She also endured heartbreak in 2009, when 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird charged up the rail to steal the Derby. Sutherland had been his regular rider, lost him for two races during a change of trainers, then showed up at Churchill Downs three days before the race with a promise from one of the owners that she would get the mount for the big race. It went to veteran Calvin Borel instead -- she learned about the change in the Daily Racing Form. Sutherland said she never let any of those incidents get her down, insisting she "couldn't care less" when an owner over the years has doubted her ability. "You have to stick it through and believe in yourself. You can't give up," she said. "So many times people told me I can't do this or can't do that. My nature is that I don't listen very well. I'm very determined and I believe in myself. My parents brought me up that way. Thank God for that. I don't let anything stand in my way." By persevering, Sutherland has emerged as one of North America's top jockeys. She has earned 45.6 million in purses and won 908 races in Canada, Florida, New York and now California. She became the first woman to win the Santa Anita Handicap last year on Game On Dude and finished an agonizing second in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November, losing out to the long shot Drosselmeyer, who was ridden by Sutherland's ex-boyfriend Mike Smith. With the success have come opportunities off the track -- turning her into one of America's most recognizable jockeys. She has had billboards dedicated to her in Los Angeles and has been the face for jeweler Caldwell Sutherland designs. She has also appeared in several television shows, including the horse racing reality show "Jockeys" and the recently canceled HBO series "Lucky." While some jockeys may grumble that she gets the offers only because she is a woman, Sutherland embraces her newfound celebrity status. Mobbed by cameras on her arrival at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, Sutherland gushed how she "felt like a superstar." "As far as the other jockeys, I'm sure at first there was some jealously for the attention. But now, I think they sort of blow it off as 'she is the princess'," she said. "I hope they see it as a good thing for racing. Without the attention and without bringing more people to the industry, we are in trouble." Her rising stature has brought expectations -- a victory Saturday could further bolster her status and possibly lead to a ride in the Melbourne Cup or Royal Ascot. A loss, in contrast, could raise doubts about her ability to win big races. But Game On Dude co-owner Bernie Schiappa insists he is sticking with Sutherland "win, lose or draw." "She is a competitor. She is fit. She works very hard at what she does," said Schiappa, recalling her extensive preparations before the BC Classic. "Everyone says you can have a different rider. But you know what? She earned the right to ride this horse and she proved she can do it."

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

MESA, Ariz. – In an alternate universe, Javier Baez might have become the goat after committing two errors in a World Series Game 7. But the young Cubs played without a sense of panic and wanted to write their own history.

Baez shrugged it off in Cleveland and homered off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber that night. Baez will be remembered as a breakout star from those playoffs, a game-changing defensive force with his mixture of lateral range, rocket-arm strength and instincts for tagging.

But there have also been times where manager Joe Maddon would like Baez to be a little more boring. The next stage of Javy Being Javy would be showing more of the consistency that made Addison Russell an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22. It may also partially explain why Maddon for now still sees Ben Zobrist as his primary second baseman, even after Baez started all 17 postseason games at that position.  

“You definitely continually speak about (how) you want guys to make the routine play routinely,” Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “I’ve often talked about lack of chrome. Gary DiSarcina (with the Angels) was the guy that really embedded that thought in my head, because he was so chrome-less and he was so good at the routine play. I used to always yell that at my infielders in instructional league: ‘No chrome!’

“Having said all that, Javy comes from a different background, and he has a flair about his game, so I don’t necessarily want to subtract that. But just have him understand the routine stuff has to be made routinely well.

“He’s very capable of that. I think as his game continues to develop and mature, you’ll see him make less mistakes, whether it’s that or sometimes even on the bases. He’ll make a spectacular play on the bases and then again do something that you don’t like. But I think that’s just part of his nature and his game.” 

Zobrist delivered a World Series MVP performance after signing a four-year, $56 million contract last winter with the idea that focusing on one position – instead of moving around as a super-utility guy – would help him age better.

“Last year, I played 147 games,” said Zobrist, who will turn 36 in May. “I don’t know what that number’s going to look like. You got to stay healthy. There were probably only a few games that I missed because there was physically something that was keeping me from playing.

“We’ll play it by ear. Some of those will have to do with if I’m a little tired and the matchup is right, maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days. But I know that there’s other times last year where – whether you’re tired or not – you got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club. So just make adjustments as the weeks and series go on.”

Maddon is already thinking of ways to rest Zobrist – who played into early November after helping the 2015 Royals win the World Series – on a team with so many versatile athletes. The Cubs could also try to go back to last year’s model, putting Baez wherever their scouting-and-data projections predicted the ball would be hit most that night.

“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said. “(Javy’s) going to play some second, of course, and so will Zo. Zo’s going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo can also do what he’s done in the past and play some outfield.

“What happens – and I hate to say it like (this) – but baseball has a very cruel way of determining things. I don’t want it to be any injuries. I’d rather have to figure all of this stuff out on a daily basis. Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.

“It’s all in theory right now. Of course, he’s going to play. Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out? We’re not 100 percent sure yet. But he’s pretty darned good.”

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist drove to work on Sunday morning in his World Series MVP car, a 50th anniversary edition gray convertible Camaro he parked in the players’ lot outside the Under Armour Performance Center. Even on a star-studded Cubs team that clearly enjoyed the spoils of winning, Zobrist popped out as someone who understood what this meant in Chicago and why these opportunities shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“The surreal moments,” Zobrist said, “were obviously being on ‘Jimmy Fallon’ and getting to do about three days worth of Disney World in about six hours – just by zooming around and going in back doors and such – to in December going to a Bulls game and the crowd basically erupting when they put the camera on me.

“Getting to go to the White House and meet President Obama and the first lady at the time. And then a few weeks after that, I got to go to the National Prayer Breakfast events and meet a whole bunch of congressmen and senators and then shake the hand of President Trump and Vice President Pence.

“Being put in arenas that you’re not used to being put in – just because you were able to do something as an athlete – is pretty special. It’s special to know that you were able to do something that made a lot of people happy.”

Not bad for a small-town kid from downstate Illinois who never got drafted out of high school and ranked 16th on Baseball America’s list of the Houston Astros’ top prospects after the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Zobrist then had to spend parts of three seasons at the Triple-A level before really establishing himself with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays, waiting until his age-28 season to get more than 200 at-bats.

During the interview, Zobrist asked a group of reporters to move with him away from his locker, so that Albert Almora Jr. could have some space and not deal with the overflow crowd after an abbreviated workout limited by the rain in Mesa. Within the clubhouse, Zobrist is respected for his meticulous preparation, willingness to play all over the field and nerves of steel in the playoffs. That’s why the Cubs gave Zobrist a four-year, $56 million contract after watching him help the Kansas City Royals win the 2015 World Series.

“It doesn’t feel like a three-peat to me,” Zobrist said. “Every year is new. And you’ve got to kind of forget about last year, to a certain degree. I know what happened last year is pretty unforgettable. But at the same time, we’ve got to turn the page and try to do something even more special.

“Everybody was super-hungry to make it happen last year. We have to push each other to realize it’s going to be even harder this year. For us to be able to do something like repeating a championship in Chicago would be even greater than what we were able to do last year.”

Zobrist decided to live close to Wrigley Field to maximize time with his family during the season and experience the city. In another surreal, only-in-Chicago moment, fans swarmed his North Center home after the Cubs returned from Cleveland, lining up around the block to say thanks and get a moment with the World Series MVP.   

“My neighborhood was really respectful,” Zobrist said. “They were awesome all year, just kind of (recognizing) that’s our home (and) being neighbors. And then after we won – the day after we came home – I was playing outside with my kids and some of the neighborhood kids were like: ‘Oh, man, we watched you (on TV). Hey, would you sign something?’

“I’m like: ‘You know what, I didn’t do it all year, I’ll do it.’ So I started signing for a few of them. And the next thing I know, people from surrounding neighborhoods heard and started coming over.

“Just to go on the record: That’s not happening all year long this year.”