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."

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

White Sox courting of Luis Robert leads to 'Christmas in May'

When he learned last November that elite talent Luis Robert could be available by June 15, Marco Paddy didn’t hold back: It was time for the White Sox make their move.

Much like with Yoan Moncada before, the team’s international scouting director had an extensive history scouting Robert, who on Saturday signed with the White Sox after he received a $26 million signing bonus. After watching him for five years, Paddy believed in Robert enough to recommend the White Sox pay several severe penalties to sign a player the franchise thinks could be an everyday center fielder with power.

By signing Robert, 19, the White Sox must not only pay a luxury tax of almost equal value to the bonus, but they’re also unable to sign any international prospect for more than $300,000 in each of the next two classes. But given the limited competition and the unique talent he saw, Paddy let the White Sox know Robert -- a potential top-30 prospect in baseball -- was a player they couldn’t afford to bypass. Thus begun the team’s courtship, one the Cuban cited as having a major impact on his desire to sign with the White Sox. Now, the White Sox not only have Moncada after trading for him in December, but they also have another potential cornerstone to build around.

“From the beginning we were very serious about it,” Paddy said. “Knowing we weren’t going to have 29 other clubs competing against us was a good thing for us because we knew our competition pool was a lot smaller. We went in it with everything we had and if we missed out on some guys that’s fine, that’s the risk you take.

“It’s a dream come true to be honest with you, having those guys with that kind of ability together. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. But I saw Moncada about the same age I saw Robert and it’s like Christmas in May.”

The pursuit of Robert -- a player general manager Rick Hahn describes as a “dynamic, potential talent” -- began in December at the winter meetings at National Harbor, Md. Having learned that Robert would potentially be a late addition to the 2016-17 international class, Paddy asked for a meeting with Hahn, executive vice president Kenny Williams and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Paddy and Hahn had previously held several similar state-of-the-international-picture meetings to determine when to make a splash on the market.

This was different.

“Marco approached us and said, ‘This is the guy,’ ” Hahn said.

It was still a “what if” proposition because Robert not only had to establish residency, but he also had to receive clearance from Major League Baseball to be part of the 2016-17 class, a critical factor. Under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams could spend whatever they wanted on a player as long as they paid a luxury tax. But under the new CBA, teams are limited to a maximum of $5.25 million for bonuses.

While the White Sox felt Paddy’s familiarity with Robert would give them a chance if he wasn’t eligible until July 2 (the next class), they knew they’d compete against fewer teams for his services under the old rules. Hahn said back in March the White Sox intended to be a player either way. On Saturday, he said it was Paddy’s initial determination that spurred him into action.

“Marco personally was willing to suffer the penalties that it has on his world for the betterment of the organization,” Hahn said. “Marco’s evaluation and presence and willingness to sacrifice potential future signings for this reinforced the notion that this was the right move to make.”

Then everyone else got involved and the White Sox went overboard to recruit Robert.

If Saturday’s pregame presentation is any indication, the White Sox pulled out all the stops.

As Robert was introduced for his press conference, he sat in front of banners featuring current and former White Sox from Cuba, including Alexei Ramirez, Minnie Minoso, Jose Abreu and Moncada.

Once he was on the field to throw out the first pitch, the team played a short video that was filmed Friday night on the scoreboard with numerous White Sox fans welcoming Robert to Chicago. As Robert trotted to the mound to throw his pitch to Abreu, team employees stood atop the home dugout with a sign that read “bienvenidos” and holding Cuban flags.

But the post-signing efforts were nothing compared to the team’s full-court press of Robert last month.

[MORE: Luis Robert will start journey through White Sox organization in Dominican Summer League]

Hahn and Williams brought several showstoppers with them when they traveled to the Dominican Republic for a private workout with Robert last month. Included were a power point production and an iPad with a video presentation that the White Sox communications department put together in six days, Hahn said. Manager Rick Renteria narrated the short video in Spanish and it included personal messages for Robert from Abreu, Moncada and Michael Ynoa, who shares the same trainer (Edgar Mercedes) and worked out with Robert in the offseason.

“It was a beautiful video,” Robert said through an interpreter. “The part (that stood out) the most was when Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me, saying they need me here to win several championships.”

But more than the video, Robert said the desire displayed by the White Sox made his decision easy. Hahn said the White Sox felt confident heading into the final 24 hours that they were in the lead for Robert. Not only had they bid aggressively, Hahn thought the White Sox made a strong pitch. That feeling only increased last Saturday morning when Robert changed his Instagram avatar to a picture of him wearing a White Sox cap.

“The video helps a lot, but the thing that made me make a decision was who was the team that showed more interest,” Robert said. “That was something that made me feel good.”

Paddy had seen enough in five years to feel confident in pushing the White Sox to be a player for Robert.

He first scouted Robert at the under-15 Pan American Championships in 2012 in Chihuahua, Mexico. Paddy’s interest in the 6-foot-3, 175-pound center fielder only grew as Robert matured physically. Paddy suspected that once Hahn and Williams would be on board once they saw the passion with which Robert played.

Robert described himself on Saturday as player who likes to fight and “give all that I have for my team.” Paddy said it wasn’t a difficult call to push Hahn when he considered the player’s tools and makeup, as well as the last opportunity to spend big on an international talent.

“You put all those things together, it becomes easy,” Paddy said. “As I watched him over the years grow, get stronger and get better, it became evident to me that if we had an opportunity to sign this guy, it would be a good thing for the organization.

“The level of ability, the tools that I saw that he had, and the past and now present, it’s something you don’t see every day.”

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

Tyler Danish gets win in first big league start as White Sox beat Tigers in first game of doubleheader

Usually when a pitcher walks six batters in one game, it’s an outing to forget.

Not the case, though, for Tyler Danish, who will always want to remember what went down Saturday on the South Side.

After making three relief appearances last season, Danish made his first big league start in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the visiting Detroit Tigers. And despite issuing a sextet of free passes, he allowed a goose egg on the scoreboard, earning his first major league victory in the White Sox 3-0 win.

“That's great. I mean you dream as a kid to pitch in the big leagues,” Danish said. “To get my first win in my first career start was special. I'm glad my mom was here, I'm glad she got to enjoy that. It was a very special day, something I'll always remember.”

Danish got into some early trouble and looked like he might’ve been heading for the same type of sky-high ERA that he put up in his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it call up in 2016, when he turned in a 10.80 earned-run average in 1.2 innings. He walked three batters in the first inning Saturday, escaping thanks to a double play and a bases-loaded ground out to end the inning.

Twice more he had multiple runners on base, but he got out of those innings unscathed, too.

“He was throwing enough strikes that with the sinking action, he was able to get that ground ball in the first inning, the double play,” manager Rick Renteria said after the game. “Then most of the game he was still staying down in the zone. He was missing but just missing off on the fringes of the plate.

“I think he was very composed. The first couple of innings he was a little accelerated but he slowed down. In the end we wanted to make sure he was ready to go out and finish it.”

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Despite the walks, Danish impressed. In addition to throwing five scoreless innings, he allowed just three hits and struck out seven Detroit hitters. Danish became the first White Sox pitcher to throw at least five scoreless frames and give up three or fewer hits in his first big league start in nearly a decade. The last guy to do it was Lance Broadway in September 2007.

“I definitely was nervous in the first inning. I was expecting it,” Danish said. “I came in and tried to pitch as well as I could with that. But I did settle in after the first couple innings and just started breathing a little more. I felt comfortable and the bullpen did a great job, the defense did a great job.

“I think a little bit of nerves. Obviously you don't want six (walks) every game, but I thought I made good pitches when I needed to. Now, go and enjoy this thing and tomorrow we'll be back again.”

Even though offense was hard to come by, the White Sox hitters managed three runs against an otherwise dominant Michael Fulmer. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year yielded just six hits through his first seven innings of work, the lone run in that span scoring on a bases-loaded double play in the fifth.

The White Sox got to Fulmer slightly more in the eighth with runs scoring on a Leury Garcia triple and a Jose Abreu broken-bat bloop single. Fulmer still finished with fewer than 100 pitches thrown in his eight innings, recording every out for Detroit.

The White Sox bullpen was perhaps the most impressive unit of the game. Chris Beck, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson threw four scoreless innings and struck out nine hitters, including eight straight at one point.