BATTLE OF THE EXES: CHANTAL SUTHERLAND vs MIKE SMITH - 8/7/11
Besides the one-on-one battle that match races automatically engender, the storied history between Smith and Sutherland added some special spice to the event. At one time the pair were engaged to be married and their 7-year romance played out publicly and to great interest by racing fans in the two-year Animal Planet television series "Jockeys."
"Team Mike" and "Team Chantal" buttons were being passed out at Del Mar before Race 5 and by the time the horses reached the starting gate for the one-mile race, there were a lot more Smith buttons left over than Sutherland souvenirs. "It was so nice to have everyone cheering for me, that was really sweet," Sutherland said. "A couple of times I felt bad for Mike because he had a lot of buttons left over."
But Smith had the last laugh by breaking on top with 3-5 favorite JOKER FACE and going gate-to-wire to beat Sutherland aboard PARABLE, who went postward at even money, by 2-1/4 lengths in the fifth match race in Del Mar history.
Smith, who rode a lot of match races while growing up in New Mexico clearly had the experience advantage and prevailed as he guided the Peter Eurton-trained JOKER FACE en route to the victory as the 3-year-old gelded son of IT'S NO JOKE added blinkers for the first time.
Smith may have been favored but he felt public sentiment was with Sutherland. Furthermore, Smith felt the pressure was on his shoulders all week; he knew that if he lost he would hear grief from fellow riders. "I tell you, I've been taking heat for the last three or four days from the boys (in the jockeys' room)," he said. "Rightly so. I had to win this one. They would have never let me live it down if I didn't. Someone asked if I thought about the possibility of letting Chantal win and the answer to that was no! There was pressure here, pressure to win - I had everything to lose in this one.... for my gender and all that. But there was fun, too. I had some followers, but not that many people were rooting for me."
As the horses left the paddock on their journey to the track, many of the male jockeys were on a second-floor balcony cheering for Smith and good-naturedly booing Sutherland, a Canadian native riding her first full summer at Del Mar. She said she enjoyed herself but also felt pressure. "To be honest, I'm glad it's over," she said. "There was a lot of pressure ... a ton of media work leading up to it. But it was fun, too. Overall, I enjoyed it."
Smith, 45, inducted into racing's Hall of Fame in 2003 and the regular pilot for two champion females - 2002 Horse of the Year AZERI and 2010 Horse of the Year ZENYATTA - is approaching 5,000 winners with mounts that have earned more than $217 million during his 29 years in the saddle. Sutherland, who only has been riding for 11 years, is approaching 900 winners and purses of nearly $43 million. The 35-year-old scored the biggest victory of her career when she captured the Santa Anita Handicap aboard GAME ON DUE earlier in the year.
The race was sponsored by the Daily Racing Form and Pierre (PEB) Bellocq, the talented artist/cartoonist over a long career with the racing newspaper, created a special poster for the race. (Look above for PEB picture)
Watch extended coverage of all the hype leading up to this highly anticipated match race...see interviews of both Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland throwing barbs in the days before the event talking about their explosive and failed relationship...emotions and tension still very much alive and describing how constantly being in competition with the other was a leading factor to the demise of their union, when they started, "going the wrong way".
In addition, both riders talked about finally being on, "speaking terms" a few months back (May 30, 2011) but all chances of being civil quickly turned to extremely strained and bitter relations after Mike Smith blamed Chantal for being the cause of his first-place disqualification aboard AMAZOMBIE in the San Diego Handicap when M ONE RIFLE (Chantel's mount) veered in on him in the stretch and caused a chain reaction of bumping (contact). After a lengthy inquiry, AMAZOMBIE was taken down from first to third place, CAMP VICTORY was moved up to first and M ONE RIFLE to second place. See the entire running of the race with several slow motion and pan shots that fueled more fire to their already soured relation.
This race will be a historic event in the years ahead - never before has there been a meeting of past lovers taking it up on the racetrack to settle their, "bad blood" once and for all - a concept idea that will be talked about for years to come! In the end, each rider had the class and dignity to handle the pressure in stride. Don't miss it!
|Format(s) Available:||DVD And VHS|
|Category:||U.S. & Canadian Flat Racing|