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Jockey Chantal Sutherland rode Game On Dude at the Dubai World Cup in March. Caren Firouz / Reuters
Jockey Chantal Sutherland rode Game On Dude at the Dubai World Cup in March. Caren Firouz / Reuters

Chantal Sutherland ends retirement with Del Mar comeback

The only woman to have ridden in the Dubai World Cup cannot resist the pangs of separation.

One of the first things that Chantal Sutherland promised to do on retiring from the saddle in October was to eat a cheeseburger. How times have changed.

The only woman to have ridden in the Dubai World Cup has risen, Lazarus-like, and returned to race riding.

From a top weight of 120lbs, she has slimmed down over the past few months to 112 and her career in America relaunched at Del Mar on Thursday when she finished seventh in a maiden claimer.

The cynics have suggested that her return at Del Mar's mammoth 37-day meeting that started on Thursday coincides with the fact that she is the marketing face of the idyllic Californian racecourse.

If Sutherland has had a job getting fit, the 37-year-old jockey is also struggling to secure decent mounts after her break from the saddle, during which she mostly relaxed with her husband, Dan Kruse, after 12 consecutive years in the saddle.

She had no rides yesterday and only has one overnight on Rock This Way in a US$38,000 (Dh139,600) claimer in which she competes against the evergreen Gary Stevens.

"I've been working a lot of horses but you know this industry is pretty fickle," Sutherland said. "I have no business coming to Del Mar so I've a lot of work to do. I hope I get the horses and the trainers, and if I don't at least I've tried my best."

When asked what she missed most about her life as a jockey, she replied instantaneously.

"The horses," she said. "I missed competing and going fast. I missed the adrenalin and rush and the camaraderie in the jockeys' room. It used to be annoying that they would tease me but then you miss all of your friends, and they are kind of family."

The cheeseburgers are a distant memory. Sutherland allowed herself a portion of tuna sashimi earlier this week, but protein intake has mostly been restricted to scoops in protein shakes. A quarter of a cup of oatmeal in the morning, an apple and a few vegetables has been her diet, along with a gallon of water a day.

Alongside riding out at Hollywood Park, and taking rides over the past month in Canada, Sutherland has also trained for an hour a day on cardiovascular in addition to half an hour on her upper body.

For a woman who is a model first, and jockey second, she modestly adds her lower body is "pretty buff", and needs little attention.

When Stevens returned early this year it was not long until the 50-year-old Hall Of Fame jockey secured a brace of Grade 1 wins.

Sutherland's only success at the highest level came courtesy of Game On Dude, who won the Santa Anita Handicap, the Goodwood Stakes and the Hollywood Gold Cup. Sutherland last rode Game On Dude in August when a mistake in the Pacific Classic allowed Dullahan to sneak through.

Trainer Bob Baffert looked to Rafael Bejarano and Mike Smith from then on, which precipitated Sutherland's retirement.

Sutherland needs to find a horse of similar ability if her comeback is to have any significant meaning, but until then she is content just getting on horses and riding in races once again.

"I am looking forward to getting back into that competitive mode and in the zone - you know, just kicking butt."

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