She’s been gone from racing for seven months but Chantal Sutherland Kruse is back. She makes her return to riding at Woodbine this weekend and explains in this Jockey Journal (taken from a phone interview with DanonymousRacing.com) why she abruptly retired last year and why she decided to come back.
Retiring and Taking Time To Reflect
When I took time off, I had been going at it for so long. In Canada, most jockeys take the Winter off but in the states there are no real breaks for jockeys. That was tough and the demands of the diet were also getting to me. I had also met someone outside of racing who made me realize how demanding horse racing is. I just wanted a little bit of a break to spend time with my husband (Dan Kruse).
When I was away, I took two courses that were self-reflective and that help you learn about yourself and how to become a powerful person in the universe. So, I really reflected on some of the decisions I made, where I wanted to be in my life and what I wanted to do with my life. And, I realized that I’m not ready yet to leave racing.
Game On Dude (and losing the mount on him) did hurt. It kind of stung. I’d been fired and hired my whole career and I think I’ve been pretty good at dealing with all of it – but that one hurt. I held that pain with me and until I took those courses and realized that I’m more grateful for Game On Dude. Whatever choices were made were just choices and had nothing to do with me as a jockey. I’m so happy now that I had that opportunity and I’m looking forward to another opportunity like it. I just realized there were so many other great horses out there that I’ve ridden and that horse racing, for me, wasn’t just about Game On Dude. It was a beautiful moment and we’ll leave it at that. So, I’ve been able to let go of that pain.
Coming Back with a New Attitude
I love horse racing and it’s a big part of who I am. I really just miss it. I miss the horses and I miss the people. I miss walking around and seeing all of my friends. For so long, I’d ask myself, “what is racing doing for me?” and “what is it contributing to my life?” But, really, I needed to ask myself, “what can I do for racing?” and “what can I contribute to horse racing?” I think I have a lot more to offer. I want to do good things for racing.
I decided about three months ago that I wanted to come back but I had to plan on how I wanted to do it. I talked to Tommy Ball, my agent, about it. So, he knew. But, as a jockey, you have to be calculated in everything you do. In planning the comeback, I also had to make sure my husband was on board and supportive. I have a partner now and I had to make sure everything was cool at home so that I can be more focused when I ride.
Getting Back to Riding Shape
As a rider, you’re on top of your weight every day and always reducing and always on horses – that just becomes your life and you’re used to it. When I stopped racing, my body was physically tired, so I stopped doing all of that for a couple of weeks. I didn’t even run. I just really relaxed. But after that, I started going to the gym and started a routine like a regular person. I would still eat pretty healthy and didn’t have to worry if I ate a steak at night.
Now, I’m working out twice a day. I’m also on a strict diet right because I’m going to be riding on Friday at Woodbine and in the Queen’s Plate Trial on Sunday. So, I’ll have to be able to pack 123 lbs, which won’t be a problem but some of the other weights are going to be tough though.
A Difficult Diet
Everybody’s body is different but my body, when I’m racing, I really have to cut back on proteins. I usually stick to veggies and will do protein shakes, as opposed to animal proteins. My breakfast today at 5 am was a scoop of protein with a quarter cup of oatmeal. Then, at 9 am, I had a scoop of protein with an apple and a tiny bit of water. Everything I eat has to be weighed and, throughout the day, I have to drink a gallon of water. So, it’s definitely different than being just normal. It’s demanding but the outcome and racing is worth it to me.
Back At The Track
I didn’t actually start getting back on horses until a week ago. I’ve been at Hollywood Park and as soon as I walked in the door, there were people saying, “hey Chantal, you want to get on a horse?” I was surprised. I’ve been able to get on a lot of horses and it has been great. So, I just got busy at Hollywood and haven’t even been to Santa Anita. This weekend, I’ll be going to Canada (to ride at Woodbine). Then, next week, I’ll probably spend some time at Santa Anita but Hollywood seems to be pretty busy for me right now. So, I might just go with the flow and come back to Hollywood.
Finding Inspiration and a Message to the Fans
It makes me feel good to see Gary Stevens come back and do well. While it didn’t impact my decision to come back, it’s been nice to see because I like Gary and I’m so happy he’s doing well. I’m honestly happy for him as a person because it’s so tough to do what he did. What he had to do after seven years to get in shape after seven years away, that’s inspiring to anyone – it really is a beautiful story. Hopefully, if I can do anything similar that would be fantastic. If not, it would still be OK. I’m happy with just being able to come back to horse racing, having fun and just enjoying myself.
I love all of my fans. I want to thank them for all of the support and I hope I can make them proud.
Twitter Questions – We asked you to send in questions for Chantal to @DanonymousMan on Twitter and Chantal took the time to answer many of your questions!
I actually would like I know if she still roots for the Dude when he runs?
Chantal: Do I still cheer for him? Yes! Of course, he’s my friend. He’s my buddy, always.
What was her favorite moment or thing about Dubai?
Chantal: Dubai was incredible to see. Actually, I really enjoyed the airplane ride. I got to sleep in a bed. But yeah, Dubai was beautiful and the other really cool moment is when they did the fireworks and the plane was flying by. It was such a cool display. Those fireworks were like Disneyland times 10! But, at the same time, I rode the race and I remember it being so hot. Game on Dude was hot and I felt so bad for him. I remember Bob (Baffert) was struggling to be out there to see Game on Dude because he had just had his heart attack. So, it was king of weird. Things just went crazy from there. So, yes, the plane ride there was very helpful (laughing).
My mom wants to know how old she was when she got into racing and where her first step was.
Chantal: I got into racing through my dad. I was about seven or eight years old. Then, I actually started racing when I was in my 20’s. I got my foot in the door by cold-calling Angel Cordero and said, “I want to be a jockey. Can you help me?” He said, “fly out to Florida and I’ll teach you.” So, I got a plane ticket to Florida and he taught me. At the time, I was already galloping but I felt like I needed an edge. So, that’s why I reached out and went to go see him.
Ask if she has a “pre-game” ritual or superstitions on days she races.
Chantal: Well, I have to wear my cross and I pray before my first race. I also like to have a little nap before my first race. Then, I like to go in the jock’s room and read my racing form and I just really like peace and quiet. I just want it to be so quiet and be able to think. I’m not very social on race days. After the first race, then I’m fine. I’m like, “hey, what’s going on?” But before that, it’s usually like “hey, where’s Chantal?” And someone will say, “oh, she’s probably in her room.”
What was your favorite thing about taking time off? What do you look forward to the most, now?
Chantal: My favorite thing about taking time off was sleeping in in the morning and having weekends off. I’m just looking forward to being in a race and hopefully winning!
We thank everyone who sent in questions and we thank Chantal for taking the time to answer to them!
You can also follow Chantal on Twitter, @JockeyChantal.