Known to some as Queen of the Jockeys, our inaugural Femme on Fire has won countless races, been trained by the preeminent coaches in the industry, and graced the pages of VOGUE magazine. Ranked on People’s list of the most beautiful in the world, this horse-racing aficionado is a shining light of talent, perseverance, and sexiness.
Speaking with us from San Anita race track in California, Chantal Sutherland isn’t afraid to tell us she’s coming straight from riding, covered in dirt, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Currently portraying a fictionalized version of her life on HBO’s hot new track series, LUCK; Sutherland tells us about breaking into the business, racing her heart off, and her new role as an actress.
Playboy.com: How did you get into horse racing?
Sutherland: My dad owned thoroughbred horses and my sister was actually first to get into show jumping and then I kind of followed her. My dad got me one pony, then another pony; I started pretty young. I was on horses at four and jumping at five. It was me against a couple older girls and girls my age and I felt free and not afraid of anything and I did.
Playboy.com: You grew up in Winnipeg, how long did you live there?
Sutherland: I was born there but we moved, right after I was born, to Ontario. Then we moved to a farm. I had a private coach when I was ten and I trained four or five hours every day. It got so intense that I think I got sick of it when I was thirteen. Then my parents divorced so all three kids were sent to boarding school.
When I got home I started playing field hockey for my high school, then for the Junior World Cup; I was doing pretty well with field hockey, I played varsity for York University. When I got to that level, the girls were really big, and I didn’t grow…technically they were unbelievable players but I was just too small. I really didn’t know what to do. In between that time I started galloping thoroughbreds for a summer job to make money and I was like, “You know what, I like this. Maybe I should be a jockey.”
I wasn’t introduced to the racing world, just a little bit with my dad. Jockey’s would come over to our house when I was fourteen and use our pool and hang out with my dad. I said to my dad, “I want to be a jockey.” He said, “Let’s finish university and we’ll discuss it.” When I was seventeen - and I’m now I’m jumping all over - he wanted me to be a pilot so I went and did my institutional for single-engine planes; I got my license at Brantford flying club, so did some stalling in the sky and it just wasn’t for me. I was like, “I don’t want to be a pilot dad.”
He thought I’d give up as soon as I got to the track, but as soon as I hit racehorses, forget it. Learning about the culture, I fell in love. The speed of a horse, and the acceleration… I already had the knack from riding horses for so long that it seemed easy. All I had to do now was to learn the technique. I sought out [jockey] Angel Cordero and he taught me for a year. I came back to Canada and won a Sovereign.
Playboy.com: What’s the scariest experience that you’ve had on a horse?
Sutherland: I think the scariest was when a horse had a heart attack. And you don’t know it’s coming…so when they have a heart attack they drop like a sack of potatoes and they fall on top of you. I had a concussion pretty bad, and had to take a couple days off. Sometimes a horse will go down right in front of you and you can’t avoid it. Then again, last week I had a horse snap its leg and it just shakes you up, it’s not fun. That part of the industry is really hard to deal with. It’s the part of it that I don’t like at all and I’ll never get used to.
Playboy.com: Tell us about your character.
Sutherland: Lizzy [Sutherland’s character] is an exercise rider and is a friend to Rosie [played by Kerry Condon], the girl who wants to be a jockey. I’m the friend who’s a realist, and I love horse racing of course. My character....I don’t know what’s coming up for her next. I work, you know ride, Dustin Hoffman’s horse, I gallop it. I have a few run-ins with Jenkins [played by Gary Stevens], because he’s competing against my horse and he’s kind of a ruse. That’s all I really know about Lizzy. She seems to be a pretty little exercise girl, and I have my eye on …my mind’s in the gutter a couple of times.
Playboy.com: Have you shot the first season? Will you be back for the second?
Sutherland: Yes we did, and second season starts [shooting] in February. The scene I’m in I won’t have speaking lines but it’s hard to know. It’s like a secret in this industry of what’s going on.
Playboy.com: I hear you recently did a revealing photo session, what can you tell us?
Sutherland: I have some blond panties on, but I believe somehow the panties may get airbrushed out. I don’t know the whole deal; I haven’t seen the finished product.
Playboy.com: What was it like to do a shoot like that?
Sutherland: I think I wouldn’t have done it if Bo Derek hadn’t approved it and done it. She approached me about it; she had a closed set and made me feel so comfortable. I hope it comes across as classy and tasteful and artistic. When I saw the pictures…I think it will. It is unbelievable how Bo Derek… wait, I can’t tell you anymore!
Playboy.com: What got you into modeling?
Sutherland: I shot with Annie Leibovitz with VOGUE, then for the 100 Most Beautiful People with People magazine; all of a sudden I came to California and was the face of Santa Anita. Then I was picked up for the TV show LUCK with David Milch, who sent me to acting classes.
I don’t know, it all snowballed all on its own; I was never really a model, I was just a jockey. I would study photo shoots that models have done; watch them, see how they move and what pictures look good. I have a lot of ideas. After this I would love to do television or marketing. I love to help this industry and I love horse racing.
Playboy.com: When was your first time reading Playboy?
Sutherland: Honestly, I’ve never read a Playboy.
Playboy.com: You’ve never read a Playboy? That’s a first.
Sutherland: I hear you guys have great articles. But aside from seeing photos, I’ve never actually picked a Playboy up.
For Chantal's take on working with Dustin Hoffman and her dream role, click below.