Last October at Woodbine in Canada, Chantal Sutherland was on the verge of making the announcement that she was about to ride her last race when fellow jockey Alex Solis offered a word of caution.
There are other things that I could do, but there's really nothing that I love as much as horse racing.
”-- Jockey Chantal Sutherland
"I was for sure I wasn't coming back," Sutherland said recently by phone from her home in Huntington Beach, California. "But Alex said, 'You're just tired right now. It happens to all of us. Don't make it a retirement announcement, just say you're taking a break.'"
Sutherland contemplated following Solis' advice. Then, "Lo and behold, my brother tweeted that I was retiring," she sighed. So there was no change in the announcement but, a short time later, there was a change in Sutherland's thinking.
And Sutherland, unretired at age 37, will be the "Face of Del Mar" again this season as she was last year, her second full season at the seaside track.
"I took some time off at the end of October. I was kind of tired and I felt like I needed a break," she admitted. "I hadn't really taken a break since I started racing.
"Then, when I finished redecorating and renovating the house that my husband [Dan Kruse] and I bought, I kind of started thinking about racing again.
"There are other things that I could do, but there's really nothing that I love as much as horse racing. It has been a huge part of my life and I really missed my routine and competing. So I decided to come back.."
Another summer at Del Mar was a motivating factor.
"I actually called [DMTC Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer] Craig Dado myself and got the ball rolling for my return to Del Mar," Sutherland said. "Not only do I love Del Mar because of the track, but because I live so close that it's easy to get there and work as hard as I know I'm going to have to work to make this comeback successful like I hope it is going to be."
In 2011, her first full season at Del Mar, Sutherland had 12 wins, nine seconds and 11 thirds from 106 mounts, placing ninth in the rider standings. In 2012 her numbers were 62 7-6-8, including a victory aboard Miss California in the opening race of the meeting.
Her lone Del Mar stakes victory came aboard Great Hot in the 2011 Torrey Pines. In the Pacific Classic, she was fourth on Game On Dude in 2011 and second on the same horse in 2012.
Every day at Del Mar is fantastic. I love the smells, working out on the beach, running the stairs. It's just a healthy environment.
”-- Jockey Chantal Sutherland
"Opening day is always so cool to be a part of and to people watch. The Pacific Classic, which I've had the privilege of riding in a couple of times, is great," Sutherland said. "Every day at Del Mar is fantastic. I love the smells, working out on the beach, running the stairs. It's just a healthy environment. I love it."
Sutherland rode a few races at Woodbine, where she was among the leading riders from 2008-2010, in June to start her comeback and picked up a few mounts in the closing weeks of the Hollywood Park spring/summer meeting in preparation for an intended Del Mar push.
Also returning to Del Mar's jockey colony is Joe Talamo, runner-up in the rider standings the last two years at the seaside oval. He just came up one win short of Rafael Bejarano and Edwin Maldonado for the meet championship when Hollywood ended Sunday as well.
Monday morning, only about 12 hours after the final race at Hollywood Park, the 23-year-old native of Louisiana and his agent Scott McClellan could be found making the rounds of the Del Mar backstretch, securing mounts for the meeting which starts Wednesday.
"It's part of the game," Talamo said of the title share that eluded him in Inglewood, California. "You just go back to work and try to win the next one [riding title]. This would be the place to do it."
Talamo's 42 wins at the 2011 Del Mar meeting was seven short of Joel Rosario and last year it was Bejarano prevailing 52-43. Talamo tied the existing Del Mar record for stakes victories a year ago with 12, only to be one-upped by Bejarano.
Bejarano, Talamo, Garrett Gomez -- recently returned from a sabbatical from riding -- and Maldonado, the top four in the 2012 Del Mar standings, are all back. The winning jockeys of the three Triple Crown races this year -- Joel Rosario and Hall of Famers Gary Stevens and Mike Smith -- will be on site until Rosario heads east for the opening of Saratoga on Friday as well.