Female jockey set to make history

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Female jockey set to make history

From Comcast SportsNet
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Chantal Sutherland will make history Saturday as the first woman jockey to ride in the world's richest horse race. She hopes many more will follow. Sutherland will ride Game On Dude in the 10 million Dubai World Cup, the latest breakthrough for the 36-year-old rider from Toronto. She is one of several dozen female jockeys racing in North America, and perhaps the most well known. "I don't feel pressure. I feel really honored and grateful," Sutherland said. "As soon as the gates open, I think I've made history. I hope I'm one of many to come in the Dubai World Cup and hope I see more women making it at this level. There are a lot of great female jockeys." Sutherland remains somewhat of an anomaly in the male-dominated, tradition-rich sport of horse racing where owners often hesitate to give females a chance and women lack the kind of role models and support network enjoyed by the male jockeys. But the 12-year veteran said things are gradually changing. More women are getting rides in big races like the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic. Their numbers are slowly increasing in the U.S., Australia and Europe. The industry, too, is starting to recognize the benefits of female jockeys -- especially when it comes to attracting a new audience to a sport that is struggling to stay afloat financially. "Sometimes, it is a little bit of a boys' club. I think all women can agree with me," Sutherland said. "However, sometimes I get a lot of support because I am a woman," she added. "I've gotten a lot of media attention because I'm a woman. I've marketed myself and by marketing myself I've gotten more opportunities to get on other horses and other owners want to ride me because of that ... It kind of balances itself out." Hayley Turner, one of Britain's most prominent female jockeys, agreed that attitudes toward women in racing are changing. She, too, will make history as the first woman to ride in a thoroughbred race at the Dubai World Cup meeting. She is scheduled to ride Margot Did in the Al Quoz Sprint, a Group 1 race that precedes the World Cup. "It is a first, isn't it? People will make a big deal of it," said Turner, whose profile has skyrocketed after she won two Group 1 races last year. "There has to be a first for everything," she said. "Next year when there are a few more girls, it won't be a big deal. I think it's been part of my career having these breakthroughs. It has been nice to be able to do it. But then it's nice now that it's normal as well. People can accept you for a jockey, rather than as a girl riding well." Sutherland, who first contemplated becoming a jockey at 13 after seeing a female rider sporting a bandanna at her local track, admits the early days were a struggle. She was told by Hong Kong race organizers that they didn't see the benefits of using a woman jockey and then was almost pulled off a horse by an owner in California who didn't realize she was a woman until she was in the paddock. She won the race but the owner never used her again. She also endured heartbreak in 2009, when 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird charged up the rail to steal the Derby. Sutherland had been his regular rider, lost him for two races during a change of trainers, then showed up at Churchill Downs three days before the race with a promise from one of the owners that she would get the mount for the big race. It went to veteran Calvin Borel instead -- she learned about the change in the Daily Racing Form. Sutherland said she never let any of those incidents get her down, insisting she "couldn't care less" when an owner over the years has doubted her ability. "You have to stick it through and believe in yourself. You can't give up," she said. "So many times people told me I can't do this or can't do that. My nature is that I don't listen very well. I'm very determined and I believe in myself. My parents brought me up that way. Thank God for that. I don't let anything stand in my way." By persevering, Sutherland has emerged as one of North America's top jockeys. She has earned 45.6 million in purses and won 908 races in Canada, Florida, New York and now California. She became the first woman to win the Santa Anita Handicap last year on Game On Dude and finished an agonizing second in the Breeders' Cup Classic in November, losing out to the long shot Drosselmeyer, who was ridden by Sutherland's ex-boyfriend Mike Smith. With the success have come opportunities off the track -- turning her into one of America's most recognizable jockeys. She has had billboards dedicated to her in Los Angeles and has been the face for jeweler Caldwell Sutherland designs. She has also appeared in several television shows, including the horse racing reality show "Jockeys" and the recently canceled HBO series "Lucky." While some jockeys may grumble that she gets the offers only because she is a woman, Sutherland embraces her newfound celebrity status. Mobbed by cameras on her arrival at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, Sutherland gushed how she "felt like a superstar." "As far as the other jockeys, I'm sure at first there was some jealously for the attention. But now, I think they sort of blow it off as 'she is the princess'," she said. "I hope they see it as a good thing for racing. Without the attention and without bringing more people to the industry, we are in trouble." Her rising stature has brought expectations -- a victory Saturday could further bolster her status and possibly lead to a ride in the Melbourne Cup or Royal Ascot. A loss, in contrast, could raise doubts about her ability to win big races. But Game On Dude co-owner Bernie Schiappa insists he is sticking with Sutherland "win, lose or draw." "She is a competitor. She is fit. She works very hard at what she does," said Schiappa, recalling her extensive preparations before the BC Classic. "Everyone says you can have a different rider. But you know what? She earned the right to ride this horse and she proved she can do it."

A's position outlook: Will three catchers make Opening Day roster?

A's position outlook: Will three catchers make Opening Day roster?

The A’s have options at the catcher position, and with those options come decisions to make.

Figure that manager Bob Melvin and the rest of Oakland’s front office will use the length of spring training to evaluate their catching corps, and the decisions that eventually come down will impact the rest of the roster.

Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley could form a natural left-right platoon, as they did to begin last season. But Phegley is coming off right knee surgery that ended his 2016 season in July and proved more problematic than anticipated as he recovered. His status can’t be adequately judged until camp begins and he’s behind the plate testing his mobility.

Adding intrigue to the catching puzzle was last season’s emergence of Bruce Maxwell, who hit .283 after making his major league debut in July and shows defensive upside.

Might the A’s keep three catchers to begin the season? Melvin acknowledged that possibility when asked about it during the winter meetings. Vogt has played first base and the outfield in the past, so he provides a little flexibility. But keeping him, Phegley and Maxwell would short the A’s roster elsewhere.

There are decisions to make, but a full Cactus League exhibition season should influence how things shake out at catcher.

STARRING CAST: Maxwell’s emergence, and the fact he hits left-handed, made the 32-year-old Vogt a potential trade piece this winter. But the veteran is still an Athletic and has been an All-Star in back-to-back seasons, though his 2016 stats didn’t jump off the page. He hit .251 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI, delivering a much better first half than second half offensively. But Vogt’s biggest value comes with his clubhouse leadership and ability to connect with his pitchers. He’s the unofficial team spokesman, always willing to stand in front of the cameras after a tough loss. His steadying presence is even more important on a team that annually undergoes such heavy roster turnover.

CAMP COMPETITION: Phegley, 28, missed time in May with a strained right knee, then underwent surgery in July to remove a cyst from the knee. That seemed a rather minor procedure, but Phegley was hospitalized in August after developing a case of synovitis, or inflammation in the knee joints. A’s general manager David Forst said recently that Phegley’s offseason rehab has gone well, but Phegley will remain a question mark until he shows he’s full strength throughout camp.

Maxwell, 26, hadn’t played above Double-A before last season. But he impressed at Triple-A Nashville both with his bat and overall defensive skills. After a slow start in the majors, Maxwell hit .367 over his final 20 games. He began showing flashes of the potential the A’s saw when they made him a second-round pick in 2012 out of tiny Birmingham Southern College.

“Bruce is a guy that maybe in the season you didn't expect to see (before) September, and he’s a guy that came in and made an impact defensively and offensively,” Melvin said during the winter meetings. “It's exciting to have a young catcher like that, especially that hits from the left side of the plate to give Stephen some days off. Stephen is a versatile guy where you can DH him some too, maybe even play him at first base on a day that Yonder (Alonso) gets a day off.”

Could the A’s simply go with Vogt and Maxwell at catcher, though both hit left-handed? Again, Phegley’s health could factor prominently.

PAY ATTENTION TO: A catcher the A’s drafted in the third round last summer, Sean Murphy. He’s a non-roster invitee to big league camp. Murphy, who attended Wright State, is said to be a gifted catcher defensively, with mlb.com’s Jim Callis saying last June that Murphy had the strongest arm of any catcher in the 2016 draft.

Raiders name former Chargers DC as assistant head coach-defense

Raiders name former Chargers DC as assistant head coach-defense

Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has hired former Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano, the team announced on Monday evening. He will be the team’s assistant head coach on the defensive side of the ball.

Pagano has spent most of his coaching career in San Diego, working with the Chargers in various capacities since 2002. He was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator in 2012, where he led that unit for five seasons.

Pagano and Del Rio worked together in 1997, when Pagano was a New Orleans Saints defensive assistant and Del Rio was the assistant strength coach.

Pagano was a longtime linebackers coach before becoming a play caller. He has worked with several quality pass rushers and has proven to be adept at creating pressure.

The Raiders created a position for Pagano, who will help a defense that ranked 26th in yards allowed and dead last in sacks. Pagano was looking for a different gig after new Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn hired Gus Bradley as his defensive coordinator. 

Ken Norton Jr. remains defensive coordinator, but Pagano will bring experience and creativity to the game-planning process.

He has worked within a 3-4 defensive scheme, but has experience in all formations. The Raiders run multiple defensive fronts.

Pagano is the assistant coach on defense, while offensive line coach Mike Tice has a similar title on the offensive side. The Raiders have a vacancy on the staff, and are looking for a new defensive backs coach.

John Pagano is the younger brother of Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano.