Don’t tell Dayton Sutherland that he doesn’t have anything left to compete for this season.
Currenlty driving his Double H Machine Shop Ltd. outfit at the Battle of the Rockies in Rocky Mountain House, Sutherland has set a goal of moving up as high as he can in the World Professional Chuckwagon Association driver standings.
Sitting 22rd in the World Standings, the 26-year-old reinsman doesn’t have any grand illusions of rising into the ranks of the top 12 drivers who will qualify for the Winners’ Zone Series Showdown Round which will take place at the WPCA World Finals at the Century Downs Racetrack and Casino from Aug. 23-27.
That being said, Sutherland is still hoping to earn as many points as possible while winning as much money as he can at the final two shows of the WPCA calendar to hopefully turn some heads and receive an invitation to compete at the Cowboys Rangeland Derby at the 2024 Calgary Stampede.
“There’s day money and the big thing for me is a Calgary spot,” said Sutherland, who will return to the University of Lethbridge – where he’s studying finance – this fall after the completion of the season. “That’s mostly what I’m running for. That’s pretty much the only thing in the back of my mind, because to make it there is pretty much the only way it makes sense – especially for a university student. It’s kind of a necessity.”
And what better location for Sutherland to make an impression than in Rocky Mountain House, a place where he burst onto the WPCA scene to win consecutive show titles in 2018 and 2019.
“I basically kind of ran away with it pretty much two years back-to-back,” recalled Sutherland, who believes he has the horsepower to have another good showing at the four-night show again this year. “It was just a product of right time, right place for me because I had some decent horses and I was in an early heat and the track was really fast. It wasn’t anything that crazy. I think the first year it was kind of surprising, because I was pretty young. Normally you don’t see newer guys or young guys winning it all.”
After the first night of racing in Rocky Mountain House, Sutherland is sitting 17th in the aggregate standings after winning the fifth heat in a respectable time of 1:16.34.
Although he hasn’t won again on the WPCA Pro Tour since 2019, Sutherland has been keeping up a positive attitude. Due to the fact he was dealing with some horses that were ill, the Grande Prairie native had a slower start to his season.
“We were trying to sparsely use the horses and just get through the year just because a lot of them weren’t feeling well,” said Sutherland, who drove two wagons at the Battle of the Foothills in High River in late July to get a sense of which horses he would use for the rest of the season. “You’re wearing a few different hats. You’re being the general manager, you’re being the coach and you’re being the athlete as well, so you’re trying to juggle all those things.
“To get real race experience, you can’t replicate that in the morning. You can only get that in front of the crowd and the horn and all the different scenarios that can happen in a race, so it’s really good for the new horses.”
With 24 horses in his barn, Sutherland had four different outfits for use at his disposal during both the Strathmore Stampede and the recently completed Battle of the North in Dawson Creek, B.C.
“I don’t think a lot of guys have that luxury,” said Sutherland, who will also still work as an outrider for Kurt Bensmiller to finish out the season. “I’ve just always packed a lot of horses because I like to drive in the mornings and I like to pack the new horses down the road, especially the first year to get them used to the sights and the sounds and that sort of thing.”
While he’s been putting a lot of his newer horses to work lately, Sutherland went with veteran lineup off of barrel No. 2 in the fifth heat during Thursday’s opening night of racing in Rocky Mountain House.
For the first night, his Double H Machine Shop Ltd. outfit consisted of right leader Sugar, left leader Commando, right wheeler Ray and left leader Giant.
“Normally, the last couple weekends I’ve been saving them for the No. 1 barrel where I knew I’d have the rail,” he said, adding he’ll most likely use them again on Sunday. “We’re getting so far into the season and I feel like I’ve spared them enough, so I think I might just go for it and try and gain some points off this show.”
While Sutherland has used wheelers Ray and Giant together quite often, he just recently bought Commando from his dad Mark (following his retirement after the Calgary Stampede) and paired him up with Sugar to form the outfit’s lead team.
“He just turned out to be a really, really superb horse,” said Sutherland of Commando. “He just does his job hard. He starts hard and he can really, really run. He’s an honest horse. He’s probably not even at his potential yet, especially hooking him with Sugar. Sugar’s a really nice horse that’ll do Commando a lot of favours in the future.”