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In Playing the Ponies, the Three Stooges traded a depressed 1937 diner (even with the popular menu item of hot water poured through a chicken) to a couple of swindlers for Thunderbolt, a swayback has-been Thoroughbred. Their only angle was that the crooks told them he could really run. On their way out the door, Curly grabs a big handful of chili pepperinos, thinking they were salted peanuts. They get to the track and realize this horse doesn't want to do much of anything. Curly eats some pepperinos and makes a beeline for the water trough, so they figure, what if we gave these to the horse? So in the end, they give the pepperinos to the horse. With Larry riding, Moe and Curly run a motorcycle and sidecar with a bucket of water like a carrot on a stick to make the horse chase it. They mop up big.
I was reminded of this while watching the first two installments of Jockeys," a "reality" show now running on the Animal Planet channel. While I never saw Curly carry a horse six furlongs (a huge steamer trunk or a ton of ice, yes, but not a horse), you would have thought these jockeys in the show were doing just that. The old adage, though, is that a good jockey never wins you a race, but a bad one will lose it for you. It's always about the horse.
But top-notch race announcer Trevor Denman - he of the British accent we Americans dig so much, though he's actually South African - has obviously been hired to overdub race "calls," and he emphatically makes it sound as if the jocks are carrying the horses, or on foot and leading the horses by the reins behind them. "It's Talamo on Booyah! Here comes Gryder on Tice! Talamo! Gryder! Talamo! Gryder! It's Talamo!" I was waiting to see one of them cross the finish line running, like John Belushi on little chocolate donuts. Denman is going to catch grief at the next race caller convention. (For a real Denman call, go to a Santa Anita replay here.)
The show's first installment is all about how a jockey "could get killed!" Archival footage is unleashed and Corey Nakatani hands the producers the ultimate showbiz gift by going down in a spill and losing to injury the remainder of last fall's Oak Tree Meet at Santa Anita, which culminated with the 2008 Breeders Cup.
Jockeys cooks up conflict by manufacturing a feud between the kid Joe Talamo and veteran Aaron Gryder. It's as if they are the only jockeys riding on the final day of Pomona's Fairplex county fair meet, even though Martin Pedroza and Tyler Baze dominated there.
Of course, no reality show exists without exploiting sex. So here we have hot Canadian blonde Chantal Sutherland moving all the way from success at the Canadian and New York tracks to Southern California to be with her main squeeze, Hall of Famer Mike Smith (winner aboard Giacomo in the '06 Derby and twelve Breeders Cup wins). She arrives and they argue about closet space in Mike's condo, as she commandeers 94 percent of it. Her selling point is "you can't reach the top shelf anyway!" You can see the seeds of cohabitation regret sown right then and there.
With headbanging, booming bass accompanying her screen time, we get more sex with Kayla Stra. She's a transplant from Australia whose dream is to ride at Santa Anita, the "best racing there is." I think folks at Saratoga or Keeneland would disagree. Her difficulty is in getting rides. Commiserating at a backside bar, she tells another horsewoman to whom we are not introduced that a winning ride "is better than sex." She needs to start riding, and winning, bad, so we do believe her. (She won her first race in America last Nov. 11 at Hollywood Park.)
Our other jockeys are Jon Court and Alex Solis, my Uncle Hank's solid bet-against. Top gun Garrett Gomez, America's leading rider, chose not to participate. He's above all this, getting the slo-mo bad-guy-strolls-into-town treatment in the parking lot wearing an expensive black suit and shiny gold tie. He rides Hystericalady in the Lady's Secret Stakes (Lady's Secret was a daughter of Secretariat), a showdown against Smith's Zenyatta, who went on to become the 2008 Champion Older Female. She's a monster who blows the doors off Hystericalady and the proud Gomez on her way to Breeders Cup glory.
Lending that wiseguy race track atmosphere is the famous James E. "Jimmy The Hat" Allard, a onetime bit player and extra actor who came back to his first love and talent and now handicaps for a living. I know that from a profile in The Horseplayer magazine by Chicago's own Joe "Joey DAK" Kristufek, handicapper for the Daily Herald and the Arlington Park daily program, not from anything this TV show told me. Jimmy's favorite word is "action." As in "It's about the adrenaline of ACTION. People come out here to GAMBLE. It's a drug, and it's called ACTION." Man, I wanna be just like Jimmy!
I also got to cherish again Joe Talamo guiding California Flag in a turf sprint to a $26+ win and entry into the Breeders Cup. I cleaned up in that race. Those kinds of memories never die.
Triple Crown Trail
We continue down the Triple Crown Trail with some interesting developments this past weekend.
* Bob Baffert's Pioneer of the Nile looked solid winning the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita. Stardom Bound lived up to her monster reputation by easily winning the Las Virgenes two races earlier.
* Friesan Fire was a bit rank but did what he had to do in winning the Risen Star at Fairgrounds. Giant Oak, the Illinois-bred, had a horrible trip and should rebound. And he might be a price next time.
* You might question the quality of the field, but Haynesfield looked very good in winning the Whirlaway at Aqueduct.
* Godolphin Stable's Vineyard Haven faded to fourth in the UAE 2000 Guineas at Nad Al Sheba, Dubai, Thursday night. Sheikh Mohammed's dream is to train a horse at home in Dubai and then ship here and win the Kentucky Derby. He's trying this year with Vineyard Haven and Breeders Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman.
* Pioneer of the Nile
* Friesan Fire
* Stardom Bound
* Desert Party
* Papa Clem
* I Want Revenge
* Flying Pegasus
* Nowhere to Hide
* Parade Clown
Looking Not So Good
* Vineyard Haven
* Giant Oak (but he gets a mulligan from me)
* Indygo Mountain
* Code of Honour
* Bittel Road
Races To Watch This Weekend
* Southwest Stakes, Oaklawn Park, Presidents Day Monday: Old Fashioned, on top of many a Derby list, goes for the first time this year. Also running in this race is Poltergeist, Flat Out and Silver City.
* Sam F. Davis, Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday: Keep an eye on Atomic Rain, Musket Man and Free Country.
* Getting the buzz in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Saturday is Chocolate Candy, son of the memorable Argentinian Candy Ride, and owned by Sid and Jenny, of the weight-loss Craigs. He'll take on Axel Foley, Merus Miami and four others.
Horse Names I Laughed At
* Chernobyl Princess. What? OK, I looked it up and as far as I can tell, chernobyl means "cherished oasis."
* Corrupt. He's an Illinois-bred whose sire is Belong to Me and dam is Taxable Deduction, out of Prized. Read into that what you will.
T-Bred TV Alert
Hearing some word that there will be a cutback in nationally televised horse racing this year. The Breeders Cup is a big sponsor and it is slashing its marketing budget. Seems they overextended themselves on Breeders Cup purses, and they've also increased the number of BC races the last two years. They also supplement a lot of race purses nationwide and the horsemen squawked big time when they tried to reduce those supplements. Horsemen pay fees for every horse they register for potential Breeders Cup participation. The next TV I see is the Lane's End, March 21.
One Last Rant
The folks at IEAH Stables, of Big Brown fame, are at it again. The owners of Stardom Bound have said all along that she's a Derby horse. After winning Saturday, trainer Bobby Frankel says he'd rather run her in the Santa Anita Oaks (for females) instead of the Santa Anita Derby. (I mistakenly reported last week that Richard Dutrow was given Stardom Bound. Speculation is that he eventually will train the horse, but Frankel has the job now.) She was originally a $50K purchase and IEAH bought her for $5.7 million. New York Yankees-esque, I would say. So 2009 has another IEAH soap opera. For now, I side with Frankel.
I still have not calmed down about IEAH's management of Big Brown. He had foot problems severe enough to scratch him in the Belmont and I believe they knew it. In my opinion, when Kent Desormeaux pulled up the horse like the Lone Ranger, he either saved the horse's life or they perpetrated a scam on the bettors (and that includes track veterinarians, who were clouded by the chance for a Triple Crown). I believe they told him Brown had bad feet and if ANYTHING happens, pull him up (to save him for breeding). He should not have been in the race at all. It was another Barbaro waiting to happen. Look for Dutrow to arrive at some point and do just what they tell him to.
Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He brings you Track Notes every Friday. You can reach him here.