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What I Watched Last Night: Jockeys

Editor's Note: Thomas Chambers, our main on the rail, continues his review of the debut season of Jockeys. You can find his first two installments here and here (midway down).

In a workmanlike and informative week, the theme of Jockeys is "Competitive," with a capital "C." We also get a good look at the many chapeaus of Jimmy the Hat.

Chantal is back, and Ms. Sutherland establishes the idea that when out on the track, every rider, including her love Mike Smith, is just another jockey. They're out there to win. To drive home the point, we see Mike and Chantal each arriving at the track, in an Escalade and a Corvette, respectively. "She's so competitive, we don't even ride in the same car anymore," Smith says. Chantal replies with a roll of her eyes: "I know I make better coffee than him. But he folds laundry better than me."

In their first race of the show against each other, Smith wins and we see the winners circle photo of him with Laffit Pincay, Jr., whom they should have identified. Pincay once held the record of most races won, until Russell Baze passed him in 2006. Baze is a good rider, make no mistake, but he did it while getting all the best horses on the smaller Northern California circuit. Big fish in a little pond. And it ruins the wagering. Baze at 3-5 on a horse that will most probably win? No thanks.

She talks about working out the horses in the morning and greets Bob Baffert, The silver-maned one asks if Chantal is just visiting/riding or there to ride the full campaign. Baffert's charm is on full display, but who can blame him?

We visit Clockers Corner, where timers record the times of the horse workouts, a vital part of a runner's past performances that we players analyze in The Racing Form.

In a curious turn that is never explained, we find out that trainer Roger Stein has named one of his fillies Grace Gryder, after the cute young daughter of our own Aaron. There's a very nice scene of Grace calling out the horse's name and her coming over to greet the child. "She knows her name!" Grace pronounces. But the curious clinker is that Stein chooses young Joe Talamo to ride the horse! Aaron is not happy, and we agree. What gives?

Talamo acts the punk and chides Gryder: "Don't you want her namesake to win with your second favorite jockey?" Aaron gives him a really dirty look. I'd have decked him. It gets worse. Talamo wins. He places an 8-by-10 of the winner's circle photo in Aaron's locker. Meanwhile, he mocks a bookmark featuring Gryder doing a public service ad to urge children to read. "Aaron on a 'read' bookmark. Aaron's smart, reading to a horse." Aaron returns the photo, signed with Talamo's face crossed out. Gryder keeps his composure. I'd have decked him again. No question, Arcaro would have. Shoemaker would have.

* * *

Chantal gets the ride on Rumble Along, another Barry Abrams horse, and hits the gym to get in even better shape. She's riding against Mike, too. The night before, over dinner out, Smith takes 10-1 odds on $100 from Chantal that he can stand the wine cork on its end. He loses and drags out a Benjamin. They go again and he loses, only half kidding that Chantal might not pay up. The innuendo oozes out of the surround sound.

Sutherland gives a very interesting narrative about what's it like to go into the gate and wait for the bell. "I relax my body (because the horse can feel it) and keep the horse calm. We both have to be focused to get a good start when the gate opens. He has to know we're together."

Chantal wins the race while Mike finishes third. "It's cool when you win. Everybody likes you! It's quieter when you lose," Chantal beams. But she's reserved back in the jocks' room. Don't want to rub it in or anything.

We shift to Aaron Gryder singing the praises of Well Armed, deservedly so. He's been well involved with the horse, working him out almost exclusively. Son of the only two-time Breeders Cup Classic winner Tiznow, Well Armed finished a nice third in the Dubai World Cup - Curlin was the winner - last year. He won a big share of his races, and you could never toss Well Armed. We watch him win the Grade I Goodwood over Heatseeker, another fine horse. The Breeders Cup "Win and You're In" marketing gimmick is in play, and the victory puts him in the Breeders Cup, as if he wouldn't have made it anyway. Well Armed ended up finishing ninth in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile, which was not run on dirt and was 50 or 70 yards more than a mile.

I'll talk about synthetic surfaces in the future, but leave the topic with this question: Why give up on doing your very best to create a quality dirt surface and knee-jerk to the fake stuff? it's a very American reaction.

* * *

Joe Talamo is making cupcakes with a cupcake, Elizabeth, daughter of trainer Ron Ellis. What a new-age sensitive guy! " And he's milking it for all it's worth. "Joe is focused and calm as a rider, except when he rides for me," Ellis laments. Next race, young Joe finishes last for Ellis.

To drive home the immaturity point, we see Joe send his next (non-Ellis) horse, 17-1, on a blistering pace, messing up everything for the stalkers and closers. Barry Abram's horse, Rushen Heat, gets thrown off his style and loses. Abrams seems a kind and thoughtful man, so it's not in his nature to deck Joe Talamo. But he gives him an earful, criticizing Talamo to the core of his competence to his face. "I'm not asking you to give me the race, but don't ruin it."

We get a much-needed injection of Jimmy the Hat. The man does have nice hats. Think the classic Sinatra swingin' model, colorful and with shorter brims. California here I come! Trivia to commercial asks how much Jimmy won in his biggest score. "On January 16, 1989, I put three thousand six hundred and forty dollars on the Pick Nine and won one million, sixty one thousand and 800 some odd dollars. It put me on the map as a handicapper in Southern California," Jimmy says matter-of-factly. The operable colors here are green and yellow, in that order.

It says "Gryder" on the stewards' chalkboard, which means he has to show up for a hearing tomorrow morning for his ride on Well Armed. The replay shows Well Armed veered right and then left as Gryder tried to keep him in the pack - therefore in heated competition - and moved other horses along with him. (Horses are pack animals and love to run together. The best - the winners - are the ones who want to lead the pack. Some don't.) Because he didn't really bump anyone, the stewards let him go with a warning. If it was Hong Kong, he would have been suspended. But these lords have the upcoming Breeders Cup and the money Well Armed is going to take to think about.

-

See what else we've been watching. Submissions welcome.



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Posted on February 25, 2009


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