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What I Watched Last Night: Jockeys Gets Sudsy

It's been said that all of television is a soap opera. You might even be able to say that for sitcoms, as in "What are our wacky friends up to now?"

Jockeys has gotten awfully sudsy. And your silks will stay Downy fresh as it's been announced that the show has been renewed for a second season. This is good for racing with its potential to draw new fans to the game, but I guess I'll have to wait and see what new angles they can come up with because I don't see any. Does that mean reality (shows) escapes me?

This week's two half-hour episodes went directly to "As the World Turns, Can It Get 10 Furlongs?" It's the brink of a breakup as Hall of Famer Mike Smith and his girl Chantal Sutherland confront the many issues of their relationship.

It starts with a gratuitous ode to Chantal and woman jockeys in general. Jimmy the Hat waxes poetic: "(Julie Krone) was one of the best riders I've ever seen. I never thought in my life I'd see another woman rider who could ride heads up with the guys. (Chantal's) the real deal - she can really ride." Hey Jimmy, never is a long, long time. And we've got another potential great here in Chicago in apprentice Inez Karlsson.

Chantal flies up for a victory and Jimmy wins "$260 five times. SCORE!" OK, Jimmy had a hunch on the 30-1 horse Chantal was riding. Good for him.

The weepies start at Gary Stevens' house, at the fire pit again, when we learn that Mrs. Stevens, Angie, is expecting. Went to the hospital with an asthma condition and came out pregnant. I hope Gary has a sense of humor because Angie got off a great sarcastic line at the Hall of Famer's expense.

Gary: "You're glowing!"
Angie: "Yeah, I've got my face in a hot roaring fire!"

I don't recall hearing too many laughs.

Chantal and Angie go off to the side as Chantal confides that she would really like to start a family too.

In a straight-on interview sitdown, Chantal says "I made a deal with Mike. I'd ride one more year and then we'd try to think about having a family. But I started doing really well - I broke that deal." Cut to Mike: "Chantal doesn't know what she wants to do." Here, the soulful chick singer with the plaintive piano kicks in with lyrics I still can't make out. On the music fade, Chantal adds that she literally dreams of having a baby. But what if she falls in a race? She would have a child to think about, not just herself, and bumming around racetracks is no way to raise a kid.

It gets worse. Over dinner they discuss these intimate issues with a couple from Canada, Chantal's friends. That's one thing, but with the cameras rolling too? Chantal divulges that she is going to stay in California, although later in the show when her agent from Canada calls telling her she has to fish or cut bait and let the Canadian trainers know if she's going to come back (where she makes more money), it seems much more up in the air.

Chantal is nearly angry. "It's so unfair that men don't have babies too!"

Then the girlfriend asks "So when are you guys gettin' married?" As Paulie Walnuts would say, "OHHHHHHHHH!" With better editing, we might know if Mike really was choking or just feigning it. Mike thinks out loud about some very personal things and then slays with "It doesn't mean we won't get married, but it won't be anytime soon." Chantal is devastated in front of her friends and the damn camera. I hope she's getting paid a lot for this show and I have to really give it to her, she is one tough cookie. She wanted to break down right there but instead, not one of the tears in her eyes dared run down her cheeks. Even later, as they share some wine in the alley by the garage - hey, it's Southern California; it still looked good in the windchill 5 here - it's the "what if" conversation. Mike does it again. What if Chantal goes back to Canada? After telling her how happy he is with his career, it's "Oh, I'd be fine, man," Smith says. It looks like Chantal's life is flashing before her eyes and it might not include Smith. I hope I don't know what this world is coming to, but I cannot think of one good reason they should be discussing such personal matters in front of the camera.

By the way, Ms. Sutherland is riding in the current Santa Anita meet and winning at a 14 percent clip. Very respectable and better than Joe Talamo.

In between we get nice coverage of The Legends of Racing, a very curious event where nine recent and not-so-recent retirees are going to don the silks once more in a real race, with wagering. The first blather out of the narrator is that these guys are putting their lives on the line to ride in this race. And we're reminded for the 87th time that an average of two jockeys annually are killed on the race track. Of course, the show never goes into any detail about how these guys got into shape enough to ride a race. After all, as Jerry Bailey warns in the jock's meeting, the horses don't know how old they are. "In (softball) legends, you see a 40-mile-an-hour cream puff fastball. Here, these horses are a 90-mile-an-hour fastball." Jimmy the Hat doesn't want to see any of 'em hurt either.

Also riding are Angel Cordero, Jr., Pat Day, who made many of his bones at Arlington, Sandy Hawley, Julie Krone, Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Gary Stevens and Jacinto Vasquez. "Representing $975 million in purses won and over 53,000 career wins, this is the dream team of racing," the narrator bellows. And I always thought dream teamers had to be active and at the top of their game.

It wasn't much of a race as Hawley's horse got out to the lead and was never really headed. Bailey second and Stevens third.

The best scene of the entire series comes next, and it didn't include any of our jockeys or their sordid stories.

CURLIN is in the house!! The reigning Horse of the Year - he won the honor again for 2008 - has arrived for the Breeders Cup Classic and he is looking as good as a horse can look. He knows what's going on around him and accounts for every body, human or equine, in his field of vision. The camera guys get it surprisingly right as we see the unmistakable red coat and the protective bright white sheepskin chest tack round the turn into the straight. There are no distractions as this Fred Astaire of horses makes no missteps, no wasted strides, and his run looks hypnotically easy and yet supremely powerful, straighter than an arrow, and knowing not to run too fast to save it for the big race. He won't pound his chest or pump his fist, but you probably won't catch him either and he'll let you have the track back when he's finished. That's what he lives for.

Our last bit of soap has the strung-out drama of Jon Court sweating out a berth in the Breeders Cup, which we already know he got on Orthodox. Joe Talamo buys his fourth (fourth: the fourth he has ever owned or his John McCain fourth? Dunno.) house. Then he finishes well back as the field engulfs him in the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint. Our cliffhanger until next week is Court's finish on Orthodox.

Friday's is the season finale. I'm setting my TiVo for the second season right now.


Thomas Chambers is the Beachwood's man on the rail. He's been following Jockeys this season both in this space and in his TrackNotes column. Previously:

* Sex, death threats and Jimmy the Hat.

* The bywords are dejection and overdubbing.

* The brat of the pack.

* The Kid at Harlem Ave.


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


Posted on March 13, 2009

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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