I am not a fan of reality TV. I have never subjected myself to watching an episode of American Idol, Survivor, or any of this mock-realism slated as "entertainment" that has wormed its parasitic way into our pop culture. I would rather believe it doesn't exist, much like a mysterious lump on the back of your neck you'd rather not think about. Yes, I loathe reality TV so much as to compare it to a tumor; but there's always the exception, something you set aside and say, "But this isn't the same thing."
Jockeys isn't a mere "reality show."
If you're unfamiliar with the program, Jockeys is a show aired by Animal Planet featuring prominent and up-and-coming jockeys in the American Thoroughbred racing industry, following their everyday struggles and the trials and triumphs of this most dangerous sport. The first season was based on a handful of riders in California, featuring Hall-of-Famer Mike Smith, as well as those who will certainly someday etch their names into the record books, like Aaron Gryder, Joe Talamo, and Chantal Sutherland.
While season one of Jockeys circled around the lead-up to the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which took place in California at Santa Anita, season two, which begins this Friday at 9:00pm CT, features the road to the Kentucky Derby. I got goosebumps when I read this.
If you follow the sport of horse racing, you will know that the stories that develop in this unique world simply can't be made up. The material found here is too good to be true for anyone who dares tackle its immensity, and largely, the show sticks to what really happened in documentary style, which is why I have given the show my stamp of approval. (I say "largely" because I have been miffed by a couple of editing of historical facts, like switching around the Breeders' Cup Classic to run before the Ladies' Classic, which is ludicrous to anyone who follows the sport. But it's TV, not a film, so I'm willing to give it a break for those viewers with A.D.D.)
That's why this "reality show" stands above the rest-they couldn't make up the stories that develop around horse racing; it's often-times better than the movies. In fact, I will not even dare to call Jockeys a "reality show," given the annotations that phrase brings; I will henceforth dub it a "docu-drama."
In 2009, the road to the Kentucky Derby offered enough plot twists and dramatic arcs as a daytime TV show. For those of you who read this column, you will remember The Pamplemousse's promise and the injury that sidelined him, and the news that shocked the racing world when Derby favorite I Want Revenge was scratched the morning of America's most prestigious race, ending a fairytale ride into history for the 19-year-old jockey Joe Talamo. And though I don't have to reiterate what happened in the Kentucky Derby, did you know that the upset winner was originally ridden by Chantal Sutherland in Canada? Talk about a bittersweet story.
Unfortunately, I have read that season two of Jockeys will end with the Kentucky Derby, and will not follow the rest of the Triple Crown. Therefore, it will miss out on the dominating 3-year-old filly, Rachel Alexandra, and her meteoric rise to superstardom. The show will also miss out on a doubtlessly fascinating conversation behind-the-scenes when Chantal speaks (or possibly doesn't speak) to her boyfriend Mike Smith, who takes the mount on Mine That Bird in the Preakness. Ouch. The new season will feature additional jockeys, however, and actually be featuring leading-rider Garrett Gomez instead of villain-izing him as "the jockey who kills everyone's hopes and dreams." This is fitting, since he is denied a Derby glory once again in 2009, and you can't hate a guy who keeps getting deprived of his dream.
There's no doubt about it, jockeys are a different breed of people. If you're not a follower of horse racing, you may not realize all their job entails. They are hardly place-holders in the saddle that just ride their horses around a ring. Oh no. In the only sport in which an ambulance is continually chasing your heels, horse racing is a game of strategy, strength, brainpower, and a lot of luck. For spectators, racing may be fun, or a source of randy income; but for jockeys, it's living in a perpetual coin-toss each time they stick their boots into the stirrups.
Jockeys airs Fridays on Animal Planet at 10:00pm ET. For those of you who don't have Animal Planet, episodes of past and current seasons are available for download on iTunes as they air. Season one of Jockeys is now available on DVD.