Take Two - by Steve Haskin

An unusual article appeared in the Aug. 21 New York Post. TV critic Linda Stasi not only reviewed Animal Planet’s reality series “Jockeys,” she gave it four stars.

Stasi wrote: “Possibly the most exciting unscripted show on TV is one you probably haven’t ever watched—or, at least, one I’ve never watched before.

“And what a loser I am for having not reviewed the first season of ‘Jockeys,’ an Animal Planet show more about the human animal than the equine…There’s not another TV show like it (except perhaps “American Idol,” where each episode is so unbearably tense).” 

Racing cannot buy publicity like that, especially in the New York market. Actually, Stasi started watching at the right time, as season two far exceeds season one, even though the show still is just as manipulative (as are all reality shows), and the Trevor Denman voiceovers are just as annoying. And the producers are more spill-crazy than ever, showing the same spills over and over.

As for the first season, they are still getting mileage out of that staged scene in the jocks’ room where an angry Jon Court throws all the equipment off a shelf. Thank the director for that fabricated scene. And, finally, it is understandable why they had to change around the order of the Breeders’ Cup races to fit the “script,” but to make the Breeders’ Cup a three-day event was laughable.

But enough about last year. This year’s first episode was compelling throughout, thanks to the Bullybullybully–Kristin Mulhall–Chantal Sutherland cloak-and-dagger segment, where they attempt to hide the unraced 3-year-old’s work by sending him out in company, and on the inside, under the cover of darkness for fear of losing him in his upcoming claiming race. Mulhall is a horse lover before all else and she had a love affair going with “Bully.” It also gave the viewer an inside look at the claiming game, which normally goes unnoticed. The producers did a great job of filming trainer John Sadler, one of the shrewdest claiming trainers in California, supposedly watching the work, supposedly eyeing Bully in the paddock before the race, and putting in a claim (we don’t even know if the claim he put in was for this race). But an effective piece of film editing made it look like he was interested in Bully the whole time and had put in a claim for the horse, which would have broken Mulhall’s heart. Even showing steward’s aid Heather Coreija, who works in the paymaster’s office, walking toward Bully with the dreaded red claim tag was well orchestrated and added to the tension. And then when she tagged another horse you wanted to let out a sigh of relief. It was great drama and had me on the edge of my couch.

Then there were the riveting segments on racing’s bad boy Corey Nakatani, from his altercation with fellow rider Iggy Puglisi in the jocks’ room to appearing before the stewards for some overly aggressive riding to old footage of him pushing another rider off his horse just after the finish line. Every reality series needs someone like Nakatani, and his addition was another big difference between last year and this year. Imagine the very first “Survivor” without Richard Hatch.

What is so encouraging about season two is that the best is yet to come. Next week we get to see series regular Aaron Gryder romp in the world’s richest race (that’s richest race, not “biggest” race, as was stated in the show), the $6-million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (UAE-I) aboard Well Armed. And the series will conclude with two stories the producers couldn’t have made up —Joe Talamo having to deal with the scratch of his Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite I Want Revenge the morning of the race, and Sutherland, after returning to Canada, watching in disbelief as her old friend from last year, Mine That Bird, trounces his foes in the Derby. Talk about mixed feelings and what might have been.

Season one was well intentioned with too many flaws and too many dead moments. Season two, so far, hits it out of the park.

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