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Local Jockeys Star in TV Series — But Now, Focus is on Derby Day

April 2nd, 2009 by Temple City Tribune

72nd Running of the Santa Anita Derby this Saturday


Jockeys Starting last February, Animal Planet began a TV series on the cable-only network that purports to show the lifestyle of jockeys. The series was shot at Fairplex in Pomona, Santa Anita racetrack, and at the residences of the seven jockeys featured. Much of the simulated drama surrounded the Oak Tree Meet at Santa Anita this past year.

The sort of reality-TV, soap-opera, docu-drama show intercuts scenes of jockeys Jon Court, Aaron Gryder, Mike Smith, Alex Solis, Kayla Stra, Chantal Sutherland and Joe Talamo taking viewers behind the scenes at Santa Anita, as well as affording an inside look at these famous jockey’s activities at the track, plus intimate peeks of them at home with their families and friends.

The show, "Jockeys" has attracted a wide viewing audience that reached more than 9.2 million during its 12 half-hour segments, Animal Planet says. That has prompted the cable channel to commission a second season of seven episodes which will be expanded to a full hour. The extended series is now set to begin in August. Officials at Animal Planet believe that hour-long segments will allow a deeper look into the world of racing, horses and the track. Jockeys Garrett Gomez and Corey Nakatani will be added to the "cast" in the second series. Jon Court leaves the series due to a move to the Midwest.

File foto - Mike Smith - Jockeys 2009 Mike Smith, named to the Hall of Fame in 2003, and his girlfriend, jockey Chantal Sutherland, are featured players in the series. Showing their personal lives, there are scenes of them moving into a new townhouse in Sierra Madre late last year. While they chide each other about portioning out closet space and other trivial personal matters, there is plenty of footage of races that often show the physical rigors and dangers encountered during the sprints. "There are no ifs or when’s about it," Smith says in the first episode, "you’re going to get hurt. The only question is, how bad." The comment highlights the action pictured of the extreme competitiveness and physical nature of racing. The camera, dramatically positioned at the Santa Anita track, site captures the thrills and spills of racing a visual demonstration of the physical harm that jockeys face in every race.

The series is enjoyable, if a bit overly dramatic at times. Does this mean that Smith could be an up and coming actor? No, he demures. "I really enjoy doing the show—it tells a lot about jockeys and their lives. Still, it can be boring waiting for set ups and on-camera trying to act natural," he says. Among Smith’s accomplishments in his 28-year professional career, is winner of the Preakness, Kentucky Derby and 10 Breeder Cup races.

Canadian-born Sutherland takes it all in stride, but then as one of Canada’s top riders and with her upward trend in this year’s jockey standings (at the current Santa Anita meet she is 11th as of this week) she has faced more hurdles than a camera lens. But she sees herself as competing here successfully. "There’s a lot of competitiveness [at the track] especially with the trainers…we’re competing among ourselves and it’s the trainers and owners we want to ride for."

Jockeys Top ranked trainer, Bob Baffert, agrees. Baffert, a long-time Arcadia resident, is a three-time Kentucky Derby winner and is now a finalist in the nomination to be named to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame winners will be announced on August 14 in Saratoga, NY. Baffert is also seen in the "Jockey" series. The highly competitive Baffert holds the Santa Anita Derby record for most wins by a trainer.

Young jockey Joe Talamo, (he is 19 years-old) lives in Monrovia, and his experiences around the hardened professionals is another centerpiece of the TV show. Talamo is now the 4th ranked jockey at the Santa Anita winter meet and eleventh in terms of purse winnings. Aaron Gryder, a West Covina native and local resident, speaks about the tough competitive nature of racing in several of the episodes. This season, Gryder holds the 13th rank in jockey standings.

While the TV show is enticing to viewers, the point of the series is to entice a new generation to thoroughbred horseracing and specifically to Santa Anita. Several of the jockeys are now preparing for an important race which will occur at Santa Anita on Saturday, April 4. Derby Day, the 72nd running of the Santa Anita Derby, is this Saturday. A battle between Pioneer of the Nile and Pamplemousse seems to be the centerpiece of what the $750,000 guaranteed purse for the race is all about. Other activities at the track on Derby Day will include a 5K run and a special book-signing by Lafitte Pincay, Jr., in a pre-release of "Lafitte: Anatomy of a Winner" an autobiography of racing’s winning-est jockey which gives a critical look at the man, his lifestyle and details of his 39-year career.

Information for race-goers: Gates at Santa Anita Park open at 10:30 a.m. with the first post at 12:00 p.m.

By Bill Peters

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