The Jockeys are coming to Animal Planet Feb. 6!
The last time AP had a good horse show was the Thoroughbred series, which followed the daily life of Bonita Farm in Maryland. That was nearly 10 years ago, when I was but a teenage horse geek and minor degenerate. That show opened my eyes to the difficulties involved with breeding horses – up till then my idea of a thoroughbred nursery was the stuff in the Black Stallion series and the glamourous stallion barns in Kentucky.
This new show should be compelling, too. The Seabiscuit movie introduced audiences to the hard lives of jockeys in the ’30s, but though technology and safety rules have changed, the jocks still face dangers both on and off the track. Just this year, an exercise rider was fatally injured working a horse, and that was just in the morning! The jockeys also have the pressure to win coming from the trainer and the owners, either of whom can make the decision to bench a jock if he doesn’t win on a particular horse. Jocks at the top level catch heat from the press — see the firing squad Kent Desormeaux faced after the Belmont this year.
Perhaps this show will garner the jockeys some much-needed sports cred. My co-workers and friends roll their eyes when I talk about the athleticism required to ride Thoroughbreds. They insist that “the horse is doing all the work!” While the horse is the runner, the jockey is the pilot. The split-second decision he or she makes at the break, the internal clock that tells him when to let the horse go at top speed, the grit to make a space between horses where there isn’t one, these things can win or lose a race and they are variables the horse cannot decide for himself.
I just hope they go easy on the sappy. Too many times, the broadcasters focus too much on the “personal demons” or “family crises” off the track instead of the natural dramas that play out daily on the track. A little bit of it goes a looong way.