NTRA THOROUGHBRED NOTEBOOK

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

HORSE RACING AND REALITY TV INTERSECT ON ANIMAL PLANET FRIDAY NIGHT

Animal Planet will debut its new, 12-episode series “Jockeys” this Friday night at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT (check local listings). Billed as a “docusoap”, “Jockeys” focuses on the work and lives of seven riders on the highly competitive Southern California circuit: Jon Court, Aaron Gryder, Mike Smith, Alex Solis, Kayla Stra, Chantal Sutherland and Joe Talamo. Key themes in the early episodes include the romantic relationship between Smith and Sutherland and the friendly rivalry between veteran Gryder and the successful young Talamo.

One of the show’s executive producers is Liz Bronstien, who is no stranger to racing.

“When I was growing up, my stepfather bet on the horses for a living,” she said. “We used to spend Jewish holidays at the track. And when I came out here [to California] and started producing television, I really, really wanted to tell the story and wanted to make a television show about jockeys.”

One of Bronstein’s main goals will be to show viewers the incredible skill and commitment necessary to become a top jockey.

“Every minute of the jockeys’ lives is devoted to racing in one way or another,” she said. What they eat, how much they exercise, the sacrifices they have to make in their relationship to have this real, real focus. They are just extraordinary people who so many people think of as just passengers on a horse.”

Gryder believes that existing racing fans will enjoy the show very much, and he thinks it could be helpful in attracting new fans as well.

“I think it’s going to bring a lot of people that maybe disliked racing because they thought it might have been something different than what it is,” he said. “Or it will introduce a lot of people that knew nothing about horse racing and never followed it into going to see it. It’s a great sport. It’s exciting. It’s fun. And they’ll see what goes into it.”

Early reviews are encouraging.

“The Roloffs of ‘Little People, Big World’ have competition for the title of Most Entertaining Pint-Sized Reality TV Stars…there’s drama on and off the track,” wrote Sports Illustrated in its February 9 issue.

“‘Jockeys’ appears to be the rare hybrid show that could appeal to racing industry insiders as well as novice or non fans interested in the drama involved in a high-profile, big-money and dangerous sport,” wrote Ed DeRosa on Thoroughbredtimes.com.

From Animal Planet’s perspective, “Jockeys” should, indeed, provide compelling viewing to its diverse viewership. And, yes, the Thoroughbred plays a big role in the show as well.

“So little is known about what goes into becoming a jockey, but these athletes couldn’t triumph without the strength, speed and spirit of their equine partners,” says Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet. “I think audiences will be surprised by what unfolds throughout the series.”

CHAMPION STARDOM BOUND TOPS BIG SATURDAY AT SANTA ANITA

Four graded stakes races on Saturday at Santa Anita include a pair that could lead to a highly compelling clash in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby as 2-year-old filly champion Stardom Bound and California’s most accomplished male Triple Crown prospect, Pioneerof the Nile, make their 3-year-old debuts at the Arcadia, Calif., racetrack.

Stardom Bound makes her first start since being purchased by IEAH Stables in the 27th running of the Grade I, $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile.

Should the stunning gray filly takes care of business as expected on Saturday, the winner of that day’s 71st running of the Grade II, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles is likely to be among her projected Santa Anita Derby opposition, and Pioneerof the Nile is expected to be the Lewis favorite.

Making his first start for three-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Bob Baffert in Hollywood Park’s $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 20, Pioneerof the Nile emerged with a thrilling nose triumph over I Want Revenge to dramatically elevate his standing among Kentucky Derby hopefuls.

“Physically, he’s still a little immature,” said the 56-year-old trainer. “He’s a late foal, but I can see a difference in him now. He’s really maturing in his mind. He’s ready.”

I Want Revenge is back as well for the Lewis and figures as Pioneerof the Nile’s chief foe in the field of nine.

Also on Saturday at Santa Anita is the historic Grade II, $250,000 Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds. And the Grade III, $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap at one mile on turf constitutes the fourth graded stakes race on the stellar ten-race program.

GIANT OAK, FRIESEN FIRE TOP BIG FIELD IN RISEN STAR AT FAIR GROUNDS
Giant Oak, runner-up in last fall’s Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, and Friesan Fire, who captured the Lecomte Stakes on January 10 at Fair Grounds, lead a field of 13 3-year-olds in the $200,000, Grade III Risen Star Stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

The 1 1/16-mile Risen Star is the last of six Saturday stakes races worth a total of $750,000 in purses as part of the Louisiana Derby Preview Day program.

Giant Oak, trained by Chris Block, has been installed as the slight 3-1 morning line choice and will have 2006 Eclipse Award-winning jockey Edgar Prado flying in for the mount, while Friesan Fire, one of two horses in the race conditioned by Larry Jones, has been tabbed as the 7-2 second choice and has regular rider Gabriel Saez slated for the saddle.

Giant Oak, a son of Giant’s Causeway, was part of a three-horse photo in the Kentucky Jockey Club, just behind Beethoven and in front of Capt. Candyman Can, who made his sophomore debut last Friday by winning the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

In the Lecomte, Friesan Fire, a colt by A. P. Indy, took command in upper stretch and drew clear for a 1 1/2-length victory. Giant Oak drew post seven in the field, while Friesan Fire will break just from his inside in post six.

Flying Pegasus, conditioned by Ralph Nicks, is the third choice in the Risen Star morning line at 6-1 but has been away from competition since September, when he finished second by a length, but 2 3/4 lengths in front of Friesan Fire, in the Grade II Futurity at Belmont.

The complete Risen Star Stakes field, in post position order, is: Map of the World (jockey: Curt Bourque, morning line odds: 20-1); Indygo Mountain (Jamie Theriot, 10-1); Nowhere to Hide (Corey Lanerie, 15-1); It Happened Again (Terry Thompson, 10-1); Uno Mas (Brian Hernandez Jr., 8-1); Friesan Fire (Gabriel Saez, 7-2); Giant Oak (Edgar Prado, 3-1); Dumar (Shaun Bridgmohan, 20-1); Code of Honour (Randall Toups, 20-1); Soul Warrior (Pat Valenzuela, 15-1); Summer’s Empire (Jesse Campbell, 20-1); Flying Pegasus (Robby Albarado, 6-1); and Au Moon (Julien Leparoux, 8-1).

Fans of multi-leg wagers will have numerous options to choose from on Saturday’s card. The Pick 6, usually offered on the final six races of the day, has been moved to cover all six of Saturday’s stakes races beginning with Race four and ending with the Risen Star. Also, an all-stakes Pick 5 will begin on Race five, and an all-graded stakes Pick 4 starts on Race six.

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