No, no, no, this is not the oft-rumored home video of Judge David Johnson's 21st birthday party.
Sometimes it's tough being the little guy.
When I was a junior in college, my friends and I developed an unhealthy fascination with jockey trading cards. I had stumbled upon a few boxes of these while perusing my local sports collectible store, noticed the cheapness (like $4 a box), and was immediately wowed by the simple fact that someone thought if was a market-savvy idea to produce trading cards featuring diminutive men on horseback. Naturally, I bought up the entire stock, took them back to college, and flooded the campus with these cards. Stupid and infantile, sure, but through it all I developed a deeper understanding of jockeys than I had before (read: the previous understanding was "none whatsoever"). Is there a point to this story? No, not really. Basically, it's interesting how things come full circle, with me sitting here, writing up a review on a documentary about jockeys.
Okay…back to my job. Saddles & Silks is an hour-long documentary examining the competitive world of horseracing, and the folks who are integral to the industry's success—the jockeys, who are sometimes forgotten in the hubbub. The film begins with a general look at the allure of the horseracing world, setting its first scenes in that most whimsical of venues, the Kentucky Derby. From there, we get a broader overview of the sport, with some attention given to the horses, and some of the outlandish prices owners fork over to try and secure a winner. Seriously, $8 million seems a little too much for a horse. With that money you could buy a sport car…or the moon!
The program eventually leads into a deeper focus on the man or woman who sits atop these big-money equine investments. This is, after all, subtitled "A Jockey's Story." Interviews with different jockeys are strewn throughout, supplemented with interviews with owners, bettors, and others knowledgeable of the sport. We get behind-the-scenes footage in the jockey locker room (how's that for a selling point?) and candid video of jockeys hanging out at stables and watching races.
Sure, that doesn't sound thrilling, and, admittedly, it's not, but I tend to judge a documentary's effectiveness on its ability to provide new, surprising information to me that I won't forget. And Saddles & Silks succeeds in that regard: I learned that it's really, really tough to be a jockey. Really tough. To the point I was feeling pretty bad for them.
Now, I'm 6'3" and sometimes I take that for granted. It's tough being a little man in this world, and I understand that every time I send some hapless point guard's baseline runner into the stands. Not only are these jockeys extraordinarily short, but their chosen profession is hugely competitive. That means these guys have to compete with a multitude of compact brethren, which translates into lots of begging, pleading, and stable doors being slammed in their faces. Add to that the slight chances of actually winning, the risk of life and limb that accompanies the sport, and the ugly costumes, and the sympathy meter was reading pretty high.
My overall feeling coming away from this is that the life of a jockey is hard and not necessarily lucrative, but when the odds are beaten and he or she ends up in the Winner's Circle astride a Thoroughbred, the diligence pays off. So, if you're a jockey, or are thinking about becoming a jockey, I tip my hat to you and wish you luck. Apparently, you'll need it.
This is a two-disc set, though I'm not sure why. The technical merits—full frame and 2.0 stereo sound—are nothing to make note of, and the disc one special features are limited: a photo gallery, some horse stills, and text-based jockey profiles. The second disc is devoted to a 50-minute program called "The Thoroughbred—A Magic Way of Going," a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation production from 1981. The feature explores the methodology that goes in to selecting a champion horse, but the documentary is so dated (showing analysts using dot matrix printers and antiquated computers) I don't find much value in the program's inclusion.
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