01/24/2014 2:38PM

Jay Hovdey: Imagine if these racing shows got a shot on TV


It is easy to tell the horseplayers at the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas this week from the horseplayers on Esquire Network’s new show “Horseplayers.” The Vegas cast is real. No edits allowed. The Esquire gang is “reality.”

“Horseplayers” is harmless fun and in many ways more enjoyable than its predecessor, “Jockeys.” Life and death issues in such productions never ring true (“Could you please throw that helmet again, Mr. Court?”), but if all that’s at stake is a rolling pick three, then no amount of dubbed racecalls, muffed graphics, or “coincidental” encounters could spoil the vibe.

If “Horseplayers” is a success there undoubtedly will be a flood of racetrack reality shows hitting the box. Word has it that there are already some in the can, waiting their turn:

“Harrowing” – Dennis Moore does not sleep. Ever. How could he? The man is in charge of every racing surface in California, or so it seems, and to fulfill his obligations to Santa Anita, Los Alamitos, San Luis Rey Downs, and what’s left of Hollywood Park he rides by night, scaring children and small dogs with the roar of his ferocious black 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10 and the bone-chilling blare of Johnny Cash and Black Sabbath pounding out of the truck’s CES5.1 Electrostatic Surround Sound system.

“I like folks to know I’m coming,” Moore says.

“Harrowing” takes a four-week journey with Moore as he and his minions crawl over every inch of racing ground, searching for clues to the perfect surface and unearthing horrifying secrets. Armed only with an Agratronix soil compaction tester and a TenPoint Vapor crossbow, Moore must defend himself against a mythic monster called The Bias and a horde of moaning, zombie-like creatures known as Tray-Nurs, while answering to an entity with the caller ID “Management” that communicates only by texting unreasonable demands.

“The Feeling Is Mutuel” – In the best science fiction film traditions of HAL 9000, Proteus, SImOne, and now Her, heartless metal and circuitry are rendered all too human in this reality-based tale of a lonely horseplayer’s desire to become one with his betting application.

The show’s real-life hero, Gabriel Watchmaker, has outfitted his two-room cottage in the Ozarks with the latest in satellite uplink technology and digital encoding, along with running water. The show follows his ever-deepening interface with such betting platforms as Super Six Me, Pick Fool, and Ecsta-Bet.

The show’s enhanced use of interactive immersive environments enables the viewer to share the sights, sounds, and less repulsive smells of Gabriel’s journey into a passionate cyber-relationship with Laurel, Beulah, Anita, and the exotic allure of Oz in the wee hours, imprisoned by what F. Scott Fitzgerald described as the “dark night of the soul” when it’s always post time at Ballarat.

“I wanna be just like Russell Crowe in ‘Virtuosity,’ ” Gabriel says at one point, “except with an open-ended account at Xpressbet instead of Denzel Washington on my tail.”

“Vetz” – The shingle hanging from their office porch reads “Practice Makes Purfect,” which is enough to make this rag-tag band of merry backstretch veterinarians worth the time spent in their company.

Come along on stable rounds with Needles, the practical joker; Flex, the super-buff organic health nut; and Sister Suture, who drives the guys wild with her endoscopic exams. Their boss is Old School, a veterinarian of rigid standards and no apparent degree who would rather double bill than cross the line into any gray areas of racehorse medication. Or work nights.

Watch Old School’s reaction as Needles slips him a fake invoice for a kilo of pure Turkish oregano. Eavesdrop on Flex as he consults with another vet over the dire condition of a horse standing right there, hearing every word. Then laugh at the sight of Sister Suture getting into the ketamine and attempting to geld the ill-tempered barn cat.

“My Little Phoney” – Bosco Harmatz could sell ice to Eskimos, or so goes the legend spun around this uber-middleman, formerly the star of the popular but ultimately canceled reality program “My Cut,” about the meat brokering industry in central Europe.

Bosco is up for a new challenge, this one posed by a known associate he was visiting in a Lompoc correctional facility. “You think you can sell anything to anybody,” says Bosco’s alleged pal, “let’s see you go sell racehorses to people with more money than God, chump.”

Bosco sets up shop in what he is told by a real estate broker is the heart of the Thoroughbred world, although he later learns that Frankfort, Ky., is more like the kidney. Undaunted, Bosco plunges into the thick of the Lexington sales scene, glad-handing, arm-twisting, and hustling clients until he’s blue in the face. Rival bloodstock agents are at first alarmed by the sight of the energetic interloper, but soon they come to be charmed by his wardrobe (inspired by Madonna), his interchangeable accents (French, Welsh, Dutch, and Farsi), and his abject inability to perform even the most basic tasks of Thoroughbred commerce.

As for Bosco, he soldiers on through six episodes, discouraged only when he awakens one morning in a culvert off Iron Works Pike with a catalog page pinned to his lapel upon which is scrawled, “Hip Zero.”