02/19/2009 12:00AM

One season that followed the script


ARCADIA, Calif. - If it's Friday, it must be time for another installment of the "Jockeys" reality series on Animal Planet, and there's not a darn thing anyone can do about it.

This was a chance, though, to check in with cast member Jon Court, who shifted his tack from Santa Anita to Oaklawn Park this winter in hopes of laying a foundation for a return to his Kentucky roots this spring. Court, who has been active in the reformation of the Jockeys' Guild, looked upon "Jockeys" as a way to raise awareness of his profession. For dramatic purposes, Court, a winner of the George Woolf Award, has assumed the role of the veteran at the end of his career, scuffling for one last hurrah.

"Some of the guys in the show were worried about their image, and I can understand that," Court said. "I am too. But at 48, I felt a little more at ease about embarrassing myself. Believe it or not, though, a lot of people think that what they're seeing is actually A to B. I tell them the show is reality, but . . . "

The list of "buts" is long - last week, among other things, a piece of a race at Fairplex Park was cut into an Oak Tree event - but fans of the show don't really care. As far as the jockeys involved, they all were willing participants in the process of trying to make reality more interesting than it already is.

For instance, there was Court's temper tantrum after losing a race, complete with censored bleeps.

"Me throwing that fit took three takes before I got it right," Court said. "They would say I was smiling while I was mad. Another time I didn't get the lines right. They asked me if I could go back to a certain place or a certain time in my life, and that's where I got it - Louisiana Downs. I was a young man, impatient, trying to make things happen, trying to make magic where there was none. I can reach back into those archives and bring them right to the forefront."

Method acting, they call it, and the next thing you know Court, Kayla, Talamo and the rest of the cast will be lining up to jaw with James Lipton on "Inside the Actors Studio."

"They wanted me to throw my helmet," Court went on. "They said, 'Jocks throw helmets, don't they?' I said that's true, but in the two and a half decades I've rode, I never did. And with these new helmets, you don't want to be throwing them around, maybe hitting a nail, or bouncing it off something and breaking something. You've just trashed a $300 helmet. I said, 'How 'bout I knock over all them boots?' Boom, got it on the first take. Man, did I feel special."

While Court has yet to do much damage at Oaklawn, it's hard for any jockey to walk around Hot Springs this time of year and not get a nod. Especially one who appears on something other than HRTV or TVG.

"They do treat you good here," Court said. "In New York, L.A., or Miami, if somebody looks at you twice, you get nervous. Here, if they give you a second look it's to throw you a wave."

Court does not know what is going to happen through the rest of the series. How would he? He was there. In the meantime, if "Jockeys" sells, why not go for another racing reality show, starting with a spin-off about the men and women who hustle their mounts?

"Spinners" is all about jockey agents - their lives, their loves, their passionate dedication to moral relativism. F. Scott Ftizgerald wrote that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." By those standards, agents are the racetrack equivalent of chemical engineers. The show would follow such well-known characters as Fats, Black Heart, Snake and The Hat - their actual, given names - as they navigate the treacherous pages of the condition book and wait for Frankel to call.

Or how about "Nails," which can take us deep into the world of the racetrack blacksmith by tracking the exploits of the grizzled Irish genius Tommy Haffacent and the new kid on the block, Bobby "Tongs" Thompson. Haffacent, sort of a Barry Fitzgerald with lower-back pain, has shod 35 of the last 40 winners of the Kentucky Derby, but he's struggling to keep pace with the modern technology represented by Thompson, who has perfected the radical "spit-shine" style of racing plate application and never misses a chance to shove it in the old guy's face. (Originally pitched to Bravo as "Bending Over.")

And finally, "Piles" could be offered to RFD-TV in a heartbeat. We're talking big rigs and the strong men and women who drive them, bearing the muck of a thousand Thoroughbreds down busy interstates, disposing of the nuclear waste of the racing industry. Is the job dangerous? You bet. Lonely? Oh man, such blues have yet to be sung. Waved through weigh stations, shunned at truck stops, haunted by the EPA, these are bona fide heroes of the highway. Come ride in the cab and live the life of the road with Large Marge and Artie "Airbrake" Halberstam, who becomes famous for his catch phrase, "Don't look in there."

It will all feel so real.