03/22/2009 11:00PM

Sorenson showing no quit in stretch


ARCADIA, Calif. - The announcement last week that "Jockeys" has been picked up by Animal Planet for another package of episodes included the news that Garrett Gomez and Corey Nakatani have been added to the cast.

This is funny, in a twisted way, because Nakatani already has enjoyed more "Jockeys" air time than Alex Solis and Jon Court put together. Promos, top of the show, closing credits, in and out of commercials - there's Nakatani, going down hard at the top of the Santa Anita hillside course in the Morvich Handicap last fall. Nakatani cracked his right collarbone - for the second time in 2008 - and the video of the accident was milked for all it was worth, as a vivid reminder of just how dangerous the profession can be.

"Jockeys" missed the boat, though, in filling the role of "respected veteran still hanging in there" now that Court has returned to the Arkansas-Kentucky circuit. Neither Gomez nor Nakatani fits that bill. But Danny Sorenson does, to perfection.

To watch him ride, there is no apparent evidence that Sorenson is actually 51, or that he has broken dozens of bones and undergone countless surgeries. He has won 1,362 races, a healthy list of respectable stakes, and once set a record for winners while taking a Longacres riding title. On any given day, if the mount is the least bit live, Sorenson can summon the accumulated experience of his 30 years in the saddle to ride with anyone, and any doubters should take a look at last Saturday's eighth race at Santa Anita, a $10,000 claiming event sandwiched between the San Luis Rey Handicap and the Joe Hernandez Stakes.

Sorenson was riding the 5-year-old gelding Orientation Hall for the first time for trainer Gary Sherlock, who roamed far and wide last year with the top sprinting mare Intangaroo. Making his 17th start, Orientation Hall was dropping in class and distance and adding blinkers, along with Sorenson. In case anyone was wondering, this is how the game is played.

When you get Sorenson, in addition to a thoroughly professional ride, you get a comprehensive play-by-play. Sorenson has given considerable thought to the technicalities of his craft, and he is not reluctant to share his insights, often at entertaining length. Tracking the pace with Orientation Hall, the veteran looked dead and gone on the far turn when he commenced to asking his horse, to no apparent effect.

"I didn't really want to ask him yet," Sorenson noted. "It goes through my mind, what if I hang at the sixteenth? But at the same time, he's got just enough of a weird streak in him that you just don't trust him. Go back and look at his old races. He's laid up close sprinting. He's come from dead last to win routing. So I'm in this Catch-22 on how to ride him, and on top of that he blew out in 33 [seconds] for the race. It wasn't me, but I saw it. I was galloping a 2-year-old out in the middle of the track at Hollywood Park and all of a sudden this streak goes by. 'Who was that?' I wonder. I come off the track and Gary saw me and says, 'You see that? I'm putting you on him.' "

Sorenson returned to the race.

"He was running until the five-sixteenths pole, then he started backing out and not trying," he said. "I went to picking on him, then started riding him, but I didn't think I'd even catch the one in front, and figured the others would be running by me any time. All of a sudden he just started digging. I figured I better pedal faster."

He did, and it wasn't pretty. Sorenson was still in deep water at the eighth pole.

"Jerry Fanning told me this years ago," Sorenson said, referring to the Southern California trainer who gave him his start. "He said one of the reasons Sandy Hawley wins the races he does, for someone who's not really a power rider, was the fact that when a horse wasn't running for him, he never quit trying different things. Take a hold and see if he'd run into the bridle. Maybe drop his head and chirp to him. Maybe hit him right-handed, left-handed. Always trying to find the key. That was back in 1977. But you keep that kind of thing in mind."

So Sorenson kept pedaling and Orientation Hall came back on to win by a head, at 12-1.

"From the eighth pole to the wire, every thought I had was that I needed to hit him left-handed," Sorenson said. "But if I do he's gonna step sideways, and that's gonna get me beat. It's my subconscious that's keeping me from doing it. Years of knowing that if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

In major league baseball, Sorenson would be the classic example of the solid infielder who never made superstar but averaged .285, lived and breathed nothing but the game, and went on to make an outstanding manager. There's not much demand for coaches in the jockey world - unless Chris McCarron is hiring faculty at his North American Racing Academy - but such things are not occurring to a healthy and strong Sorenson right now. He knows his career is nearing an end, but he insists his days are far from numbered, especially if there is a promising 2-year-old on the horizon or an Orientation Hall to cajole and hustle home.

"That was way too much work for an old man," Sorenson joked as he headed for the room. "And I loved every minute of it."