“Jockey” – a heartfelt look at a little known way of life

Before hitting the multiplex, please consider the health risks involved with participating in group gatherings at this time. Take very good care of yourselves – I wanna see you on the other side.

“Another day in paradise, ain’t that right? Yes sir.”

Story: Jackson has spent most of his life as a jockey. But when a triple crown of health issues, a promising horse, and a young man who says Jackson is his dad shakes his world, he has to figure out what his life – and legacy – will be.

Genre I’d put it in: Dramas So Realistic They Feel Like Documentaries
Release Date: Sundance 2021, theaters 2022
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the lives of actual jockeys.

Gotta say: Here in Baltimore, Pimlico is just a stone’s throw away. But how many of us in this city actually know the world of horses and professional horseracing, let alone the folks that ride those thoroughbreds, beyond the Preakness race during Triple Crown season? Definitely not me, at least ’til now. Jockey is a Slice-of-Life film looks at a way of life most of us know nothing about; the life of a professional jockey. And I’m amazed.

As Jackson, Clifton Collins Jr. delivers what many are calling “the performance of a lifetime”. I’d agree; he delivers an understated performance that nonetheless grabs your attention and doesn’t let go ’til the end credits. Collins’ Jackson and Moises Aria’s Gabriel have a believable onscreen chemistry as they wind their way around the possibilities of familial and/or work relationships. And as Jackson’s horse trainer/BFF Ruth, Molly Parker proves to be yet another performer people never seem to recognize unless she’s right there in front of them. She matches Collins’ quiet but powerful presence, both of them making it look effortless. And those performances, along with real life jockeys as part of the supporting cast, gave me serious Nomadland vibes. This is a story that feels like we’re peeking in on someone’s private life, rather than watching fiction unfold.

Watching Jackson train young Gabriel is fascinating stuff. And lest you think this is just one big training montage meant to pump up the audience? Jockey looks deeper, uncovering the deathly serious problems these athletes can face. Anyone who thinks jockeys just “sit on there butt while the horse does the work” is truly misinformed. Gabriel deals with true-to-life health issues – built up over the years – that hamper his ability to race at his most effective level. Weight he’s got to lose in order to qualify to ride, with taller jockeys having to drop to the same amount of weight in order to be competitive, ending up badly hurt because they have “no padding”. Eating disorders are a big problem in the horse racing community, causing even more health problems for these athletes.

Jockey touches on all these issues within its main story, which pulls no punches nor resorts to maudlin attempts at heart-tugging. A scene where a bunch of jockeys – most of whom are jockeys in real life – get together and talk about their injuries, and it is horrifying. And they just talke about it all like it just the nature of doing business in their profession, as a desk jockey would eyeroll at a faulty printer. This world is laid bare, and you’re invited to draw your own conclusions from the information given.

These athletes work their asses off for very little financial gain. Just the love of riding, and the possibility of being one of the very few who make it big. Hope this movie shines a light on these individuals, and that they finally get a solid retirement plan, and more of a cut of the winnings they so richly deserve. 

Grade: A-

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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