Whether it's the Osbournes or the Jon-Kate Eight, Americans love watching the real-life tension of personal relationships played out on their television screens. For jockeys Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland, whose romantic affair was a primary focus during the first season of "Jockeys," it was enough to give them second thoughts about their involvement in the documentary series.
"Yeah, we did (have second thoughts)," said Sutherland, who has dated Smith for several years and moved in with him during the first season's filming. "I think for Mike and I it was pretty stressful at the beginning. And then, we were able to sort of get used to it, and so yeah, it was tough. We had a few differences and we were a little bit stressed out at the beginning. But we kind of worked it out."
Smith and Sutherland, who participated in an NTRA teleconference call Aug. 18, are back for season two, which has its premiere on Animal Planet Aug. 21 at 10 p.m. on both coasts. In a major change in format, the seven episodes will be aired in one-hour time blocks instead of in back-to-back half-hour programs. Where season one focused on getting to the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita last fall, this season culminates with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Sutherland said she and Smith eventually became used to having their lives exposed to the cameras, but it took awhile. "Because of the Breeder's Cup and everything, he's (Mike) very intense as far as racing goes. And I just moved in, so it was a lot going on and definitely our relationship was getting a little shook up from it.
"But you know we handled it, but I think you can see a little bit of the stress on the first season and then second season's a little better. But moving back to Canada again (midway through the series for the Woodbine meet) added some more drama in our lives again."
Smith said that while there are drawbacks to such scrutiny, he remains enthusiastic about the potential of "Jockeys" to capture a general interest audience and that he "has no regrets" about becoming involved.
Aaron Gryder, one of the seven jockeys originally involved, said he saw the series as an opportunity to "show both sides of the story" of racing and that he believed the producers were successful.
"Obviously you know there's a side that is sad and gets overexposed," said Gryder, whose victory on Well Armed in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) is featured in an early episode of season two. "And then there's the side that is glamorous and exciting and shows what racing is really about that hardly ever gets the publicity.
"When we had talked to them about this show they said we want to show what racing's about. We want people to be excited about it and that's what got us all involved in it. And I think we had high expectations and I think they did a great job of putting it together."
Darrell Haire, western regional manager for the Jockeys' Guild, said he has been committed to seeing that the program gets beyond the superficial aspects of racing to show what jockeys' lives are really like.
"I've been with this thing since the start as a consultant and I've really been on the producers to get it right," he said. "They've done much better. People who enjoyed the first season are really going to love the second season. People who didn't like the first season should like it this time."
One complaint in the first season was that stories didn't focus on one issue or personality very long and resolution of conflict was often missing.
Jason Carey, executive producer for Animal Planet, said that the expansion to one-hour episodes will help.
"When we started getting into the project, we knew that this was a really, really rich world and that there were a lot of stories to tell," he said. "We just didn't know how much depth there would be to those stories. Working on season one in the half-hour format we realized we just ... we had a lot of footage on the cutting room floor because we couldn't fit it in to the time format.
"So we met with the producers and talked amongst ourselves internally at Animal Planet and decided that we felt we would be able to tell much richer stories in the hour-long format. And so we've done that in season two and I think the shows are just tremendous. I'm really excited."
They've added a few new riders to the featured cast this season. Corey Nakatani, with his win-at-all-costs attitude, plays the heavy in episode one. Iggy Puglisi, still struggling in his comeback attempt from back surgery a couple of years ago, is also a welcomed addition. Both convey in honest terms what a serious injury can do to a riding career. Garrett Gomez also plays a bigger role in the new season.
Carey said positive feedback encouraged Animal Planet to return for a new season.
"Across the board, I mean through media, through fan mail, through talking to the jockeys and the people involved with the shoot, I think everybody after the experience on season one felt really, really good about being involved in season two," he said.
One annoying thing that hasn't been fixed is forcing Santa Anita track announcer Trevor Denman to call the races from a script as if it were the jockeys who are racing. Since they make extensive use of identification arrows to point out where the featured riders are in the race, it seems unnecessary.
Carey said much of the series focuses on trying to get to the 2009 Kentucky Derby. At one point, it looked like four or five jockeys from the series might have a chance to participate.
"You know you're following documentary stories so you can't make up the end and I think ultimately that gives just such a great realistic picture of the lives that these guys live and all the sacrifices they make and the stakes with everything involved, it's just incredible," he said.
Utlimately, however, the camera focuses on Sutherland, who is watching the Derby at Churchill Downs with her friend and fellow rider, Emma-Jayne Wilson, when Mine That Bird, a horse Sutherland used to ride, springs an incredible upset.
"Honestly, I just was like so shocked," Sutherland said. "I think I might have froze for a little bit and I was like, 'Oh my God' ... I mean (Emma) and I just stared at each other and we're both like ... you could have been the first girl ever to win the Derby.
"And I think we just stared at each other and just -- it was just shock. And then (I was) just really happy for the horse and, not to give too much away, but it was unbelievable."