Clint Bentley’s “Jockey” is the touching tale of a veteran horse rider, Jackson Silva, as he struggles with the thought of having to retire and accepting that his aging body is not the same as it once was. Perhaps very few scripts today are based so much on the performance of an individual actor as this one is, and Clifton Collins Jr. is exceptionally convincing from beginning to end. This otherwise common narrative, of an athlete whose professional days are numbered has nothing fancy in terms of plot, and yet is a heartfelt watch based on performances and filmmaking.
‘Jockey’ Plot Summary
As his body is slowly starting to give up, long-time veteran horse rider Jackson Silva is wary of the young riders that have recently joined his racetrack. Although he is not expressive of this to his friends at the track, Jackson feels he is nearing the end and fears he will soon be replaced by one of those young jockeys. Once very good at winning races, he is now unable to keep up with the winners on the track. The hierarchy in horse racing has the owners at the very top, who hire horse trainers to manage the horses and teams, and the trainers further hire riders to perform on the racetrack.
Jackson is very good friends with one such trainer, Ruth Wilkes, with whom he seems to have worked for a long time. With severe aches in his body, Jackson gets checked up by the track vet, who suggests that he immediately see a real doctor about it. The rider does not pay heed to it, for he is not very financially stable either, and continues racing. One morning at the cafeteria, he decides to make acquaintance with one of the new young riders, Gabriel Boullait. Jackson had earlier seen Gabriel at other circuits, possibly when he had visited there for races, and now wants to get to know the boy better since he has got word from trainers that the boy has been asking around about him.
In a moment of utter shock and confusion for Jackson, Gabriel claims that he is the jockey’s son. He had once had a relationship with Ana Boullait and figures that the boy must be from that time, although he repeatedly says that it is not possible and that the timelines don’t match up. Fearing that the boy might be here to claim money or property, Jackson makes it clear that he hardly has any wealth to offer or leave as inheritance. Gabriel claims that he does not want anything from his supposed father and only wants to meet and talk to him.
That day, at the track, Ruth introduces Jackson to a new exciting mare, Dido’s Lament, which she has just brought in and wants Jackson to ride. Riding her for the first time, Jackson is ecstatic by the potential that the horse shows, and claims that he has been waiting all his life to ride a horse like this. Very encouraged to participate in the upcoming championship with this new horse, Jackson decides to work hard to lose weight and get back to his athletic health.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Is Gabriel Really Jackson’s Son?
As Jackson starts training, he feels like giving Gabriel a chance to get close and starts to include him in his training sessions. He gets professional joy in helping the young rider train with equipment and in a manner that he had never done before, almost like being a mentor to him. But he does not get the intended results from his stern workout, as his aging body does not lose weight as easily as Gabriel’s does. A sense of insecurity that was already creeping into Jackson now grows, and he questions Ruth’s choice of picking him over the younger riders. Ruth, being a close friend, replies that she still trusts the veteran’s skills and experience.
A few days later, one of Jackson’s best friends at the track, Leo, has a terrible accident on track where his horse ran over him after falling, shattering his hips and pelvis. Jackson visits him at the hospital, and spending time with him makes him consider a backup plan for life. He visits a local stable that sells young horses and contemplates whether to buy a horse for himself so that he can possibly ride his own horse in races, or to gradually take up the role of a trainer himself. Ultimately, though, he decides against it, and now introduces Ruth to Gabriel to help the young man find better prospects.
Jackson has gotten to know Gabriel better by now; he knows that the boy is simple and hardworking, without any ill intentions towards him. Ruth prepares a test run for the boy, and, liking what she sees, hires Gabriel as a rider. Jackson is extremely happy to see Gabriel’s natural talent, as the boy quickly wins his first race as a jockey. He himself also pushes his body to the limit in training, and the hard work pays off as he has a strong start to the championship with Dido’s Lament.
That evening, he and Ruth go out to celebrate the victory and get back to his cramped-up residence, which is a caravan parked in a fenced area at night. As they have more drinks and an air of potential romance brews, Jackson has a terrible physical fit, and he falls to the floor clutching his right shoulder. Ruth is shocked by this and tries to help him out, but Jackson tells her not to get too alarmed, confessing that he has had such fits for some time now, in which his body’s entire right side goes numb for some time, and then the sensation gradually comes back. He visits a doctor the next day, who suspects that Jackson might be suffering from ALS, a rare disease of the nerves that completely weakens muscles, and advises him to totally stay away from racing, or he might lose the ability to move around altogether. He spends some time gathering his thoughts and then meets with Gabriel. He gifts the boy his prized riding boots and says that his doubts about being Gabriel’s father are gradually waning.
Apologizing to the boy for not being present during his childhood, he admits that he feels like he has deprived himself of a very happy and important side of life. The next morning, Jackson drives to Ana’s town and visits his ex-partner’s home. Ana is very surprised to see him, and a bit put off when he decently suggests that she could have told him about Gabriel during his childhood. She tells him that Gabriel is not actually his child, but she could not convince the boy of it as he left home to follow his father’s (as he believes) footsteps to become a jockey.
Returning home, Jackson has an argument with Gabriel that night, calling him a liar and throwing at him whatever little money he can get. The young man tries to explain how he hoped that Jackson was his father because of the rider’s skills as a horse-rider and the boy’s interest in the same, and how he thought his mother was trying to keep him away from him, but Jackson is too drunk to respond. The next day at the track, he gets to know that Ruth has decided to replace Jackson with Gabriel. Going over to her stable, he expresses his anger, but Ruth says that she cannot let her friend harm his own body any longer. Jackson has no option other than to accept the decision and walk away.
Although the main thread of drama in ‘Jockey’ is about whether Jackson and Gabriel are actually related, in some senses, it is quite insignificant in what the narrative tries to present. By the time it is revealed that Gabriel is not actually the jockey’s son, the two men have grown quite a bond, knowing each other and helping each other. Although the man is not the boy’s biological father, they do succeed in establishing a relationship that a father and son should have, one of friendliness and support.
In many ways, Jackson sees himself in Gabriel, especially with Ruth’s approval about how the two have the same boarding and riding styles, and that inadvertently eases his transition to the acceptance that his body really cannot go on any longer in this business.
On the other side, young Gabriel had seen pictures and shows of Jackson’s racing, and with the information that his mother had once dated the man, he had built up an imagination that the man is his birth father and horse racing runs in his blood. A boy growing up without a father figure, he had cravingly placed Jackson at that empty seat in his mind, and went on shaping his life towards reaching him.
All of this comes to a brilliant and heartwarming climax when Jackson apologizes to the boy for him having to spend his childhood without a father. As tears roll down from Gabriel’s eyes, it hardly matters from here on whether the two have any blood ties. The film has managed to beautifully establish Jackson as the true mentor, a father figure.
‘Jockey’ Ending Explained: Does Jackson Finally Retire From The Sport?
Soon after being released by Ruth, Jackson goes to a different trainer and presents his wish to ride that team’s horse in the championship. The trainer can hardly believe his luck and gladly accepts the veteran rider on his team. Before the final race of the tournament, Gabriel meets Jackson in the changing room. He shows him a newspaper cut out with a picture and news of Jackson’s prowess as a jockey that he always keeps with him, and says that in a better world, he might have been Jackson’s son. The veteran replies that there is only one real world, but he would be very proud if Gabriel was his son. At the race, the young jockey outpaces everyone else and wins the championship. As Jackson walks away with his trainer and team around him, he can hardly keep himself from smiling. Admiration and pride clearly show on his face as a wide smile breaks out before the screen goes black and the credits roll.
It is very possible that Jackson finally retires from the sport after this final race, although no direct mention of such has been made. The final scene hints at a comfort and acceptance within the jockey that he can now rest easy, for he now has a representative of his own on the race track. The film’s main focus on human thoughts and relations pays off based on the brilliant acting performances of everyone, and especially Clifton Collins Jr., who is sublime, to say the least. The cinematography and direction also draw attention to certain scenes, and the film has a number of scenes shot at the hours of sunset and sunrise, perhaps indicative of the two jockeys’ professional positions in life. Overall, “Jockey” presents a fairly ordinary story with a certain emotional prowess that renders it a profound watch.
“Jockey” is a 2022 Drama film directed by Clint Bentley.