According to Claire Novak, Mike Smith is the sexiest jockey riding in the Breeders’ Cup.
How do we know this? Because at ESPN.com, Novak, encouraged by Horseplayerpro.com’s Joe Kristufek and with input from other racing media (both male and female), posted her list of 10 sexiest jockeys riding in this weekend’s races at Santa Anita.
Included on the list are nine men and one woman, Rosemary Homeister, Jr. Reached in California, Novak pointed out, “There would have been more women, but Rosie’s the only woman with a Breeder’s Cup mount, and that’s the focus of the piece.”
The piece is one of many that Novak has contributed to ESPN’s on-line coverage of the Breeders’ Cup; she’s written about injured jockeys, Zenyatta, and Bob Baffert, among other topics, and she’s lined up Garrett Gomez (#7 on the Novak list, #3 on the Oak Tree at Santa Anita leading jockeys list) to contribute to her blog at ESPN with thoughts on this weekend’s races.
Novak acknowledged that the Top 10 list was “light and fluffy,” a departure from her usual reporting at the Albany Times-Union, ESPN, the Blood-Horse, and NTRA.com. “It was meant to be funny, written and filed after all the serious work had been done.”
Still…did she have any reservations about writing and publishing a piece that could be seen as sexist and frivolous?
“I’ve developed a solid reputation for hard work and good reporting, through a variety of articles that are worthy of respect,” she said. “I think that I deserve a little slack for the occasional fluff piece. People who think that this is inappropriate should look at the author and her attitude.”
Early Thursday morning, Novak hadn’ t heard much about the piece, other than to have people weigh in with their own opinions (according to the men who spoke with her, Homeister, Jr. should have been #1; according to the women, Gomez deserved that spot). By noon, though, the criticism had begun to roll in.
“The article wasn’t meant to be offensive, and I don’t think that I deserve to have people say that I’ve lost my credibility as a journalist, as I’ve heard this morning,” responded Novak.
Novak is certainly not the first to take advantage of jockey sexiness; Chantal Sutherland appears to be nude astride a horse on the front page of her website, and as Novak pointed out, Alex Solis recently appeared naked in ESPN the Magazine (recently noted by Lisa Grimm at Superfecta).
Nonetheless, there appears to be some uneasiness about Novak’s decision. Via e-mail, one male turf writer commented on the condition of anonymity: “Now what would be said if a guy started rating the 10 hottest horsewomen in the Breeders’ Cup? There would be out F-IN OUTRAGE.”
So what, if anything, should exempt Novak from the scrutiny and, quite likely, charges of harassment and professional irresponsibility that would be directed at a male journalist if he were to rank the women in the sport? Does her creditable, significant body of serious race reporting entitle her to a little fun? Or does this article compromise her reputation as a journalist and her ability to cover the jockeys on the list?
“I knew that the jocks wouldn’t be offended,” Novak maintained. “I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from them. The fact that Garrett Gomez, one of the leading riders in the country, agreed to work with me on the website shows his respect for me [as a writer].”
There’s no denying Novak’s hustle, effort, diligence, and ability; in a world in which turf writers are finding fewer and fewer opportunities, her work appears regularly in a variety of publications. She’s smart and she’s funny, and she knows how to have a good time, attributes that have collided in this ESPN article. Whether the energy engendered by that collision is positive or negative remains to be seen.