12/10/2009 1:00AM

Always on the move, Talamo's on the rise


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Joe Talamo may seem a little lost this week.

Instead of going to the racetrack every day, working horses in the morning and riding in the afternoon, Talamo has found himself on a weeklong sojourn to ride California Flag in Sunday's Hong Kong Sprint in the Far East.

For Talamo, who turns 20 on Jan. 12, a day off, let alone nearly a week off, is for somebody else.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said last weekend before leaving for Hong Kong. "Maybe get some suits, do some sightseeing."

Such a schedule is not Talamo's style. Most of his mornings begin at 6, include three to six workers, and are followed by a full day of riding races in Southern California. He says he has no intention of breaking the routine.

"They say people get burned out," he said. "To me, it's more fun. I've always wanted to ride horses. It's not like going to work. It's more like going to have fun."

Is that youthful enthusiasm talking? Of course. But there are signs that his plan is working.

Two years removed from winning the Eclipse Award as the nation's leading apprentice jockey of 2007, Talamo is determined to break into the next level - that of a championship-caliber rider.

Last month, Talamo won his first Breeders' Cup race, riding California Flag to a front-running score in the Turf Sprint. Three weeks later, he added the seventh Grade 1 win of his career when Fluke won the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park. Through Tuesday, Talamo was ranked 19th in the national jockey standings by earnings, with $8,148,973.

"It was a good November," Talamo said.

In fact, it's been a good year. He won the Wood Memorial in April aboard I Want Revenge, who was expected to be the Kentucky Derby favorite until an injury led to his withdrawal the morning of the race.

As best he could, Talamo shook that off and rebuilt his season. He won three stakes during the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting before riding California Flag in the Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar in August.

"It started with the Wood, and except for the Derby it's been great," he said. "We've been in the top five year-round. If you can be in the top 10 in Southern California, it's such a good group. Being in the top five is unbelievable. It's so hard to do. It's an island here. There are only so many horses and so many trainers. That's what we're all trying for, the same group of horses."

Talamo has made two previous international trips, traveling to Dubai and Japan in recent seasons. California Flag, unbeaten in three starts this year, is not considered a favorite for the Hong Kong Sprint, but if he makes the lead as he did in the BC Turf Sprint, he could be long gone.

The Breeders' Cup success was Talamo's biggest milestone since the Eclipse Award.

"When he crossed the [main track] and switched leads, I got goose bumps," he said. "For any jockey or trainer's career, it's something you want to get."

Talamo credits his busy routine with providing that success. When he first made racing news in the winter and spring of 2007 as the leading rider at Fair Grounds, he said he never took a day off.

"That's what got me here - hard work," he said. "At Fair Grounds, I don't think I had a day off. I would say that 90 percent of my success was hard work."

The dedication has caught the eye of trainers. Brian Koriner, who cares for California Flag, has Talamo work nearly all of his horses.

"He's just getting stronger and stronger," Koriner said. "I think he fits everything, and he's a good turf rider. He could be another Jerry Bailey or Pat Day or Mike Smith."

Last Sunday was a typically busy day for Talamo. He was up at 4 a.m. and at Santa Anita by 4:30. For the next three hours, he worked three horses for Bill Spawr and one each for Bob Hess Jr., Mike Puype, and Jeff Mullins. Then he drove across Los Angeles to Hollywood, taking advantage of a weekend morning with no traffic, to work three more - two for Puype and one for Mark Glatt. Then he rode the nine-race program, winning once, aboard Hawaiian Springs, a promising 2-year-old first-time starter.

"He works every day," said his agent, Scotty McClellan. "He took one day off and played golf in Palm Springs. He took another day and took his girlfriend to Disneyland. He stays really positive."

The goals for the 2010 season are to move higher on the local and national lists. Asked if he would rather be the leading rider or win Grade 1 races, he answered quickly.

"Both," he said. "That's why I get up every morning, to be the leading rider."

With riders such as Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario to contend with, that is not an easy goal. Talamo said he knows he has more to learn. He still seeks advice from jockeys such as Smith and Garrett Gomez, among the elder statesmen in the jockeys' room.

"There's no confrontation or hesitation," Talamo said of his relationship with the older riders. "They'll watch a race with me. I think that has really helped me make progress from watching guys like that."

Smith even suggested a personal trainer for Talamo.

"Every month I'm getting stronger," he said. "I think that makes you stronger mentally.

"I couldn't be happier where I am, being so young," he said. "Everything is going great. When I first came here, I didn't know what kind of expectations to have. It was so tough. Hopefully, the best is yet to come."