03/11/2009 12:00AM

Fast-rising Talamo takes aim at Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Five hours on a transcontinental flight from New York to Los Angeles last weekend went by in a snap for jockey Joe Talamo.

There was no need to watch a movie, or find something to read. Talamo was busy reflecting on the events of recent weeks - his success at Santa Anita this year, and his win in Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct aboard Triple Crown hopeful I Want Revenge. When he allowed himself to daydream, there was always the future.

"You keep thinking, I'm not supposed to be doing this good," Talamo said on Sunday.

Less than three years after riding his first race, and a little more than a year after the Louisiana native was honored with the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice jockey of 2007, Talamo is on the verge of his first Kentucky Derby mount with I Want Revenge.

Every time Talamo mentions the colt, especially the emphatic victory in the Gotham, an ear-to-ear grin creeps across his face. It is the look of a young man who cannot believe what is happening to him.

"I don't know how to put it into words," he said. "Just to ride in the Kentucky Derby would be incredible."

Talamo turned 19 in January - "I'm getting old," he said - and the milestones are piling up. He won his first riding title at Fair Grounds in 2007, and made the successful transition to riding on the tougher California circuit later that year. It was during that season that he earned the mount on Nashoba's Key, a mare he rode to wins in two Grade 1 stakes - the Vanity Handicap and Yellow Ribbon Invitational.

While Talamo did not win a Grade 1 stakes in 2008, he won the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap last month here aboard Santa Teresita. She is a leading contender in Saturday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita.

Santa Teresita pulled an upset at 13-1 in the Santa Maria. She will be a shorter price in the Santa Margarita, a race led by the 4-year-old Life Is Sweet.

Santa Teresita "is a stalker and I think she'll get first run," Talamo said. "That will help."

Through Sunday, Talamo was fourth in the jockey standings at Santa Anita with 30 wins. He will not win the riding title - Garrett Gomez leads the ranks - but Talamo is content with his placing.

"Santa Anita is the toughest meet out here other than Del Mar," he said. "To be in the top five is incredible."

Getting to the Kentucky Derby was foremost on his mind last weekend. He has seen one Kentucky Derby in person, as a 15-year-old spectator, in 2005 when Giacomo pulled off a major upset.

Talamo has ridden I Want Revenge in 5 of his 7 starts, including a maiden win in October; a second, by a nose, in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park in December; and a third in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride synthetic track in February.

Following the Robert Lewis, trainer Jeff Mullins opted to try I Want Revenge on a dirt surface, leading to the trip to New York. In the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes over 1 1/16 miles, I Want Revenge stalked pacesetter Mr. Fantasy to the final turn and pulled clear to win by 8 3/4 lengths.

"I think his performance goes to show what the difference in the dirt and Pro-Ride is for some horses," he said. "I thought he'd do that in his last race, but when I shook the reins at him he stayed even.

"It was interesting what he did [in the Gotham]. He didn't want to stop. I think that was the perfect race we were looking for."

Owned by David Lanzman, I Want Revenge will return to New York for the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct on April 4. Talamo will fly back to New York for the mount.

If I Want Revenge wins that race, he will creep closer to Nashoba's Key's status as Talamo's best mount. Riding a multiple major stakes winner such as Nashoba's Key early in his career gave Talamo a perspective on riding top horses.

"I think that was the best thing I could hope for," he said. "You want to get there again, to have that big horse."