06/21/2011 1:55PM

Hollywood Park: Hard work paying off for Talamo

Benoit & Associates
Trainer Mike Mitchell (left) and jockey Joe Talamo have been a frequent team in Southern California. Talamo is currently third in the Hollywood Park jockey standings.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The schedule is nearly constant. On weekdays, Joe Talamo has five to seven workers at Hollywood Park or Santa Anita. By the weekend, the number swells as high as 10.

He works horses every day. Rainy mornings are one of the few things that can keep the 21-year-old Talamo at home. It probably won’t rain again until October.

“I usually work seven days,” he said. “Once a month, I’ll take off a Monday or a Tuesday.”

His agent, Scotty McClellan, cites two such occasions in recent months – when Talamo went with trainer Brian Koriner to Palm Springs for a game of golf and another time when the jockey went to Disneyland.

The result of all this activity is evident in the jockey standings at the current Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. Through Sunday, a day in which he had three winners, Talamo was tied for second with Joel Rosario in the standings with 39 wins, trailing leader Rafael Bejarano by three.

“I think that’s why we’re doing so good,” Talamo said. “It’s definitely paying off.”

The dedication has impressed McClellan, well known for representing Chris McCarron at the end of his career and Alex Solis for more than a decade. McCarron, for one, often worked horses six days a week at the height of his career.

“He’s the workingest sonofagun I’ve ever worked with,” McClellan said of Talamo. “It wasn’t that [the others] didn’t work hard, but he does more.”

Talamo, honored as the nation’s outstanding apprentice in 2007, has yet to win a riding title in Southern California.

Bejarano and Rosario have dominated the jockey’s standings in Southern California for more than three years. One of them has won every riding title at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, and Santa Anita since the start of 2008, a span of 16 meetings. Garrett Gomez was the last rider other than Bejarano or Rosario to win a title, finishing first at the 2007 Hollywood Park fall meeting.

Since arriving from his native New Orleans at 17 in early spring 2007, with a month remaining at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, Talamo has finished in the top 10 at all 20 of the major meetings he has ridden in Southern California, ranking as high as second at the 2007 Hollywood Park spring-summer and Del Mar meetings and again at the Hollywood Park fall meeting in 2009. His lowest finish came last summer, when he tied for 10th at Del Mar, missing the last four weeks because of a broken wrist suffered in a spill.

Through it all, Talamo has earned the respect of his rivals.

“He’s young and he has a lot of talent,” said Rosario, 26. “When he beats us, we’re not surprised and he’s a nice kid. One of nicest guys in the room, too.”

At one of these meetings, Talamo expects a title win, perhaps this summer, all the while knowing that Bejarano and Rosario will be difficult to topple.

“It’s so tough because Rosario and Bejarano have such strong business,” Talamo said between workers last Sunday morning. “It seems every race they have the favorite and the second choice. You have to ride a better race if you’re on the third or fourth choice.”

Of late, Talamo has ridden frequently for trainers Mike Mitchell, Mike Puype, and Art Sherman, though not always to their satisfaction. Talamo rode Mitchell’s St Trinians to a first-place finish in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap last month, but the mare was disqualified and placed fourth for causing interference. Talamo lost the mount and was given a five-day suspension, which could haunt him if he misses the riding title narrowly.

This weekend, Talamo is booked to ride both stakes at Hollywood Park – Nereid in Saturday’s $150,000 Hollywood Oaks and Restless Soul in Sunday’s $100,000 Beverly Hills Handicap on turf.

Nereid, trained by John Shirreffs, has won her last two starts on turf against maidens and in an allowance race. The Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks will be her stakes debut.

“She can do anything – synthetic, turf, long or short,” Talamo said.

Talamo has ridden Restless Soul twice, finishing third in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita on April 16 and fourth in the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes here May 30. The 7-year-old mare is trained by Neil Drysdale.

“Her form is kind of coming along,” Talamo said. “She ran well in the Santa Barbara.”

With several riders, notably Bejarano, traveling for major stakes this weekend, Talamo could have another big weekend.

There are four weeks remaining at the spring-summer meeting, which ends July 17. That is just enough time for a late push at a riding title. There can be no days off now.